Postcinematic Writing

Postcinematic Writing

by
Adrian Miles
and Mark Amerika
2018-03-03

Adrian Miles (09/19/1960 — 02/05/2018) was an early theorist, practioner and teacher of cinematic hypertext and networked, “writerly” video. In memory of his innovative research in these fields, ebr presents this short dialogue between Adrian and founding ebr publisher Mark Amerika. The text is republished from META/DATA: A Digital Poetics, by Mark Amerika, with permission from The MIT Press.   

 

Mark Amerika: Let’s talk about the vog. As the vog manifesto says: ‘‘9. a vog is dziga vertov with a mac and a modem.’’ Could you elaborate?The Vog Manifesto was first written in 2000 and later revised and expanded in 2010.

Adrian Miles: ‘‘I the machine show you the world as only I can see it’’ (Dziga Vertov, 1923). Of all the Russian montage directors, Vertov is in many ways the most fascinating. This is partly because of his interest in documentary and reportage, though its mainly because his work is oddly prescient. For instance, in 1923 he wrote: With the speed of international communications and the lightning dispatch of filmed material, the Cine-Gazette ought to be a ‘‘survey of the world every few hours.’’ It is not. We must face up to this. The Cine-Pravda is a car on a leash, an aeroplane beneath a ceiling: it cannot be a Cine-Gazette. This is a description, first of all, of CNN, and then it is a description of Internet-based production and distribution—in 1923! As he says, the current system is a car on a leash, an aeroplane beneath a ceiling. This is how I see streaming media on the Web right now, restrained by wanting to be just like TV.

MA: Yes, the Web suffers from TV envy, but then again, it’s pre-TV. It’s almost as though it were in its imaginary stage of telecommunicational development. Vertov saw that. The Kino-Eye as Writing Machine. The Dream of Mosaic (GUI stickiness). Interfacing with the Processual Mind as it ‘‘captures’’ screenal logic. In this regard, I think we should mention Tesla as well, since he anticipated the liberating potential of transforming the body into an apparatus of network conduction. Not to mention Vannevar Bush and his ‘‘As We May Think’’ essay published in the Atlantic Monthly right after dropping the bombs in WW2. And then Ted Nelson watching Douglas Engelbart fidget with a mouse and windows-based computer screen having an epiphany, like watching a man land on the moon and thinking—hypertext. Click-click, say no more, say no more—and then, with utopian-mystical vision (Xanadu?) conceptualizing what he soon called literary machines.

AM: The epiphany for me was when I first saw Storyspace in ’91 or ’92. Those spaces and link lines made perfect and transparent sense to me. It was on a Mac, and I knew that QuickTime would work in there. I was a junior academic in cinema studies interested in computers, and how and why I would write like this was obvious. Ever since then, I’ve been thinking and writing with links. Links are what I write with, and for me they’re just like film edits—made of the same stuff. When I write, I get lost in these possibilities—the futures that present themselves while writing, in writing, through writing. It is this being-like-film that is the process I explore. Any edges you write are arbitrary, contingent, sometimes accidental. The key is to locate a vision, to find a vide´criture that is this writing. The Web just ups the ante for the process as model.

MA: Right, I use the Web to capture the work-in-process, to remix my ongoing ungoing filmtext experience, which brings us back to Vertov and streaming in real-time theory and cultural production.

AM: Vertov wrote lots of things that today, when transcribed to our use of streaming media, seem to be very relevant. His criticism of cinema as stories with illustrations seems largely what most people do when they think of video on the Web. He writes slogans and manifestos that let me think of him as posthuman. He makes no distinction between camera and person, machine and individual. It’s a machinic vision, and the role of the film maker in Vertov’s kingdom is to learn how to listen to the machine—to write (see) with and for the machine, to not subject the machine to the individual. This is my experience of writing hypertext hypertextually, and it’s what I want to learn how to do with time-based media—to write in QuickTime.

MA: To write in QuickTime as a writing or literary machine using kino-eye cinescripture to essentially code into being a randomized filmtext environment that others can access by way of a P2P network that sets into motion a utopian dreamworld of international culture. But I digress. What about your vogs?

AM: All my vogs are made using pretty generic tools. A domestic-quality mini-DV camera, a recent firewire-equipped Mac, and they’re trying to find a way of writing that works for most Web users, most of the time, where word, sound, moving image, etc., are not discrete entities outside of each others fields.

MA: Hmmm. I guess I feel like that’s how I work already. True, I have to emulate the seamless shape-shifting that must take place in order to discretely pass from one application to another, but in the end, my nerve scales are scintillating with raw (indigestible) desire, and without even thinking about it I lose myself in the process. This is what it means to be a network artist— finding yourself by losing yourself in the white-hot chemical decomposition of cell.f in all its coded glory. Can you relate?

AM: No. Though I probably could. :-) I’ve never thought of it as primarily networked but about getting rid of this distinction between words and pictures. For me, writing hypertextually is always a postcinematic writing, and while pictures work differently than words, their different networks (to steal your terminology) or the differences in their networks are erased. But it’s one thing to talk about that kind of writing and quite another thing to actually do it. The vogs are an exploration in this direction. Instead of hypertext being the medium, it’s video, though I guess they are pretty much hypertexts in QuickTime—same questions, same problems. A part of the code is the network, so you’re right. It is about making things that more or less work now, with no really special requirements, with a small palette of space, bandwidth, and time. It should always be about fragments, parts, remixing. Scale is now relative to connection, not monumentality.

An earlier version of this dialogue was originally published online at Rhizome.org (2001).

 

Adrian’s students and colleagues at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia have created a website to allow anyone to “contribute a memorable story about Adrian in any media format.”