La-bas: the suspended image and the politics of anti-messianism
Departing from the concept of ‘suspension’, a rather ambiguous and polyvalent concept with a range of definitions such as, abrogation or cessation, temporary debarment, postponement and/or prolongation, this article wishes to argue for the cinematic image of suspension as a thinking-image that politicizes the notion of ‘time’ and ‘temporality’. By giving time an ontological priority, the suspended image breaks away from a valorisation of visuality which has historically enhanced the privileging of space over time (psychoanalytic concepts of ‘scopophilia’, ‘voyeurism’, ‘gaze’ are still dominant and key terms in order to think of the cinematic image), assuming instead a different ‘perception’ and ‘thinking’ that break away from the norms of representation. Hence, an image that does not serve (re)cognition and command/action, but persists and endures as the power to be affected. It will be suggested that the latter constitutes the essence of the suspended image.
This will be further explored through Deleuze’s and Guattari’s concept of passive vitalism, defined in their work What is Philsophy? as “a force that is but does not act – that is therefore a pure internal awareness”. The paper will argue for a new cinematic aesthetics of vitalism, in which we can find different possibilities for the conception of political bodies and their relation to images outside representation and recognition. This new aesthetics will be sought in Chantal Akerman’s film Là-bas (Down There, 2006) ; a film that with its stillness and stubborn fixedness, constitutes a suspension-film: a film made as a refusal to the aboutness of the film (a film ‘should’ always be about something); a film that negates film as representation, film as command, film as action.
At the heart of one the most debatable political spaces (Tel Aviv) Akerman creates a film of the seer and not of the agent. By bringing out the inhuman powers of duration, as internal differentiating, change and transformation, the film runs still, expressing an undecidability between prolongation and cessation, postponement and debarment; an undecidability that in turn puts forward a politics of vitalism, not as representation and belonging but as negotiation of the multiple affections and attachments that compose the body-behind-the-camera and the image-as-body. A vital body precisely because of its radical passivity and of its distinction from the ‘I’ viewpoint’ that commands. Là-bas produces a true ‘foreign body’, a body that eschews self-recognition mainly because it does not possess its time or its space. On the contrary, the ‘I’ is always a second comer, one caught in suspension: not a messianic body-to-come as the self-righteous Subject, but always the ‘second’ coming of the ‘I’, as a radical counter-messianism and falsification. In Là-bas to come second, to be this highest point of evolution, progress and rational development is not to have an existential priority; it is to be belated.