Constable wrote:You seem to shift your position from paragraph to paragraph. First you defend difficult art on the basis that it does make sense, it's just difficult and then in the next breath you seamlessly shift into saying it doesn't matter if it makes sense.
And? These aren't mutually exclusive propositions.
Yes, difficult and inscrutable art does in fact have meaning and is interpretable. Even Finnegans Wake
. Even The Cantos
. We're not discussing the Voynich Manuscript
here. It's pretty rare for art to be 100% inscrutable and forever resistant to understanding of any kind.
And, yes, art doesn't need to be comprehensible to be "affecting, moving, and powerful." I would add, and this is important: it doesn't need to be comprehensible to provoke questions, to get you to ask what things mean, and to look deeper. That right there is one way inscrutability activates intellect.
Constable wrote:But these kind of discussions tend to get lost in abstractions if we don't discuss specific examples, so let's take 2001. Does it not bother you that no one can make sense of the whole post-stargate part of the film?
Now, you may have an interpretation and other people may have theirs, but it is completely impossible to deduce the correct interpretation from the information we're given in the film. Don't you think that's kind of a problem?
At that point, no intellect is being employed, the film is just triggering emotions in us through majestic imagery. I actually think that's kind of primitive rather than intellectual.
Do I think it's a problem that a movie isn't a math proof with one correct solution? No. It's not a problem.
When you ask for a "correct" solution, you're also asking for its corollary: an authority who can pass such a judgement. But who is that authority? The film itself? But it's already telling you everything it needs to tell. The filmmakers? Well, some like to tell people precisely what they were trying to do, but art has a way of getting away from its makers, of containing meanings they didn't expect or intend. What is there but ourselves and the discussions we have, the arguments we make, the interpretive acts we engage in? You think that
is what lacks intellect, next to an authority telling us what things mean after which we pass on our merry ways?
And, sometimes, ambiguity is the point. The difficulty of parsing events, intentions, the nature of things and ourselves, is something we're confronted with living in this world. You mentioned physics. Well, the more deeply you look into physics, the more odd and unknowable things become, the more our mental categories break down. So the cosmic sequences of 2001
can feel inscrutable, alien, and moved by intentions beyond our ken. That in itself is communicating something rather pointed about our relation to the cosmic. We're ants gazing into an impenetrable mystery. Far from repulsing me, the ambiguity seems, frankly, true. I sense I am butting up against the mysteries of the comos. This is what it is to attempt to parse the great mysteries. And what's beautiful about great mysteries is that they invite the search for meaning but don't just give themselves away. You can always dig deeper and find more; there is always something to think about.
Fundamentally: are you looking for meaning, or are you looking to be told what things mean? Are you someone who prefers answers or do you prefer questions? The people who like difficult art, the people who are ok with not knowing, who are not uncomfortable with ambiguity, are people who prefer questions and who prefer to look for meaning.
I'm with Alberto Manguel: "In reading, as in so many other things, difficulty obliges us to dig deeper and go further. I feel that almost anything that is easy is not worth doing. In literature, I call "easy" anything that has no depth, a superficial text over which you glide without being tempted to stop anywhere, to investigate more, to ask questions. An easy text gives you all the answers, like a phone book."
Constable wrote:But, again, we are talking about the meaning of a piece of fiction someone wrote. It's not some profound thing to be ignorant on, we're not talking about the latest in physics or medicine. The person who employs a tremendous mount of time to decode what Mulholland Drive or Persona means is decoding... what? Some important piece of knowledge?
Seems like a silly thing to invest such time and effort in, so it should be perfectly understandable why so many people don't care to do it. It's not that they're anti-intellectual. On the contrary.
I remember reading an essay by Susan Sontag on Persona where she goes on and on about the different pieces of evidence for what the right interpretation of the film might be and I just thought why in the world would someone spend this much time on this and be this concerned about what the writer of a fictional film meant.
I don't see why this activity is regarded by some as somehow higher than the people who can tell you what the name of the third cousin of Luke Skywalker's sister is.
Uh huh. This is the essence of anti-intellectualism. Culture doesn't matter. Meaning is unimportant. It's all a waste of time. Why are we bothering.
If you're content to be an empty consumer of art, have at it. But that's not the path to intelligence, and you're fooling yourself if you think you're the real smart one, up on all the tricks, seeing behind these fancy illusions fooling the rest of us. You're just ignorant, incurious, and proud of it.
Constable wrote:Again, you have to decide what your position is. Is your position that the film is incomprehensible on a narrative level and I should just enjoy the sensations it causes in me or do I need to work harder to comprehend it.
You can do either of those or both.
"Incomprehensible" does not mean "incoherent". I'm Thinking of Ending Things
may be on the surface incomprehensible because of its non-traditional narrative, but it's far from incoherent, and even farther from having no significance. If you want to stop at the surface pleasures of its mood or atmosphere or formal arrangement, sure. If you want to dig deeper and think about what the film is trying to express by using its non-traditional narrative, all the better.
Constable wrote:My point was that for films like this one the abstract art defense is often marshaled. And I was saying that if your art is fully abstract, then it's ok for it to not have meaning or logic, but if there is as much narrative and implied meaning and logic in it as there is in this film, then you lose the "abstract" defense against the inscrutable/doesn't make sense charge.
I can't speak to the arguments of people who aren't here. I don't know what they mean when they say "abstract". You're right, if by abstract they mean "non-representational", it's untrue on the face of it. But abstraction is not a binary; there are levels of abstraction. Abstraction is not opposed to meaning; it is a means of communicating it, even if what's being communicated, as with non-representational art, is purely about the form of art itself. I'm Thinking of Ending Things
is often using abstraction to communicate its meanings.
So the movie is
abstract. Its meanings frequently rests on things other than the literal interpretation of its story. When the film enters the school, what else is that but abstract? Interpretive dance is involved for christ's sake. Over focus on the literal, you're going to be endlessly baffled.