Cinematic and Televisual Time Machines

While doing some unrelated research at Emory’s library this weekend, I came across the most recent issue of the academic film journal, Screen, and the entire issue is devoted to cinema and time (or, more properly, media and time). It looks like a great issue, with lots of heavy hitters, but more importantly, it’s getting me excited about my book project on time-travel films again. So far, I’ve only read Bill Schwarz’s essay, which I may discuss here in detail later, but his discussion of how various media organize human time and historical time seems crucial to my work (as my currently abandoned project on the temporality of blogging suggests).

I think that his comments point to why I find time-travel films and TV shows so interesting. In time-travel films and television, this process of temporal organization is completely on the surface, becomes an issue within the narrative itself. I’m still sorting through some of these revised ideas about time-travel films, so I don’t want to expose them in much more detail here just yet. Even so, I’d like to sort through a few points from the Schwarz essay below the fold.

Looking back at my blogging essay, I think it would have benefited from a more careful connection with the temporality of television, specifically as it is articulated in John Ellis’s “Television as Working Through” (which is quoted extensively by Schwarz). Ellis writes:

Television can be seen as a vast mechanism for processing raw data of news reality into more narrativized, explained forms. This can be likened to the process of “working through” described by psychoanalysis, a process whereby material is not so much processed into a finished product as continually worried over until it is exhausted. Television attempts to define, tries out explanations, creates narratives, talks over, makes intelligible, tries to marginalize, harnesses speculation, tries to make fit and very occasionally anthathematizes. […] Television does not provide any overall explanation; nor does it necessarily ignore or trivialize. Television itself, just like its soap operas, comes to no conclusions.

I initially liked the connection to working through quite a bit, especially in the way that it might have better framed my thoughts about the temporality of blogging, in which narrators are constantly processing the material of their personal lives, or in many cases, the historical and political world (no, I don’t think the two are completely separable). Bloggers go back over the same material, constantly offering new explanations, trying out new narratives, to explain a historical event (the investigations of the causes and effects of 9/11 are but one very important recent example that I won’t even try to address in detail). Because blogs are updated daily, I don’t think they can be seen as offering an “overall explanation” of this historical moment. Obviously, many of the most rigorous bloggers have a well-defined interpretation of the world, guided by their intellectual commitments, which guides their blog entries, but I think that stops well short of an “overall explanation.”

Looking further at Schwarz’s citation of Ellis, I find it interesting that Ellis cites “chat shows” as his primary example. Ellis comments that

The chat arena constitutes a continual process of speculation on human behavior and motives. Everything that was news will pass through this process in some way or another; connections are made between discrete and separate news items. Stories from the news arena are misremembered and misinterpreted, bringing forward the subterranean preoccupations of the indivudal speaker.

Ellis adds that such a logic “is a fact of the whole audiovisual sphere,” so I don’t think it’s a stretch to extend these points to blogging. In fact, I’m not quite sure what it adds to the discussion to include blogging under this reading. Like Schwarz, I think it would be “equally convincing” to re-read most versions of TV “chat” negatively, under the term “acting out” (105), the “pathological repetition” that Freud opposed to “working through.” Schwarz adds that the conclusions here (“good or bad”) aren’t as important as the conceptualization of TV and media time. In this sense, TV, rather than serving as a social or collective archive, actually funcstions as a “relation” or “process” of making sense of the world as it happens. I’m still sorting through this point, and it may be the pace where TV and blogging differ somewhat. TV, of course, runs 24 hours a day (even if late night broadcasts are repeats of earlier shows), while bloggers publish less frequently (with the exception of stunts like Blogathons). The construction of time is somehwat different, with each media constructing its own time, although I’m not prepared to go into much detail here–this entry is long enough.

Finally, as I read this essay, I couldn’t help but think about my attendance at a recent screening of Outfoxed, not to mention the recent popularity of other “news” documentaries, such as Control Room and F9/11. First, I’m less sanguine than I was a few days ago about Outfoxed, especially given its specific targetting of one network rather than the deregulation of media in general. More crucial to the issues at stake here, I’ve been thinking about the different mode of address in the documentaries, most of which were produced very quickly in order to be released before the election (the most fascinating recent example of which is this documentary inspired by the ideas of George Lakoff, mentioned in a GreenCine Daily blog entry). Even though these documentaries are made rather quickly, there’s still a much different temporal mode at work, one that seems implcitly connected to a cinematic time associated with reflection and retroactivity, something that these documentaries almost seem to struggle against. I’m still trying to sort through this concept, though, and I think I’ll save that for another blog entry.

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