Neo-Neo Modernism's Death Valley
NEO NEO-MODERNISM’S DEATH VALLEY, text curated by Danielle LaFrance, published by AAB About A Bicycle, a Literary Journal based on A Lecture Series on Rethinking Post-Modernism, September 2012, 2000 words. Accompanied by a performance with writer Michael Turner re-enacting the dialogues of the two protagonists in Antonioni’s Zabrinskie Point, while crossing the desert
By intuition, in art school, I was interested in the aesthetics of politics and the politics of aesthetics, until the whole city exploded, the whole world collapsed into one big Pollock action painting, with the important added elements of pop. The closest image of this experience was the penultimate scene in Zabriskie Point ; not the will-to-power-act of the explosion of the late-modern house in itself, but the result of the explosion, the things you could see inside the chaos : fragments of domestic appliances, clothes, fabrics, technology, perfume bottles, glass, plastic, vanilla wall-paper, stainless steel, all in tiny tiny peices, grey stones, white, pink marble, sand, wood, granite, slate, rubber, a beach towel, a silk scarf, gold specks, beige, brown, baby blue, black, half a Corbu chaise lounge, the foot of a Gio Ponti console, rare reading lamps, ripped modern art, Jacobsen’s egg-chair, and then books, you see books, lots of books, flying in the air. Contrary to common belief, the explosion is not the last scene. The film ends following that hallucination. The young woman protagonist, a rare non-passive female role Antonioni gave us, the only character that is free from context, (all of Antonioni’s oeuvre shows us how destinies are directly linked to context; the context as a prison, and beings as moving objects in space. In his films, modern architecture looks like it is from outer space), (I keep forgetting we are terrestrials. I keep forgetting that the earth is a planet. Only vast empty space reminds me of the inherent science-fiction of our existence; only Antonioni reminds me of my end, in the present tense, like the desert, an empty island, an empty house, the ocean as the bottom of the sky), (The desert gives the distinct feeling that we are walking on the moon, especially when we understand that we are actually walking at the bottom of dry oceans). Antonioni likes to push the existential void of his characters against empty, abstract and minimal, therefore loaded and charged landscapes. Antonioni is obsessed with limit-situations without actions; the possibility for inner life and the impossibility of it. Like how the Japanese took everything from China and made it better, the French took everything from Italy, yet Italians are always more eccentric, enigmatic, agile in ambiguity, moving inside subtlety like a natural environment, speaking about love with a rich complexity the French will never have. French are advanced in abstract thought, but Italians succeed in marrying abstraction with daily life. (When I told my neo-Marxist friend about this, he accused me of being a racist). The celebration of cultural differences is a post-modern experience as modernism wants a universal truth and one song for everyone to sing all in the same time (religion), (The forces of order); One simple way to live without a life-style. (If the world goes out of business, I do not want to be here). Antonioni’s discovery of the American desert must have been ineffable. Zabriskie Point (despite the airplane/car flirt scene that kills all flirt scenes in the history of cinema), is not a love story at all. Antonioni’s films are about the impossibility of communication, the impossibility of love, the impossibility to converge with oneself, the impossibility of freedom. But in Zabriskie Point, he brings his philosophical research to another level: the impossibility of Revolution. That is a turning point in his curve (I have not seen his early documentaries) (I am not a specialist on Antonioni) (I am not a film critic),(I am a writer who has seen several of Antonioni’s films, so I can say whatever I want and you can think whatever you want), (Postmodernism is about the end of imposed meta narratives, a multiplicity of points of view, no final solution, no big revolution, no promising guidelines), (neo-neo-Marxism of today comes up as a critique of Postmodernism). (While Postmodernism freed us from ideology and the search for truth, it introduced multiple narratives, multiple realities, and the construction/deconstruction of meaning). (Neo-Modernism of today, which Neo-Marxism stems from, is imposing a modernist reading of postmodernism, trying to map it all out, as if you can define the fleeing nature of meaning in one single book). (Modernism and neo-modernism suggest we void the world of an excess of cultural references, the flattening out of unpredictable forces, praying for the return of the mechanistic, the equality of all things, the erasure of history, the tabula rasa of social justice). (A love story without desire, a night without dreams). Zabriskie Point defines Antonioni’s position about Politics and Poetry. Unlike Godard, Antonioni never leaves art. Throughout the entire film, the young woman is dressed with an army green mini dress, a thin vaguely Navajo macramé belt around her waist and the simplest roman sandals (she refuses the red dress the handsome boy throws at her as a present from his airplane, telling him that it does not look good on her, neither the colour, nor the style; it’s a bad cut, she says with a smile). Que es mas macho: Army Green or Red? Antonioni fell in love with the New American Woman; candid, invulnerable, independent, adventuresome, free spirited, an active thinker, a flower child. A very different character from Monica Vitti, who is smart and intense but does not know what to do with herself: am I a model? Am I an actress? Am I beautiful? Am I a quiet version of Barbara Streisand? The last scene, (how often we forget how a film starts and ends), (memory is all about the deleted scenes). It is good to have the right fashion for every occasion, especially when you cross the desert. Her name is Daria (both in the film and in life). Daria is a name from Persian origins which means wealth. His name is Mark (both in the film and in life). Marx. Mars. The Warrior. Zabriskie Point is about the war between wealth and poverty, between politics and poetry, between the one and the multiple. After she processes the notion of revolution (all revolutions) (she is in the desert because, as she says, she wants to get some thinking done) along her wonderings and the vague half-discussions she has with the young fugitive who is not even a prince of darkness, vapid like he invented the word (he is cute, but there something deranged in his gaze. A concrete lack of identity. He does not know who he is), Daria has several visions. The desert light is conducive to that and only fools think that mirages are not real. Modernism and neo-modernism are against imagination. Most people remember the film for the multiple love-making scene in open-air. Although it is an impressive scene, it is often misinterpreted as stemming from the protagonists’ continued utopian desires. Let’s make it clear here once more, that the two young characters are not lovers at all. They do make love of course, but they do not fall in love. In fact, there is no love story whatsoever in Zabriskie Point. It is the portrait of an impossible encounter, the portrait of a non-meeting space between a Neo-marxist and a Free spirit. When she imagines the angelic orgy scene, she is thinking things through about her generation. What they want, what they are looking for, so as to find her own position ; Antonioni uses the notion of generations as the context and the desert as a filled nihilism, the space for new thoughts to emerge. The two protagonists live in a totally different mindset and that there is no meeting of their minds at all, like they are from different narratives. The young woman is all about active thinking and movement, driving her old rusty car; a 1952 Buick, her inaccurate map (how are we supposed to map the desert, impossible), (A 3000 piece puzzle of a Pollock painting). She is thinking things through by herself, without relying on texts, thinking things through, until she has a rumour of an answer, which brings another question. She is free, and the desert is not for her a refuge but a place to bounce off from. She is collecting some truths, or half-truths, while he, on the other hand, is fleeing himself and the desert harbours him in pathetic captivity. He wants to forget while she wants to remember. She represents the inside, the private realm, the individual, while he is all about an outside, the collective, the out-of-frame that pursues him. She mentions multiple realities in a candid way and she feels sorry for his lack of imagination. (Neo-marxism is against imagination, there is only one dream, one plan, one way, one typology, one future).The very last scene is when she leaves the premise and consciously decides to keep going, back in the role of a wonderer in the desert where she feels strangely at home. The last scene illustrates her position about the Revolution. She turns her back to it, as she turns her back to high capitalism. She leaves both sides of the war. The whole film is about Antonioni’s position about the politics of the time, in a timeless way, always with a wider angle (than Godard) about reality in general and what is behind it, around and under. Multiple truths and doubt are not enemies of a free regime, they are pals. Antonioni succeeds in being political without sacrificing poetry. That is the whole challenge of art, the danger to kill it with politics; art has to have the last word; that is why it is a very difficult thing to achieve; like grace, which makes it rare, but rare is not a democratic adjective. Mark, a young and mindless revolutionary, deambulating the road from his parents house, finally having a goal in his life, a purpose, a cause to believe in and tell him what to do when he gets up, a reason to get up even, down the upper middle-class mountain he goes, driving fast, in his pick up truck, towards the street, the street he never walked on, and from the truck descending in the street there he goes, down, down, street level, in one movement, without thinking, he is propelled, he gets a gun, he is excited, he is a revolutionary, a real one, he is inspired, motivated, from the last revolutionary talk he attended, about the Blacks, about the War, about the Poor, about Injustice, about Single Mothers, about Social Housing Evictions, about Cops Killing Blacks, about his Meaningless Bourgeois University Life, he does not process his new thoughts and feels called to action, he takes arms in a one plan-séquence, a long take where many different movements take place in a single shot with no edits, off he goes, Kills a Cop Killing a Black and flees. In one line of flight, in a single revolutionary one-liner, Antonioni succeeds in making something unclear so clear, and unclear again. The need for clarity is against thought. Clarity is a fascist. Postmodernism, in the best light, was iconoclastic; new views, no centre, cynical in a productive way, cultural relativism, fantastical deconstruction and reconstruction of meaning, the playful. No Meta-narratives to depend on. The modernist dream is a wave frozen in mid air.