Khiasma is supported by:

La Région Île-de-France
Le Département de la
La DRAC Île-de-France
La Ville des Lilas
La Ville de Paris
La Mairie du 20è
Paris Habitat
La Fondation de France

Khiasma est membre du réseau TRAM et partenaire de Paris-Art.

ArticleHors les murs

Notes sur la scriptologie / Morad Montazami

Une lecture de l'œuvre de The Otolith Group

 « The Radiant », the latest film made by The Otolith Group, will be screened at the cinema La Clef (Paris, fifth arrondissement), on Wednesday November 23 at 8 PM, as part of the cycle « Possessions ». The opportunities are rare for seeing the work of the London duo on this side of the Channel. As a prelude to the film, discover Morad Montazami’s text, which first appearend in the Journal de Bétonsalon n°11 (06/2011-07/2011).

Notes on Scriptology
by Morad Montazami

Starting hypotheses

Despite appearances, the Otolith Group doesn’t really make films. Their works would be better described as programs in the political and computerized (or informatical) sense of the word. Political, not because they promote an ideology or try to convince, but rather because the “operations” that link and distance us from saying and showing, reading and editing, invite us to rethink them as such. In other words, there is the underlying feeling of the politics of the voice (who is speaking?), of the figure (who are we seeing?), of the frame (what are our limits?), of the rhythm (how do we move?). And computerized or informatical not because the operations are regulated by the autonomy of a simple machine, but because they organize the treatment of an (un)known knowledge, stored (or even dead) in view of its own updating and derivations. To these operations must be added those of memory and promise, or the ‘tick tock’ of the oscillating needle on the dashboard of history. What emerges are not pure films, but film-diagrams: where we trace, transcribe, traverse and invent at the same time. How can we interpret this never-ending journey (Bombay, London, Moscow, the Milky Way…) where each stopover inspires us both to begin writing a book and to research all the books that could have been written if their authors had dropped anchor there? Can we conceive of a science that would manage ways of predicting, projecting, and imagining as well as archiving, rereading and linking; a science that transforms texts into images of the future and images into texts on the past? Positioning itself at the margins of all mediums—cinema, literature, theater, drawing, poetry—for which it generates intermediary passages, it would consider the notion of script as a complex system of questioning and experimentation. This science would be called “scriptology”1.

Not only is Otolith III not a film; it is at least 99 films at once. Traversed by a cyclone of heterogeneous sources (archival images, photos, documents, news, etc.) and serving as the vortex, it doesn’t reject the residual scraps left over from the black lists of the history of cinema. On the contrary, Otolith III aims at regenerating itself into those black lists, from which it exhumes figures and themes in exile. There are the sounds of drums and bells crashing into images, refracted in echo from those Chris Marker recorded in the journeys of Sans Soleil (1983), to Cap-Vert and Tokyo. These are “exiled sounds” in Otolith III that, in their turn, refract the echo, although not in the inverse sense. Scriptology deals less with quotes and intertexuality than with echoes and acoustics. It doesn’t consider sound as an excess of informational content (or of music), but as the potential space for a trajectory of these figures, rebounding from exile to exile. The drums and bells therefore seem to prefer exile again, elsewhere, in India. The journey continues: scriptology does not aim to plunge back into the history of cinema in order to begin things again in the same way, cinema is only one of the destinations where scriptology hunts for the driving forces of the past (a line traced on paper or quivering in a cup of coffee) which give birth to ideas before their materialization as/in objects (“premake”). What interests scriptologists while filming a shoot (Otolith II) is not to capture and show the ‘tricks’ of cinema which reveal the artificial nature of performance or compromise with reality. It is more a question of showing objects coming to life as they enter into contact with bodies that are fascinated by their power of attraction; the object thus coexists with these bodies in a necessarily futuristic space-time where the frontiers between human and not-human, spiritual and rational, are radically foiled.

Call it a premake”, the off-screen voice advises, speaking of Otolith III, which is neither a film on, or in the style of the Indian filmmaker Satyajit Ray (as in Shyam Benegal’s Satyajit Ray, the Filmmaker from 1984, which also enters into the vortex.) The fourteen films made by Satyajit Ray, listed in the film’s credits and used as archival material in the film serve a scriptology that considers his unmade, or virtual film, The Alien. A film that would have begun with the landing of a spaceship in Bengal and related the story of five characters: the director, the engineer, the industrialist, the journalist and the boy. Now we can observe these paper figures resuscitated in Otolith III, like somnambulist scenarios using different narrative voices to investigate their possible reincarnations today in the streets of London. We think of Pasolini on the banks of the Ganges, aiming his camera at the possible faces of his own immersion, for his “notebooks” on “a film in a film on India”2 (a film that both exists and is in the making). The ventriloquists of Otolith III have a momentary power of voice or death on their ghosts. The director asks the boy: “How did you find me? You don’t even exist.” The boy replies, “I want more life, Father.”3 The scriptologists are not interested in the actors’ roles, they stride through the works of other writers in an attempt to wake the ghosts they have imagined and invite them to dance in other films. But mostly to dissect the ghosts themselves, far from any identity or culture, to touch the multiplicity that haunts them—a ghost is inhabited by other ghosts—it is their hybrid nature that makes them resonate—and this with a success partly due to the fact that they remained with their authors in a state of gestation: unmade films, non-archived documents, unrecorded voices…and if Eisentein had made his project for a film using Marx’s “Capital” as the script of a “method”, not “so much to reveal a corpus of Marx’s ideas as to help the audience to become Marxist?”4 And if Sergueï Paradjanov had not been censored and had filmed the scene from The Frescos of Kiev, where “the woman sits underneath Velasquez’ The Infante Marguerite and hides her face behind her hand”?5 And if we were to give ourselves the task of filming the Works from the eponymous work of the writer-photographer Edouard Levé?6

But still as many scripts remain hidden behind unpublished and unannotated works. Like the drawings of Jack Kirby, made in 1978 for the unrealized film adaptation of Lord of Light, published by the science fiction author Roger Zelazny in 1967. We can also note that the drawings of Vidya Sagar were not titled until the Otolith Group re-dated them and renamed them for their exposition in 2011. We hardly begin to believe in the presence of an author or a narrator, when the shadow of another emerges from behind him (or her). The Secret King in the Empire of Thinking (sound piece in the exhibition), which describes these little known drawings of Jack Kirby, shows that scriptologists do not read the future in the entrails of the past, but reread the past in the future (tense). And so scriptology is not interested by works according to the criteria of paternity and authority; it is a science of possible constellations situated between the past and the present, according to criteria of re-exhibition, of historical realization and updating. It navigates between the sleeping waters of the unfinished and the quick sands of the unpublished. It does not see science fiction as a repertory of immemorial dream worlds, but a report on invention, via object-projects to be dismantled and remade successively: “how many dreamed Chandigarhs will not have been built”, asks the narrator, opposing Chandigarh and Le Corbusier.7 Or, in other words, how do we find the passages between real architecture, architectural mock ups, architectural plans and architecture-fiction (Otolith II)? Gravity diminishes little by little and moves into the zero gravity of the cosmos; we touch on the architecture of time and events themselves: the 1973 meeting in Moscow between Valentina Terchkova, first woman cosmonaut, member of the Communist party, and Anasuya Gyan-Chand, president of the national federation of Indian women (Otolith I). Scriptologists are not content with exhuming unproduced works; they themselves produce more unproduced works (to be made); whether these works be architectural or novelistic, they are always political. Which implies that the process leading to an oeuvre cannot be resumed merely to the constructivist principle of editing as a collage of heterogeneities, celebration of divergence and discontinuity.

If scriptology remains a science of intervals, those intervals welcome the phenomena of hieroglyphic or chimerical writing: a demonic mask drawn from Japanese Nô theater and a Hindu elephant sculpture. Both elements, consubstantial in their function as footstools (those of the ghost director of Otolith III), are subject to transsubstantiation, one in the other—between the mask and the elephant a “calculation” is operating, using numbers that each contain their promise for a shared future. Instead of a calculator we find the vortex in which the Otolith Group inscribes its concepts/chimeras. As the bison skins of North American Indians inspired Eisenstein for his “dynamic principle” of editing, when he saw the pictographic stories spiraling across them. Scriptologists write in spirals so as to avoid writing in a linear manner, thereby breaking with the alphabetical writing the West favored, “leaving the door open to all possible philosophies”8 and “so that the matter of different chapters is offered simultaneously with all its implications”9. In consequence, each shard of glass that shoots out of the vortex—a veritable face of flesh breaks on a virtual (wax) face, a space without a figure (an empty bureau) on a figure without a space (a mask)—each shard of glass finds another shard that is its echo, before disassociating from it and pulling away to search for other harmonies with other shards. The scriptologists would agree with Mallarmé, for whom “the future […] is never more than a spark of what must have happened before or close to the origin”10. If we reconsider Sans Soleil now, what do we see? What acoustic of forms has slipped into the gesture of porcelain cats with their paws in the air (filmed by Chris Marker) and exchanged it with the movement of divine Hindu dolls with upraised palms (filmed by the Otolith Group)? Well do the scriptologists know that it is not a question of referring to a specific origin but rather to overrun both the starting and finishing lines. In this sense Chris Marker and the Otolith Group are like two stopovers on this long voyage that explores the ruins of the film documentary, moving in the direction of a film of anticipation, without ever really stopping there.

The script is at the same time a legal text—some people question the authenticity of the author’s intentions—and a text of joy—others question that happy understanding of cult oeuvres in their prenatal state. Believing in our power to erase or surpass it is misleading, the script surprises us with its pre-imminence. It is always so close to be being made; in other words it is a novel/essay-in-progress—more exactly a film that is conceivable as a novel left in notebook form—and not just a simple pretext to film. But this imminence of form does not advance in step with the lapses of spiraling time. In this sense, rewriting the script is meaningless and when we become lost (in its spirals), it is only to better hide the trace of the script itself, which is guiding us in the process of rewriting. We believe we are displacing/shifting zones, diverting roads, but in fact they are shifting themselves, like occult forces.11 The script has perhaps been written, but it has not been fixed in stone. It is the palpable tissue of an image to come or of a split-second freeze frame in the undulation of all its figures-fibers. When it is said of a novel that it has been “adapted” to the screen, we would be wrong to believe that the operation consists of transforming the novel into a script (and then a film). It would be more accurate to say that it was “atomized”, as the film is the “atomisation” of all the scriptological routes and voices contained in the novel.

Like any impure science, scriptology has many faces. Scriptologist must be essayists, astronomers, archivists, griots, translators, mapmakers and chess players. They are also like that subway commuter who falls asleep in the tunnel and wakes up at another station beyond his intended destination. He (or she) wants the automation of the machine to bring him back to port, but it is already too late to avoid the kingdom of the future anterior, the preferred tense of scriptologists. Between the future and the pre-future. But before he is able to say, “when I will have arrived at my station I will wake”, the itinerary that presents itself to him in the present is that of a mission accomplished, a country already visited. And so he invents way to return, even though his steps can now only lead him to the lands of the future.

[1] Any resemblance with an existing science that studies the spelling and graphology of ancient languages would only be accidental.
[2] Pier Paolo Pasolini, Appunti per un film sull’India, 1968, 34 min.
[3] “How did you find me, you don’t even exist […] I want more life Father”, see « Otolith III. Voiceover script », in Otolith Group, A Long Time Between Suns, Berlin-New York, Sternberg Press, 2010, p. 63. Let it be noted that the three “films” of the Otolith Group appear in the state of “script for off-screen voice” in the cited work.
[4] Sergueï Eisenstein, “A film on Capital”, in Barthélémy Amengual, Que Viva Eisenstein, Lausanne, L’âge d’homme, 1980, p. 585. A good scriptologist, Eisentein also remarked that “It was James Joyce who developed in literature the descriptive (figurative) line of Japanese hieroglyphics”, infra, p. 590.
[5] Sergueï Paradjanov, Seven visions, Paris, Seuil, 1992, p. 45 [scenarii of six unmade films and the original script of Sayat-Nova].
[6] Edouard Levé, Works, Paris, POL, 2002 [enumeration and description of 533 works “or which the author had the idea, but never made”].
[7] “How many wish Chandigarh had never been built?”, see “Otolith II. Voiceover script”, p. 32.
[8] “The possibility of cinema can be resumed by its ability to assemble documents, to leave the door open to all possible philosophies, to offer illustrations of life, throughout the dark destiny of a representative formerly interested by the fantastic [..;], of a famous singer whose presence makes you want to hear him sing onstage.” Bertold Brecht, “Less assurance!”, in Sur le cinéma, Paris, L’arche, 1970 [“probable date”: 1926]
[9] “[…] it is clear that if a procedure made it possible to present books in such a way that the material in different chapters was revealed simultaneously, authors and readers would find it quite advantageous”, Jacques Derrida, De la grammatologie, Paris, Minuit, 1967, p. 130 [note 35]. On the subject of the difference between phonetic/alphabetical writing and ideogrammatic writing, Derrida notes that “writing […] is to word what China is to Europe”, infra, p. 41.
[10] Taken from the methodology note of 1895, see Stéphane Mallarmé, Oeuvres complètes, in the section Diverse prose, Paris, Gallimard (coll. Pléiade), 1989, p. 854-856. Note the curious use of this quote by Julia Kristeva, Sèméiotikè. Recherches pour une sémanalyse, Paris, Seuil, 1969, p. 170, where Mallarmé no longer speaks of the “future”, but of “literature” in general. Or how to distinguish between scriptological usage and falsification.
[11] “What if the failure of the film had nothing to do with the efforts of the director? What if there were other forces preventing the realization of the film?”, asks the voice of the industrialist, see “Otolith III. Voiceover script”, op. cit., p. 58.