Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Poverty of the Image

The claims of imagism have always seemed to me hyperbolic. There is something more evocative in even the most cliched 19th-century sentence than in a clipped, retentive modernist line--which is sometimes only a self-caricature, more applicable in theory than in practice. But, my suspicion of some of the claims of imagism perhaps comes only when one conceives that the stripped-down poetic image gives more, not less of the reality to which it refers. I've been working through a lot of Bergson lately, and happened upon a good precis of his work, reminding me of the essential poverty of the image:
perception adds nothing new to the image; in fact, it subtracts from it. Representation is a diminution of the image; the transition from image to pure perception is “discernment in the etymological sense of the word,” a “slicing up” or a “selection” (Matter and Memory, p. 38). According to Bergson, selection occurs because of necessities or utility based in our bodies. In other words, conscious representation results from the suppression of what has no interest for bodily functions and the conservation only of what does interest bodily functions. The conscious perception of a living being therefore exhibits a “necessary poverty” (Matter and Memory, p. 38).
Williams' "things," then, as tied to ideas, can only be what Bergson calls "less than things," in that our relation to them subtracts an image of them (thus, they are virtual in the commonly defined way as the simulacrum, but not, for all that, are they purely subjective); subsequently, they return to the reservoir of accumulated images (thus, they become virtual in the more strictly Bergsonian sense of memory inaccessible to action). It is here where the third imagist principle--"as regarding rhythm: to compose in sequence of the musical phrase, not in sequence of the metronome"--comes into play. When the image is reduced to data, it can more freely engage in speed, dynamism, mobility--thus, just as the modern VJ can create more lively compositions with YouTube crap than with lyrical HD footage (no pun on HD intended), the modernist reduced the world to fragmented images, which in themselves had little power, but which, when entering into the durational play of the art form, opened up powers inherent in some truer nature of time. (cf. the Bergsonism of Stein.) Yet, our ability to choose those images effectively, pulling them from the virtual to make them commensurable with present action inserts the qualitative, creative impact of the temporal interval on what would otherwise be a moment of pure, unthinking action. (cf. the Theosophical background of Pollock; and to continue and contradict my VJ comparison, more thoughtfully captured images may, then, instigate a more complex experience.) This notion of data that is useful for our bodies is a very powerful way to conceive how Paterson was composed along side of Williams' duties as a doctor, as well as the themes he explores dealing with the usefulness of certain forms of knowledge in pursuit of a "radiant gist."

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