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„New Forms for a Philosophy of Film: Creative and Political Methodologies“,

School of Art, Manchester Metropolitan University, 20th of July 2015


Christine Reeh, Towards a Solaristic Philosophy of Film

Towards a Solaristic Philosophy of Film

The reproduction of reality is one of the very philosophical questions raised


by the emergence of film inquiring into the ontological nature of both,
reality and film. Yet the audio-photographic and moving reproduction of
reality performed by film constitutes an ontological puzzle, which has been
disregarded as a main line of enquiry with direct consequences for
philosophy. What of reality is exactly reproduced by film since reality
changes its materiality by filmic reproduction? And if reality is reproducible,
what does its reproducibility tell us about its fundamental nature?

I will start with Stanley Cavell who assumes film’s origin in the photographic
reproduction of the physical world and therefore reflects on the ontological
status of photographs. He says:

A photograph does not present us with “likeness” of things; it presents


us, we want to say, with the things themselves. But wanting to say that
may well make us ontologically restless. […] We do not know what a
photograph is; we do not know how to place it ontologically. 1

Cavell’s statement implies that we also do not know what a film image is;
thereby he explicitly assumes the ontological puzzle regarding reality-based
images and explains what is so puzzling about them: they present us with
the things themselves.
But how can that be? What is actually happening to reality when
reproduced by film? Or, asking from another perspective: which kind of
images are we looking at when we watch for instance a movie? How can we

1
Stanley Cavell, The World Viewed, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1974/1979, pp. 17/18

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„New Forms for a Philosophy of Film: Creative and Political Methodologies“,
School of Art, Manchester Metropolitan University, 20th of July 2015
Christine Reeh, Towards a Solaristic Philosophy of Film

call something a reproduction, which escapes representation as it is a re-


presentation, yet different from a double?

As a matter of fact by watching film-images we are facing the pictures of a


technological apparatus. They feed human perception by absorbing the
attention towards physical reality. The referred apparatus has been
preselecting and shaping a tissue of reproduced and assembled reality. Yet
by watching this tissue, we are not submitted to an illusory appearance like
allegorized in Plato’s Cave, but, as Alain Badiou suggests, we access
something new regarding the Real. Badiou claims that:

“[C]inema is not a false reality. Cinema is a new relationship to the Real


itself. (…) [It] is saying that images exist not as a substitute to the Real
but of something, which says something new concerning the Real itself.
It is the absence of the Real but as a new form of knowledge.” 2

By that Badiou adds to our ontological-metaphysical interrogation an


epistemological level. Yet what could be this new form of knowledge of the
Real? How can we learn something about that which is absent? This idea of
the absence of “the Real” which simultaneously evokes “the Real”, is similar
to Cavell’s idea of the “presence” of objects in the photographic image,
actually “referring to their absence”.

Cavell’s notion of presence is anchored in Heidegger’s philosophy of being,


where the German word “Anwesenheit” means a presence, which implies
the “essence” of objects, the “Being of beings”. In this sense we have to

2
Alain Badiou, Cinema and Philosophy, keynote lecture given on 27th of November 2014 at
UNSW Arts & Social Sciences, Australia, available online at
http://www.videodownload.cc/youtube/professor-alain-badiou-cinema-and-philosophy

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„New Forms for a Philosophy of Film: Creative and Political Methodologies“,
School of Art, Manchester Metropolitan University, 20th of July 2015
Christine Reeh, Towards a Solaristic Philosophy of Film

read the following quote as denoting a kind of “present essence” in


photography and film.

(…) objects participate in the photographic presence of themselves;


they participate in the re-creation of themselves on film; they are
essential in the making of their appearances. Objects projected on a
screen are inherently reflexive, they occur as self-referential, reflecting
upon their physical origins. Their presence refers to their absence, their
location in another place.3

The reason for this “negative” subsistence of presence is determined by the


ontological essence of film to be entangled with the real of reality. Yet is it a
property of the real to be reproducible? The special characteristic of the
reproduced real of reality in film, to be absent although present, evokes a
kind of negation of negation of the Real: Film is real by negating the
presence of what is real, which again is negated. It is referring to an
absence, which negates its absence, as it simultaneously evokes presence.4

Regarding this scope of inquiry I propose to introduce my PhD project,


which consists in the development of a specific philosophy of film entitled as
the ‘solaristic system’.
The neologism designates the proposal to develop a philosophical
system, in which ontological, metaphysical and epistemological questions
overlap. This system appropriates the aesthetic ideas and principles of
thought present in the 1972 sci-fi movie "Solaris" by Andrei Tarkovsky. The

3
Stanley Cavell, The World Viewed, pp. xv-xvi
4
This approach consciously ignores the difference between the digital and the mechanical
reproduction; cinema comprises a negation of the negation of the Real in both cases. Even in
digitally created worlds, the absent presence of the Real is at stake, and not the illusion of the
Real.

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„New Forms for a Philosophy of Film: Creative and Political Methodologies“,
School of Art, Manchester Metropolitan University, 20th of July 2015
Christine Reeh, Towards a Solaristic Philosophy of Film

solaristic system is neither set as a philosophical interpretation of the


movie, nor as a mere exemplification of “doing philosophy through film”;
instead it aspires to new philosophical insights and consequences for both,
the reflection on film and on reality.

The term "solaristic" is thereby deduced from the fictitious "solaristic


science" introduced in the movie’s diegesis. Solaristic science is dedicated
to the investigation of the planet Solaris5, an unattainable challenge for
human knowledge.

Let me briefly recall, what this movie is about. The main character,
psychologist Kris Kelvin, is sent to a decadent space station at the orbit of
the planet Solaris, because disturbing reports have arrived from the three
scientists remaining there, after decades of fruitless investigation. In the
center of the film are the so-called “visitors”. As far as can be understood,
the visitors are both, key and mirror of the human’s identity and
conscience. Like ghosts they just appear out of nowhere, enigmatically
materialized out of the dreams of the humans on the station. Their
materialization is explained as a “stabilization of neutrinos” – in physics the
so-called “ghost particles”.
Kris Kelvin’s visitor is his ex-wife Harey who has committed suicide
years ago on Earth. She is immortal and attached in her identity and
emotions to Kris, yet without own memories at first. She is restless and
haunted by existential human questions: to know who or what she really is.

5
The film “Solaris” differs from the fictive planet Solaris, which gives the film its name. Therefore I
distinguish one from the other by using quotation marks when referring to the movie, and no
quotation marks when referring to the planet.

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„New Forms for a Philosophy of Film: Creative and Political Methodologies“,
School of Art, Manchester Metropolitan University, 20th of July 2015
Christine Reeh, Towards a Solaristic Philosophy of Film

Kris and her fall in love, but her desire to become human makes her
suicidal. In the movie the visitors function as an interface between humans
and the planet, who is somehow trying to measure the humans with
inhuman methods, just as the humans try to measure the planet. Therefore
the planet is reminiscent of an apparatus comparable to the filmic
apparatus: Solaris is suspected to be a giant brain which (re)produces
fragments of reality in the form of objects and beings.

My choice of the movie “Solaris” to ground a philosophy of film is based on


its outstanding self-reflexivity of the filmic medium, in a double sense:
Firstly, “Solaris” is self-reflexive on the ontological and epistemological
status of film just as any movie or film is: It is representative for the analysis
of the essential features of film, a medium, which has raised discussion on
its ontological, metaphysical and epistemological condition. The ‘solaristic
system’ attempts to give this reflection a new shift, by closely working on
the essence of film by examining one specific film in detail, regarding its
self-reflexive references.
This brings us to the second aspect of the self-reflexivity of “Solaris” as
a specific movie. Its aesthetic principles, mise-en-scène, dramaturgy and
diegesis work as an allegory for the attempt of human apprehension of the
real of reality through the confrontation with its reproduction, by non-
human intervention, just as in film.

To give an example that unites both forms of self-reflexivity: "Solaris" holds


as a main aesthetic principle a status to be called ‘being without being’.
This concept reminds the principle of ‘presence of absence’ which I have

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„New Forms for a Philosophy of Film: Creative and Political Methodologies“,
School of Art, Manchester Metropolitan University, 20th of July 2015
Christine Reeh, Towards a Solaristic Philosophy of Film

introduced as one of the main ontological characteristics of film. This being-


without-being is impersonated by the character Harey, who is in the
solaristic system not only a dramatis persona, but also a conceptual
persona.

What are conceptual personae? In the solaristic system the movie’s


dramatis personae become conceptual personae: they embody and catalyze
conceptual key-notions helping to raise film-philosophical concepts. The
term conceptual persona is borrowed from Deleuze and Guattari (who base
the term on Nietzsche): the “conceptual persona” conveys movement of
thought and “is the becoming or the subject of a philosophy.” 6 It is the
embodiment or personified image of concepts of philosophy, based on real
or invented personalities like Goethe, Hegel or Zarathustra…

In “Solaris” Harey is one of the key conceptual personae: as a materialized


visitor she is by her nature displaced and therefore her being-on-Solaris
embodies a being-in-film, which actually is a being-without-being (a
condition to be true for any film character). Secondly, the main character
Kelvin stands for projective imagination and desire. Somehow he is
confronting different aspects of the Real as designed by Lacan and Slavoj
Žižek.
Third example is the planet-brain Solaris, an antagonist, who embodies
the principle of projection: The word “Solaris” is Latin and means literally
“of the sun. The planet is in fact connected to light, it shines and projects,

6
Gilles Deleuze, Félix Guattari, What is Philosophy ?, Columbia University Press, New York,
1994, p. 63

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„New Forms for a Philosophy of Film: Creative and Political Methodologies“,
School of Art, Manchester Metropolitan University, 20th of July 2015
Christine Reeh, Towards a Solaristic Philosophy of Film

behaving like an intra-active agent of reality (a term to be explained later).


Through the dramatic conflicts between the different conceptual personae
is established a conceptual field of solaristic tensions.

I have furthermore chosen the movie “Solaris” as a multi-layered catalyzer


for the speculation on the features of reality, and thereby observed the
features of what I will call “fluid reality”. This model of reality is
characteristic for the solaristic system and characterizes film as being part
of an intra-actively entangled world. In what follows, I will introduce two
different, yet complementing models of reality, namely those of Henri
Bergson and of speculative realism, and interrogate their meaning from a
solaristic perspective. Both are somehow directed against idealism, or the
idea that reality is a product of our mind.

Speculative realism has been provoking a “realist” ontological turn in


contemporary philosophy and revealed epistemological implications in
approaching the problem of reality. Pioneer Quentin Meillassoux has
coined the stance against “correlationism”, designating the (post-)Kantian
idea that:
[T]hought cannot get outside itself in order to compare the world as it
is ‘in itself’ to the world as it is ‘for us’, and thereby to distinguish what
is a function of our relation to the world from what belongs to the
world alone.7

Meillassoux criticizes this interplay between man and world, which is


reducing to human thought the access to reliable knowledge on being and

7
Quentin Meillassoux, After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency, Bloomsbury
Academic, London/New York, 2012, pp. 3/4

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„New Forms for a Philosophy of Film: Creative and Political Methodologies“,
School of Art, Manchester Metropolitan University, 20th of July 2015
Christine Reeh, Towards a Solaristic Philosophy of Film

on reality. His position requires a renovation of our relation with reality and
thereby evokes, from the solaristic point of view, the achievements of film:
in film (and on Solaris) thought actually gets outside itself, we finally can
think x from outside x. Through its reproduction the world can be
postulated as it is in itself. A pertinent question in our context is whether
“Solaris” is a correlationist proposal or not: I will argue that it is not.

The planet is too much a mystery, the exemplification of a non-human


intelligence; and visitor Harey, the embodiment of the principle of the
presence of absence, quickly gains independence from her projector Kris. It
is exactly this ability of the planet to let the humans sense the limits of
conventional (scientific) knowledge versus the unlimited bonds of intuition,
which is distinct from correlationism. It answers to human thought with
non-human thought, designing man as relying on his perceptions,
memories and thought.

The rejection of correlationism is the most referred common denominator,


which unites quite different positions within speculative realism, such as the
referred transcendental materialism (Žižek, Johnston), new realism (Gabriel,
Ferraris) or object-oriented philosophy (Harman). The question makes sense
whether Henri Bergson can be considered a premature speculative realist or
even a transcendental materialist: Bergson withdraws from correlationism
by refusing the dualism idealism-materialism as he tries to integrate
subjectivity (perception) in his approach of reality.

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„New Forms for a Philosophy of Film: Creative and Political Methodologies“,
School of Art, Manchester Metropolitan University, 20th of July 2015
Christine Reeh, Towards a Solaristic Philosophy of Film

For Bergson the world is image, whereby he defines matter as an


aggregate of images8. He further argues that the perception of matter and
the image of matter coincide in the sense that “it is really in P, and not
elsewhere, that the image of P is formed and perceived.”9 Yet this image
differs from perception: “It is true that an image may be without being
perceived”, says Bergson, “it may be present without being represented”10.
Presence and representation of an image are two different things, just as
matter and perception are.

But this means, and here Bergson holds a position different from the classical
materialists as well as from the dualists, that matter (and its movements) is
not isolated from the rest of the world, and so is not perception. There are
movements of the material world and movements of perception, and they
interact. On the one hand, there is a mind-independent reality for Bergson,
yet on the other hand, perception is part of the very same reality. “[O]f the
aggregate of images we cannot say that it is within us or without us, since
interiority and exteriority are only relations among images.”11 Therefore in
Bergson’s theory mind and world, subjectivity and reality are entangled. Such
a position is solaristic (and therefore cinematographic) and well describes
what I mean by fluid reality – recalling the surface of the planet Solaris
covered by a waterlike substance, which changes and shapes itself into
beings and islands by the influence of the human mind.

8
“I call matter the aggregate of images and perception of matter these same images referred to the
eventual action of one particular image, my body.” Henri Bergson, Matter and Memory, Cosimo
Editions, New York, 2007, p. 7
9
Henri Bergson, op. cit., p. 38
10
Ibid., p. 27
11
Ibid., p. 13

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„New Forms for a Philosophy of Film: Creative and Political Methodologies“,
School of Art, Manchester Metropolitan University, 20th of July 2015
Christine Reeh, Towards a Solaristic Philosophy of Film

The idea of fluid reality driven by an interacting entanglement of physical


world and mind is also inspired by some of the main aspects of Karen
Barad’s diffractional approach to matter and meaning, which delineates a
new form of materialism.
According to Barad, mind and world, meaning and matter are intra-
actively entangled. In Meeting the Universe Halfway she says:

Diffraction is a material-discursive phenomenon that challenges the


presumed separability of subject and object, nature and culture, fact
and value, human and non-human, organic and non-organic,
epistemology and ontology, materiality and discursivity. […] Diffraction
is […] about the entangled nature of differences that matter.12

In the following I will briefly sketch the attempt to transpose Barad’s


quantum-ontology (actually inspired on Niels Bohr’s quantum physics) to
the solaristic system. It then constitutes a way to reassess cinema as an
apparatus-based art and as a form of intra-active entanglement with
reality; a concept going beyond the one of the cinematographic apparatus
of mechanical reproduction, which Walter Benjamin refers13. I therefore
suggest to think about the planet Solaris (and of cinema) as an ‘intra-active
apparatus’, entangled with the scientists (filmmaker/specators) by agency
of the visitors (film characters), just in the sense of Barad’s agential realism:

Apparatuses are specific material reconfigurations of the world that do


not merely emerge in time but interactively reconfigure space-time
matters as part of the ongoing dynamism of becoming. 14

12
Karen Barad, Meeting the Universe Halfway, Duke University Press, London 2007, p. 381
13
Benjamin proposes that through the intensive penetration of reality by the cinematographic
apparatus, we would have an access to “immediate reality”. See: Walter Benjamin, The Work of
Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, Third Version, 1939, p. 264
14
Karen Barad, Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of
Matter and Meaning, Duke University Press, 2007, p.142 and p. 146

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„New Forms for a Philosophy of Film: Creative and Political Methodologies“,
School of Art, Manchester Metropolitan University, 20th of July 2015
Christine Reeh, Towards a Solaristic Philosophy of Film

Barad’s theory enables a special understanding of the planet. But her non-
representational approach, by enhancing the entangled relation of matter
and meaning, words and objects, confirms the endeavor of the solaristic
system: the cinematograph should be seen as a kind of “tool for
measurement”, understood in the following way:

Measurements are agential practices, which are not simply revelatory


but performative: they help constitute and are a constitutive part of
what is being measured. In other words, measurements are intra-
actions (not interactions): the agencies of observation are inseparable
from that which is observed. Measurements are world-making:
matter and meaning do not pre-exist, but rather are co-constituted via
measurement intra-actions.15

Therefore the filmic apparatus as well as the Solaris apparatus are world-
making. The solaristic-filmic reproduction of reality might be the best
example of what I mean by fluid reality, in the sense of a world-making
principle: On the one hand we have the image of reality on the other hand
this image dominates reality, and tends to substitute reality, becoming real
in itself. In that, film/Solaris enables us to double our being-in-the-world, to
overcome the subjective condition by reproducing it: we reach the
condition of being-in-film or being-on-Solaris. Mind and world in cinema are
one, and the cinematographic apparatus helps this new conceptualisation
of causality, which Barad claims.

15
Karen Barad, “What is the Measure of Nothingness? Infinity, Virtuality, Justice”, in: 100 Notes –
100 Thoughts, dOCUMENTA (13), Hatje Cantz, Ostfildern, 2012, p.6

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