Spiral: Cinema and the Exception

The spiral is also an image of the eternal return: perhaps the image of the immanence of that thought. As I have already pointed out, this paradigmatic image is problematic precisely because it excludes the problem of the exception. This is particularly the case with regard to the problem of subjectivity. The abyss of the return can be thought of, in this context, as a kind of vortex or, whirlpool in which subjectivation and de-subjectivation occur in the exact same moment: in the encounter with the world (the outside), the abyss. This is a problem, however, precisely because this “abyssal” moment allows subjectivation (subjection) to “take” desubjectivation (self-production). Uzumaki, I think, depicts this experience of the “taking of the outside” of individuation as a stylish horror film. The encounter with the outside in the global state of exception can be compared to that of an encounter with a spiral. In this sense, this grade B horror film invites us (or, perhaps, only me) to think about our present image of thought—which can identified with the eternal return (the thought of our time)—and the experience of the exception as a spiral. This is the problem of the prior movement of the exception analyzed by Agamben, particularly in relation to Primo Levi’s “gray zone.”
—from “Spiral”

This is my chapter on cinema and the exception,“Spiral.” It was the last chapter I wrote and it was written fairly quickly in the Fall of 2005. The material on Tsai Ming-Liang is from 2001. The material on Sirk, Haynes, and Fassbinder was based on my teaching since 2003, but the full thought behind it formed its own chapter length project (focusing on mise-en-scene and the prison iconography and “looks” in the films). I ended up getting bogged down in formatting issues for the chapter and most of the productive material on Sirk, Haynes, and Fassbinder never made it into the text. It was always my plan to expand on it either in the “book” or in another work entirely. After the dissertation, the material on Tsai Ming-Liang’s The Hole was expanded for use in my teaching, drawing out further the visual analysis of the film.

I have continued to teach the Sirk, Haynes, and Fassbinder films, every single year for the past decade and a half. And I occasionally still teach Ming-Liang’s work. At some point, I would like to put together short video essays on this material since they’ve formed such a productive part of my teaching.

There was an additional chapter planned for the dissertation, “Sweetness.” This was to be on psychedelic children’s music, 8-track tapes, and lounge music as an avant-garde at the turn of the 21st century (with particular emphasis on the political economy of music and lounge as music made specifically for the home). This work is alluded to in the final sections of this chapter (and, I think, in some of the notes).


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