The imagination can accumulate sense?

I’ve always got my ear out for people who love speaking and thinking about the imagination. In a conversation between filmmakers Chantal Akerman and Catherine Breillat an evocative phrase emerged: ‘The imagination can accumulate sense’. Pow! But also a question – how do filmmakers convey a subject’s imaginative life in a way that lends their imagining or their hidden and interior world a sensory function or impulse in a scene?

I thought about Ackerman’s La chambre (1972) when the camera pivots again and again around the room.

Still from La Chambre 1972

We feel the subject’s very meditative and attentive state through duration, determined by the consumption of an apple, plus the domestic space and objects around her, and the light that brackets all of this. We don’t know what the subject is thinking exactly, or have access to hidden images, or her imagination in any literal sense. But we get a sense that these surroundings, habits of identity and possession are all part her thoughtful sensory life.

I also found a connection between Akerman and Breillat’s phrase, and Paul Greengrass’ thoughts about ‘procedures’ leading to ‘emotional power’ in his 2014 David Lean Lecture:

‘…a lot of it is about observing procedures. But that’s because that’s something that I’ve always been interested in. I think that procedures rule our lives. Our procedures define our modernity. You know, most of us don’t get up and think about what happened to us when we were children, most of us get up and think I’ve got to get on the bus now then I’ve got to be at work at 10 o’clock and I‘ve got a meeting at 11 o’clock, that sort of procedures, and if you can tap into that in films you can actually develop a lot of emotional power, oddly. You’d think it would be dry but it’s actually not, because you get to a very, a very rich place, which is what happens when procedures start to be threatened.’

This reminded me of something I talked about in one of my first blog posts: Dave Hickey describes a moment in Floubert’s ‘Shining Heart’ where two women from different class groups step over the threshold of social order to suddenly embrace. When they embrace the women push away any immediate ability to identify internally and externally through (socially-sanctioned and prescribed) habits alone. Perhaps the embrace takes them further into a moment in which intimacy simply exists, unprovoked, as joy and sadness in its coming and going from the immediate scene. In that moment it is a truth that has no strict negative – and in the extreme it illustrates, or hints that ‘all social interactions lead to non-linearities’*… quick glances between impossibilities (and instabilities)… or possibilities (and stabilities)…

On the one hand we have Akerman’s portrait of a sensory life in La chambre (1972) where intimacy with the subject is achieved strangely through objects, space and distance, and on the other hand, the risk we feel in Greengrass’s case (and in Floubert) when a character’s habits and procedures are disrupted, leaving them to confront the phantasm of an ordered and stable identity. Both approaches seem to work from the outside in, though perhaps if we take this idea of  the imagination accumulating sense we see these approaches are as much about glances between people and their instabilities, even between the instabilities organised (or disorganised) in a particular subject, and how these glances play out in a particular time and place.

*(Art Meets Science and Spirituality in a Changing Economy, The Chaotic Universe, Mystic Fire Video)

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