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Last Year at Marienbad (1961)- Playing on Discreteness : Aditya Tripathi

Alain Resnais’ Last Year at Marienbad (1961) [“L’année dernière à Marienbad” (original title) ]: Playing on Discreteness

BY Aditya Tripathi

(Prologue: Inter alia, the principal human characters in the film will be referred as ‘A’ and ‘B’ while the principal-ancillary character will be referred as ‘C’, henceforth. A is supposedly reminiscing of a meeting with B in certain state of ‘Time’ which he proposes to B, reminding her of the meeting and related incidents, its promises etc. constantly all over the film, of which B is oblivious or in a state of jamais vu, as it may appear. ‘C’ is the ‘present’ companion/husband of ‘B’ and is element of eminent perturbation of the cinematic mood/ plot-schemata.)

Last Year at Marienbad (1961)

Last Year at Marienbad (1961)

The film opens up with a gluing sequence of finitely many connected shots of interiors of a compact space, i.e. a ‘dismal’ Baroque hotel inside which, later on,  ‘A’ confides to ‘B’ of a meeting which took place ‘last year in Frederiksbad …or Marienbad’, ‘B’ being completely oblivious of which. Strip remembrance, to be precise ontologically, anamnesis, of temporality and what remains of it is undecidable. Prima facie, the premise of the film is this ‘tenselessness’ of events. The two events of the so-called ‘past’ (supposedly reminiscing of which ‘A’ is) and ‘present’ are shown intermittently occurring inside the compact space of the Baroque hotel and its complement (the sparsely ‘vegetated’ avenue and the hedge-maze). Time in the film has spatial properties thus forming a four-dimensional ambient space of the state of events. Events are nearer or far away instead of ‘happened’ or happening. The ‘odd’ geometry of space is exploited to blur the kinesthetic sense of time.

The verbal and the pure cinematic narratives both follow a binary operation (the assertions by ‘A’ and complete different/opposite perspectives held by ‘B’, camera movements inside the hotel and alternatively in its complementary space). This feature of the film’s narrative is extremely important in what follows. The character ‘C’ constantly poses a game to ‘A’, a game of Nim, throughout the film. There are four rows of heaps of sticks/cards arranged in cardinalities of 1,3,5, and 7. A single move consists of taking as many sticks as the player may from a single row. The player to take the last stick loses. Throughout the film ‘A’ loses the game to ‘C’; ‘A’ happens to pick the last stick no matter what strategy he chooses against ‘C’ (or maybe he is playing wild).

Digression: Understanding winning strategies of Nim Games are part of Combinatorial Game theoretic analysis (Caveat! It is not similar to the theory of games one encounters in mathematical economics). Combinatorial games are of two kinds, Normal play and Misère plays. The kind of Nim game appearing in the film where the last movement corresponds to losing are called Misère plays/ games. Despite the simple looking structure of rules of combinatorial games, finding winning strategy for them is complicated in case of Normal play and ranging from extremely complicated to hitherto unaccomplished in case of Misère plays. For Normal play, due to The Sprague–Grundy Theorem it is established that to any combinatorial game say G there ‘corresponds’ a  Nim heap of finite length. Further, there is a winning strategy to Normal play Nim game. One has to put the cardinality of each strip (heap) in binary representation ( two digit system consisting of 0 and 1) and then run a bitwise XOR operation (i.e. the logical operation of Exclusive disjunction) on them. If the result of this direct sum is identically 0 the previous player’s strategy is winning (Game is in ‘P-position). Therefore the problem gets solved in Normal play Nim. The difficulty with Misère plays is that Sprague–Grundy Theorem does not hold (to a Misère game there does not correspond no Nim heap of any length). The structure theory of Misère games and its winning strategies is being approximated through the concept of Misère quotients which are  commutative monoids  formed by  certain equivalence classes modulo set of certain  Misère games/ positions (see any text on Abstract Algebra to understand these Group theoretic concepts), an area of current advanced research in the realm of combinatorial game theory. Certain Misère games are solved through computer simulations but a whole bunch of them are still lying as open problems, besides a complete general theory of them is still to be framed.

Recurrence of the game throughout the film is not only incidental or for the sake of sensation, the film plays on the idea of binary bitwise exclusive disjunction either inadvertently or surreptitiously so. Wherever there is a coincidence of the similar instances from the two states of referred time, that is to say the space is contracted to a point, the cinematic and verbal narrative gets the incremental impetus to move forward and remain inertial  till further such ‘fixed point’. The difference of remembrance and oblivion, space and its complement pave the way for the cinematic flux while the blurring of such differences represents the origin, the singularity.

The film’s ‘story’, if any is immaterial. Viewer’s presence is sought in the film and his engagement with the narrative would further complicate the affairs.

Influence of the Film: Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining is heavily influenced of the film, though not idea-wise. The influence is mostly on the cinematic side. The elaborated shots of a Baroque styled labyrinthine Hotel, camera tracking through its corridors and walls, the hedge-maze outside the hotel, the ballroom and resting area as centre of key incidents, the constant playing of organ music in the background etc.  are a few examples. Even Kubrick attempted a mental impasse by showing Jack Nicholson’s picture among others in that portrait hanging in that hotel lobby.

Aditya Tripathi

Aditya Tripathi

Aditya is a post graduate in Economics from Delhi School of Economics and an emerging film critic. He can be contacted at adibrasco@gmail.com.

Cinema of Continuity:Tarkovsky and Béla Tarr: Aditya Tripathi

By Aditya Tripathi

tarkovsky_mirror

Tarkovsky-Mirror

‘Cinema of Continuity’

There are a few auteurs in cinema who have tried to realize, to reflect, the denseness of the continuum and the non-linearity of time thus preparing a ‘bildungsroman’ of space-time in which the subject is embedded. I prefer to call such cinematic consequences, ‘Cinema of Continuity’. When talking of space it is impossible to shun time. Time, which is not linear in this context. To my awareness Andrei Tarkovsky is the best artist of space time . He reflects ” History is not time ; nor is evolution, they are both consequences. Time is a state; the flame in which there lives the salamander of human soul.” He has a method to understand it ” Cause and effect are mutually dependent……Cause and effect are in moral sense linked retroactively and then a person does as it were return to his past”. He once envies the Japanese that they have ‘mastered time aesthetically’ through ‘Saba’ (a nuance, a sign of age) and he yearns to do so in his cinema which can be apparently seen in his ‘ The Mirror’ (1975). As for as space is concerned he goes on ” ..through the image is sustained an awareness of the infinite, the eternal within the finite, the spiritual within matter, the limitless given form..”. In Andrei Rublev (1966) we can see his exploration of this latter claim, that beautiful long sequence where the bell is being cast in the backdrop of  the Tatar invasion. Tarkovsky further plays with the metaphysical notion of a loop through panning shots beautifully creating some short of magical moment in almost all of his films (specially in Solaris, The Mirror, Andrei Rublev). Beautiful selection of non-diegetic music adds to the magic of dream logic and extraordinary spatial moments such as levitation shots. The long takes are such that you do not want to come out of it though materially not much transpires, spiritually you belong to it , be it, with the subject in question. It rarely happens otherwise. You want to live that moment, that cinematic fact which turns out to be a ‘hieroglyphic of truth’, artistically.

The second auteur is a master of space and space alone. There is a sense of timelessness in his films. The man who as it seems wants to depict the ancient Greek paradoxes of dichotomy in his single shot-extreme long takes and tracking shots. None other than the Hungarian director Béla Tarr. And what is meant here by Béla is his works post Öszi Almanach (1984) and since Kárhozat (1988) till A Torinói Ló (2011), reportedly his last film. Though single shot-long takes and tracking shots have a history, best example being Kenji Mizoguchi (for example his the Last Chrysanthemum, 1939. who had a mastery over it, but what Béla does to it is embedding some kind of haunting dark force by ceasing utterly the camera movement for a while during the extreme long takes with slowest possible movements, accompanied by natural white noise apposite to the cinematic ‘incident’ in question. Then there are the close ups of faces in a manner as if the camera is trying to perceive the story of that being. Space itself is the principal character, the protagonist of his films and its character is not already formed but is evolutionary, being built piece by piece, the retrospect added continuously consequence of which is a sense of shock, a catharsis when the space is finally redeemed in/by the infinite, eternity, and the cinematic process is culminated.

Béla Tarr-Sátántangó

Béla Tarr-Sátántangó

One might wonder that while writing about these two I have completely ignored individual films of theirs and thereby have ignored the individual themes or stories of those films. To that I would say, that is not important here and therefore the advertent selection of the term ‘auteurs’ and not directors. Further, Stanisław Lem’s futuristic Solaris is not as appealing as the aesthetically appealing and more humane Solaris of Tarkovsky or reading Roadside Picnic will not set the visuo-metaphysical plain prepared in Stalker. On a different level though László Krasznahorkai is a brilliant novelist and a collaborator of Béla with his Az Ellenállás Melankóliája and Sátántangó it is a pleasure to watch Werckmeister Harmonies or Sátántangó (the film) than to read the aforesaid novels they are based on. The novels concentrate upon the concepts, the linguistics and the philosophical problems sui generis to literature and though they set the stage for the drama they fail to appropriate the space the way cinema would do.

Aditya Tripathi

Aditya Tripathi

Aditya is a post graduate  in Economics from Delhi School of Economics. He can be contacted at adibrasco@gmail.com.

Humanities Syllabi

By Aditya Tripathi

(Draft Document: Internal Circulation Only, Part –1 Humanities, Syllabi for the Taught Masters Leading to Research Programme At Institute of Quite Advanced Studies: We don’t teach no sciences out here)

Serving the objective of the institute it has been decided by the board (headed by Mr. Aditya Saurabh) that only humanities and social sciences shall be the research concentration of the institute, however the process of research in the areas of humanities and social sciences must be quite scientific. During the course of research unscientific researchers will be deliberately discouraged and hence finally thrown out of the Institute before they even realize what actually happened.

This is to present an outline of the syllabi (designed by Mr. Saurabh) for first two years of the taught masters leading to the various research programmes at the IQAS.

 Arts & Aesthetics:

Cubism : what is so cubical about it. Why Pollock hated Picasso, we mean what was going on.

Dada: Was Erik Satie a musician or technician or both or none. How to solve this puzzle.

Modern Paintings (in general): Why a picture of disfigured naked woman’s bust and ass repeatedly captures the imagination of a modern artist? The inability of modern artist to produce pictures of pretty (in the most general sense of it) women or anything pretty so to say.

 Cinema: Who is better Kanti Lal Sah or Jean Luc Godard: the obvious is not so obvious. How to look like a French New Wave aficionado.  How to tolerate works of Ingmar Bergman, Kieślowski and their lot. To figure out bad movies of Fellini. To figure out whether Roberto Benigni is an actor or a standup comedian. . The importance of a sobbing and grieving lead female character in art house cinema and her inability of being cheered up despite various efforts by the director. Why just inverting the color of movies of David Dhavan may qualify them to be avant garde cinema and vice versa. The surrealist aspects of Kanti Lal Sah’s works ‘Gunda’ and ‘Loha’.

Final semester will be spent on teaching the students about how to get dressed in peculiar fashions so that even a layman can tell that you are an arts and aesthetics student.

Performing Arts:

How to perform the performing arts. Understanding the mystery behind this subject being taught in the first place anywhere in the world.* Why not to look at the camera while you are acting: what potential damage it causes to your eyes.  How to act to act. Why being ugly is a prerequisite for being recognized as a great actor. The general theory of inverse relation between being good looking and being a good actor.

* Remark: This might take one whole year.

Music:

How to blow maximum air in the saxophone to produce legitimate sounds with least efforts. The respective relevant facial expressions to be made while you are playing various instruments. How to read and write music in English instead of strange symbols prevalent in music writing. The role of symbolic music writings in intimidating even the best of musicians in the Renaissance and Enlightenment era. How to pretend of playing a piano while the music is actually coming out of a record player behind the scenes. Why to choose the best instrument that suits your overall personality to that of which suits your inherent musical ability.

Why is jazz overrated by the intellectuals!!

The total irrelevance of mathematics in the theory of music and also the total irrelevance of theory of music itself. How to distract someone who is playing actual good out of his instrument and is taking himself seriously. General impact of saying  ‘beautiful … beautiful…’ whenever one hears a piece of music. Also its impact on overall performance.

English Literature:

Elizabethan and Jacobean drama: Who performed it and how entertaining it was then. ‘What’ was Shakespeare? : A man, a woman or both or a group of men and woman or none of these and in that case who wrote Hamlet. Was it Hamlet? (Caveat! : Figuring this out might take more than a year or so and might turn out to be futile)

 Modernism: Why did James Joyce wore an eyepatch, what happened to his eyes: Was it Glaucoma or somebody did hit him after reading Finnegans Wake. The implicit infinite poetic license provided by the stream of consciousness technique to the writer: Why the Ulysses was not extended to a few more thousand pages or so, while it is always possible. If there was no Shakespeare & Co. what would had happened to Joyce, Pound and Ford and how their absence would have saved humanity. How saying Kafka ..Kafka …at regular intervals can get you laid easily. Why John Steinbeck is more modern than any of the lot.

Structuralism, Deconstruction, Post structuralism, Postmodernism and Post-Colonialism: Was Thomas Pynchon a deconstructionist, if so what did he actually deconstruct and how? In general how to deconstruct stuff?  How The Name of the Rose by Eco has the hidden potential to bore one to a practical death. Is the novel a literary jewel or cheap pulp fiction written in a fake mystico-philosophical tone?  Is Junkie a guide on drug-abuse by a fellow wanker or a novel by William S. Burroughs.

The Beat Movement:

Was Allen Ginsberg directly responsible for the great influx of bums (from US) to India and ‘Hare Rama’? Whom to beat for the beat movement : Ginsberg or Kerouac. What did they do?

 Part II & III may follow after a few days.

Aditya is a Economics major  from Delhi School of Economics. He can be contacted at adibrasco@gmail.com.

Squatting Demoiselle of Picasso : Aditya Tripathi

By Aditya Tripathi

To my continued interest in scholarly pursuits of folks in social sciences, humanities, to a lesser extent in sciences and amusingly much in the interdisciplinary interface of the three, I intend to put forth some of my observations here. This urge has been recently aroused due to a reading of Picasso’s works and their interpretations by ‘scholars’.

As I am going to discuss ‘scholarly pursuits’, we should first recognize the scholar as one. A first order scholar is a dilettante mostly sporting an unshaven look with dishevelled ‘hairdo’, fond of unhealthy lifestyle and reserves a very personal and private language for scholarly discussions. An exception is a mathematics scholar, mostly due to the common formal language prevailing throughout the discipline causing a mono-linguistic limp and also one reason for his/her not being taken seriously by society in general and women and salesmen in particular. For example Turing turned himself into a homosexual, Gödel was fearful of death by pneumonia, Euler was blind so had few options anyway, Perelman still lives with his mother etc. A few wise mathematicians took resort to or flirted with philosophy and led  nice social lives having at least one certain dinner, accompanied by wine and music e.g. Bertrand Russelll. However, the most intelligent of the lot turned themselves into polymaths enjoying better material comforts e.g John von Neumann.

Anyway, I am not here to discuss scholars much. So, I was reading about how Picasso’s ‘Les Demoiselles d’ Avignon’ came into being and how the five whores, though I see none in the painting, are important from a geometric point of view and how it was the beginning of cubism. The author’s intention is to interpret the painting from a mathematical (geometric) point of view. You know, the scientists, the mathematicians the killjoys of human fancy and license. According to the Author  ‘Les Demoiselles’ is a gradual geometrization of the human form as the ‘action’ progresses from the left whore to the right most squatting whore, giving the squatting whore a 4-dimensional representation. The author confides us about the technique of getting to a 4- dimensional representation of objects by an ‘analytical method’ for rotating a complex polyhedra so as to obtain different perspective of their 4-dimensional structure seen as projection onto a plane (author quotes Esprit Jouffret’s 1903 treatise ‘Traite Elementaire de geometrie a quatre dimensions’ and claims that Picasso knew of this work through an autodidact named Princet a member en marge of la bande a Picasso). Well I am happy to know that, but it may also be noted that the squatting whore is the ugliest of all in the painting if rest of them are also whores. If 4-dimensional representation mars things so ruthlessly, personally I would like to see and restrict myself to the three dimensional world itself.

Now a few words on the dimension 4. I am not sure whether Picasso ever tried to represent the squatting whore in dimension 4, as not only I can’t see from my naked eyes on the 2-dimensional perspective of the canvas any 4th dimension whatsoever, there is no such testimony by Picasso too of such fact. Jouffret’s has some convincing arguments though about visualizing the 4th dimension by projection on plane by rotation of polyhedra, his projections would let you believe what he argues but I don’t buy it, the visualizations  I mean. I had gone through similar troubles reading Einstein’s relativity; the Minkowskian 4-dimensioanl space is very convincing till it is algebraically geometric and it may be understood but when the authors start let you visualize pure geometric 4-dimensional configurations e.g. through stereographically projected Clifford parallels on three dimensional sphere in Euclidean Space ( a 3 parameter family of circles and one straight line), you actually start believing that the world constitutes of only evil forces and your routine life is funnier than the seekers of truth and related commodities. Above all it is anti-intuition.

In the studies by Picasso for ‘Les Demoiselles’ from carnets 8 afterwards he finalizes the squatting whore’s (squatting demoiselle) head with the geometric reduction of the form to a so-called four dimensional representation. I am telling you the effort would not have been worth it, if Picasso were still alive and had yet not completed ‘Les Demoiselles’. I would have invited him to my office and have shown him one colleague with the strangest head I have ever seen and it is so similar to the squatting demoiselle’s head and yet sits in dimension three of the space.
  Aditya is a post graduate  in Economics from Delhi School of Economics. He can be contacted at adibrasco@gmail.com.

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