Assault on the Anecdote — Triumph of the micro-narrative

Clark Blaise
Time Lord: Sir Sanford Fleming and the Creation of Standard Time

An observation on Impressionist painting turns to a remark on time and chance:

The Impressionist revolution, we’ve been told, is all about light. Light means a self-lit subject liberated from an external (or at least, identifiable) light-source. It means overthrowing formalities — those of the posed subject, the play of light and shadow, and the illusion of perspective. Even when the Impressionist subject was taken from nature, as so many were, it is a re-composed nature, nature stopped, stripped of academic signs of “naturalness”, and then re-seen. The Impressionist canvas is non-anecdotal (as their casual, or flatly factual titles often indicate), anti-narrative, a-moral, it flares on the wall, commanding the eye even before we figure out whet it is ‘about’. It doesn’t ‘mean’ anything, it is not an ‘illustration of’ or an ‘allusion to’, there’s nothing to ‘get’ except the pleasure of performance. And because of that, its significance is profound.

[There follows a tour of some later novelists — e.g. Joyce’s Ulysses, Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury]

Any random day is shown to be, upon close examination, a microcosm of all human history.

I like the linkage between performance and the serendipity suggested by this proximity.

And by chance, I plucked an old note book from the shelf and found a passage from October 18, 2005 which approaches similar ground

Mary Ann Doane “Screening Time” in Language Machines (1997) p. 147.

What comes to be known eventually as “deception” in the reenactment is made harmless as “illusion” in the narrative film. Clearly, the progressive domination of the industry by narrative is overdetermined (culturally, economically, technologically), but from this point of view, narrative would constitute a certain taming or securing of the instability of the cinematic image. In the same way, narrative becomes the model for the apprehension of the legal unity of film.

[our emphasis]

The role of “narrative in taming (I almost wrote “training” in transcribing the passage) is set up by the thematic of event earlier in the piece.

The confusion of construction and contingency around the concept of the event is crucial in the historical elaboration of a cinematic syntax. At the turn of the century, contingency is both lure and threat, and this double valence is played out in the rapid representational transformation of the cinema. The embarrassment of contingency is that it is everywhere and that it everywhere poses the threat of an evacuation of meaning. The concept of the event provides a limit — not everything is equally filmable — and reinvested the contingent with significance — the contingent is, in effect, tamed.

How very interesting when I went to check the quotation from the piece in Language Machines I found a variation. Doane gives “harnessed” for “tamed” in The Emergence of Cinematic Time: Modernity, Contingency, the Archive. Another story to tell (reading “harnessed I have the image of a horse drawing a carriage while “tamed” offers a great number of animal figures).

The move from “tamed” to “harnessed” for me will forever be associated with a move against anecdote to a championing of micro-narrative. Or to be more precise an emphasis on narration (the how of telling) rather than simply the told (narrative).

And so for day 2729

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