The image is shocking, mysterious, hard to look at but hard to look away from. Is that blood? It’s part of a person. Once we realize we’re looking at a throat, we see it is male because of the Adam’s apple, named for an ancient mythology about the first man taking a bite of a forbidden apple from the hand of Eve. The idea was that it stuck in Adam’s throat, but actually the structure that moves there is the voice box, which enlarges as a male comes of age, lowering his voice. Why the blood? This man must have been assaulted or traumatized some other way. Then our eye begins to investigate the other figures: is that an eye? A mask? We see men punched in the face and bleeding every day on television or the movies, yet it never looks like this. This is different, far more shocking. The mind doesn’t want to let it alone.
This photo, from Cinemateque@europe.com , is “post-modern,” not at the level of fancy theories, but as perception of a world that is emergent (coming out of the phenomena created by irreconcilable forces) from the collision of two things: boys and young men pushed out of society and family into economic disaster, nearly unsurvivable vulnerability to violence and disease, but now given visual eloquence and distributed through high electronic technology.
They live between taboo and voodoo. The ones with HIV infections can survive only with drugs that give them terrifying nightmares, and yet they look like boys-to-men anywhere: big rubber shoes, hoodies, skateboards, ear buds. And Nikons, the latest, most delicate and complex cameras, provided by a benefactor in Japan. Their guide comes from the ferment of San Francisco in the seventies and eighties. Barrus went out daily with a little group that included the notorious Mapplethorpe as well as other less well-known photographers who became icons if they lived long enough. Do you know Imogene Cunningham’s mischievous photos? Those with an educated eye recognize the classic black and white photos from that time. It was guerrilla photography, emergent from the “why not” culture of the time. Now it’s back (it never really left), more intense and political than ever, because that’s the way the world is.
There has been a great deal of commotion in academic circles about the post-structuralist theory that was just getting up momentum in the Eighties, but it has been considered abstract, a way of doing “meta-analysis” rather than a true revolution around the planet. Cinematheque began years ago with the smallest, most inexpensive digital video cameras and has been posting the results on blogs for half-a-dozen years. Their expertise is not just that of the camera but also the “electronic darkroom” that allows the montage effects, the overlays, the distortions, the bottomless archive, the exquisite control that movies might call CGI.
What it allows them -- besides generating valuable art for sale -- is the expression of their world view, their defiance and comradeship, the need for constant reorganization, new strategies, movement both physical and emotional.
So where do I come in? I’m an old woman, not a boy. I watch. I’m a witness. I write. I’m another kind of testimony. I live a 19th century life in a little Montana town with a MAC MINI running OS 4.ll. I try to understand and analyze. You could say I’m a parasite. You could say I lived on a boundary.
Or you could say I was a kind of chaplain, trying to find some way to point out the Sacred in a Godless world. My work on liturgy has been deeply affected by Cinematheque as I search -- sometimes desperately -- for ways to address boys who may die before they are twenty. Like a military chaplain.
Just now I’ve stumbled across an emergent body of thought, a webwork of practitioners, post-structural ritualists, practicing “ritology.” Since I started this line of thought I’ve been drawing on the more religious version, which is usually called “liturgy,” so that’s what I Googled and those were the bibliographies I searched. I can’t remember where I finally found a reference to Ronald L. Grimes’ “Ritual Criticism,” just one book out of his many, but suddenly I’ve discovered people who address “rites and passages” the way I do -- intellectual but funky. And effective in a practical and daily way, not neglecting something so small as my practice of throwing a bit of sweetgrass on the hot burner when I take the coffee kettle off, so I can start the day with a smudge. Not shrinking from the Forbidden and Hellish.
Grimes is great at making compare-and-contrast lists. On p. 24 of “Ritual Criticism” (University of South Carolina Press, 1990) he compares the “modern” with the “post-modern.” I’ll give it to you:
Humanistic v. Nonhumanistic:
Theistic/Atheistic v. Polytheistic/Multicentric
Individualistic/Social v. Collectivist
Product v. Process
Narrative v. Ritual
Purpose v. Play
Mastery/Logos v. Exhaustion/Silence
Synthesis v. Antithesis
Centering v. Dispersal
Root/Depth v. Rhizome/Surface
Genital/Phallic v. Polymorphous
Determinacy v. Indeterminacy
Transcendence v. Immanence
Active/Indicative v. Passive/Subjunctive
Presence v. Absence
Distance v. Participation
Performance v. Workshop
Art Object/Finished Work v. Process
Performance v. Process
Cinematheque fits into the post-modern (right-hand) side in every pair.
Maybe it would capture the difference to say that a paper book, printed and bound, is modern. Owned, sold, exploitable, intermediated, educated. but an ebook is POST-modern, forever modifiable, rewritten as long as it exists and existent only through an instrument. It might not be in words at all, but rather in images, even images that move. The literacy of the post-modern world is not conformity to what the rules prescribe but rather invention and insight unique to the individual -- both as creator and “reader”. Neither does the post-modern world, which forces us to see the deaths of millions and know about the suffering around the planet, allow us to fence our communities and think we can escape both taxes and bad roads. Our understanding of the Cosmos and Galaxies is for the most part visual -- and scary.
Cinematheque is an emergent post-modern visual response to a world struggling for meaning. They (often a changing cast) are a process, a struggle, a constant evolution, centered on the eye though they often include sound. They aim to surprise, to shock, to jolt the observer, in the agonistic way of opposition. Society assaults them until the blood runs down their throats, and yet they persist. That is the way of young men.