Requiem 102

A few weeks ago, I was asked to contribute to Nick Rombes’ latest project in critical disorientation, Requiem 102. As a commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the film Requiem for a Dream, Rombes is assembling 102 writers to riff on 102 frames from the film. Here is Rombes’ description of the project:

REQUIEM // 102 examines/explores/riffs on/detours from/responds to/aggravates/ supplements/ one frame from each minute of the film. 102 minutes = 102 frames. Inspired by the creative constraints that have produced projects such as Longshot! Magazine and 50 Posts about Cyborgs, the project aims to push the boundaries of the medium and experiment with new ways of thinking and writing about film.

I was assigned the 8th minute. My response is reflective of the anxiety provoked by the assignment. Enjoy. And don’t forget to see Rombes here in Kitchener on November 16th at the Critical Media Lab.

Requiem 102 — Post #7

It is this glacial world that is revealed to the moderns, a world in which there is no longer any up or down, centre or periphery, nor anything else that might make of it a world designed for humans. For the first time, the world manifests itself as capable of subsisting without any of those aspects that constitute its concreteness for us.
– Quentin Meillassoux, After Finitude

Glacial world.
Snow cone.
Freeze frame.

iTunes hostage.
Alone.
In the house.
On the couch.
Mid-afternoon.
Requiem randomly frozen at 7:03.
I sit waiting for the download.
31 minutes of transmission
before I can watch the last 95 of film
that is not film.

At this moment I am palpably aware of the splintering of time,
my own object-ness,
the withdrawal of the material world
into an inaccessible network of flows.
Thanks, Nick.
Allow me to return the gift.

requiem_still

Freeze frame at 8:01. Sara Goldfarb stands frozen, snow cone held aloft, at the pawn stand of Mr. Rabinowitz. What catches my eye here is the ferris wheel at the bottom left edge of the frame. This ferris wheel is always already frozen. Even in the film it’s not going anywhere. Contrast this to the bird making its way onto the streetlight in the background on the right. It doesn’t look like a bird in this still image. But there it is, a misshapen thing somehow suspended from the street lamp, but still in mid-flight.

Suspended. We are, says Ernest Becker, “self-conscious animals,” suspended between god and beast. This is the terror of being human, an animal with infinite imagination and a finite body. “Gods with anuses,” says Becker. We rage against our animality with pretensions of immortality. Publish a book. Amass a vast DVD collection. These things will outlive us, extend us beyond the putrefaction of flesh. But the key to immortality is recognition, individuation, the sense that we are persons of value in a world of meaning. “I’m somebody now Harry,” Sara tells her son at 43:33. “Everybody likes me. And soon, millions of people will see me. And they’ll all like me. It’s a reason to get up in the morning. . . It makes tomorrow alright.” Existential screen test. This is the false promise of immortality doled out by reality TV, game shows, and YouTube. Immortality is always right around the corner.

And then there are drugs. The most powerful among them, pharmaka, buffer us against the anxiety that we are “worm food,” while simultaneously hastening our deaths. “Anybody wanna waste some time?” asks Marion at 15:30, holding out three orange amphetamine tabs in her palm. The multiple shots of clocks in Requiem, the play of film speeds, all point to the ability of narcotics to control time. Or rather, the ability of narcotics to make us believe we can control time. But time passes with or without us, whatever time may be. We are all, in the end, food for worms, whether we spend our time hopped up on speed or sitting zombified in front of a TV.

Freeze frame. Sara’s snow cone. And Harry’s too, at 6:20. Snowy-cold drift of the earth toward a final icy demise. In Window Shopping, Anne Friedberg suggests that

as the ‘mobility’ of the gaze became more ‘virtual’ — as techniques were developed to paint (and then to photograph) realistic images, as mobility was implied by changes in lighting (and then cinematography) — the observer became more immobile, passive, ready to receive the constructions of a virtual reality placed in front of his or her unmoving body.

We have become “citizen terminals,” as Paul Virilio puts it in Open Sky. Terminal citizens plugged into the flow of instantaneous transmission tools, subject to an expanding inertia. Portable computers do nothing to resist this glaciation of the planet. PDA’s in hand, heads down, we walk into telephone poles, trip over children, get run over by cars. The screen demands that we abandon mobility to be instead “mobile on the spot” (Virilio).

Resistance is dangerous. Stay put. Eyes on the screen. Freeze your limbs. Or better, amputate them.