So Real It Could Never Have Existed, Research Time, 10/01/2018

Marcel Proust’s Combray never existed. James Joyce’s Dublin never existed. Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld’s New York never existed. Jacques Audiard’s Paris never existed, no matter how real it feels.

The experience of reality through art, when the art is good-quality, is always more powerful than real experience of the places. This is the point about art that Gilles Deleuze made through his last analyses in What Is Philosophy?.

What would David Bowie's world be, if we tried to say he created a
world – like Audiard's Paris, David's New York, and the others? You
could say he invented a world called David Bowie, with diverse,
strange, and ordinary lands and creatures. A world that can contain
more multitudes than he did himself, as we add to it with our own
creations, through sampling and inspiration. A world that can
outlast him as a monument and as a life in a billion minds.
When you create an assemblage of pure affectivity – percepts distilled into an arrangement in space and time of sensory data – you’ve created an experience more essential than the real city.

A few months ago, I was in Paris, and I found it a beautiful city, even though my experience was dragged down a little by the filth of the subway system and the smell of diesel smoke and particulates that hung in the air like the carcinogenic flatulence of a concrete dragon.

Now watch A Prophet or Dheepan, and you’ll experience a more visceral Paris than you ever could by flying there, walking around, and eating at the wonderful restaurants. The digestive problems of their excessive bread consumption doesn’t hit you when the banlieue towers become venues of small epics of war and justice.

The production of artworks separate real bodies from the affects through which we experience them – replication in artistic media takes care of the separation.

Like I said yesterday, the medium itself doesn’t matter. The stereotypical artistic medium is painting, but that’s only the most obvious method of replicating bodies and processes in a medium through their affects alone. An individual painter produces visual affects with paints on a canvas.

Cinema, for example, does the same with moving images on film or in a video file. It differs in being a collaborative medium, but they’re replicating reality with affects alone, creating a more visceral, powerful experience than the contingent movement of reality could manage.

Even when an actor's performance is so deeply inspired by the real
events of his life, what goes on film is a replication of that life. The
real life of a Tamil Tiger child soldier is a messy, paradoxical,
boring, slow, tedious life bumping from one port of call to
another as a stateless refugee barely recognized as a person under
any law under whose reach he falls. On the cinema screen, he's
distilled that life into a narrative, into a glare that brings all
the intensity of that driftwood existence to a fleeting
relationship between you and a camera.
Antonythasan Jesuthasan, star and story plotter of Dheepan.
An actor, when the cameras are rolling, is performing a character. Quality performance comes from profound emotional mimicry – even Method acting is mimicry, it’s just more soul-wrenching mimicry. But a good actor knows that she’s producing work meant to be experienced for an audience, through the camera.

So if you want to argue over how well a particular work of art reproduces the real experience of its subject matter, you’re going to argue uselessly. Spin your wheels. See how far it gets you in understanding how artistic production actually works.

Deleuze understands this replicating production as constituting a territory from the relationship between the artwork and its viewers. Sensation itself constitutes a new territory – not in the floors of the museum or the screens of a cinema, but in the dynamic interaction of an experiencer and the bodies and processes producing her sensations.

Experience itself is territory. If any of you reading Gilles Deleuze for long enough to get this far* still thinks experience only ever happens in your head, I severely doubt that you’re paying any attention. Or else you’re just trolling a man who’s been dead for more than two decades.

* Or start with What Is Philosophy? like I did.

Experience is a relationship of an organism with its world, constituted from a dynamic field of sensory affects. Art is the experimental, creative, progressive craft of pushing the boundaries of what the field of experience can do. Not nearly all the time, of course. But that’s what art does at its most intense.

Always look to push limits. Or at least give them something of a nudge. It doesn’t have to be the limits of an entire artistic tradition – very few can manage that balance of genuine virtuosity and the social networking skill to make your work prominent enough to be noticed at that scale.

But as a creator, push yourself. Keep trying something different, no matter how well the same old dance will pay. Life is at its most noble when it’s pushing limits.

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