I’ve finally received the proofs of my essay “Cinema for A Missing People: Gilles Deleuze’s Crystal-Image and Alexander Dovzhenko’s Zvenyhora” that will be published soon in Harvard Ukrainian Studies (32 no 1-4). First the essay was in works for a very long time, then the volume… Yet, this is, perhaps, a very rare case when such delay has made a text especially valuable (to me) in that it was written before the Maidan (I sent the final draft to the editors in summer 2013), and it has now become a record of a fantasy or hope articulated through the work of several favourite philosophers of cinema — theorists and makers. I am reading this text now as an emotional message (to myself) from the other side, wherever or whatever this other side might be… from before the crack in the geological time of my country… before thousands of deaths; before we knew that we would be able to count them only to one hundred; before we stopped being shocked, devastated, and sickened to the bone by every single one of them as we were in January 2014 (I still remember!); before all wounds and torture became what would stay with us (and I include them in “us” too) for the next several hundred years; and from the time before the bloody radioactive nuclear mess spread over the East of Ukraine. I am reading it and I feel so old. Old like ashes. Such is one of the effects of the crystal-image.
Even though the essay is, primarily, on Dovzhenko and Deleuze, there is something I unfairly omitted. I did not mention that the notion of minor, as minor cinema, is, in fact, Guattarian, although a ‘crowd’ of two philosophers carried it through a number of their collaborative texts. At the very least, his investment in this concept is rather significant. Several years ago, Deleuze Studies published Félix Guattari’s “Project for a Film by Kafka,” part of his work he did towards, indeed, producing a film based on Kafka’s oeuvre, with the introduction by Gary Genosko, who wrote about the concept of minor:
“…to become minor is not to be in a minority or the representative of a minority, or even to formally acquire the characteristics or status of a minority through some affiliation. It is not a question of mimesis or membership, but of how to produce becomings that might summon a people with whom cinema connects. The fundamental theoretical problem here lies at the heart of what it means to summon a new people without teleological or messianic politics.”
I was thinking something along these lines when I wrote a closing paragraph of my essay. But as I am reading it today, what it evokes is all too precise contexts, graphic images, real names and faces of people “without teleological or messianic politics.”
Almost a year ago, one of them, Ukrainian filmmaker Oleh Sentsov was abducted by the FSB (Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation) from his home in Crimea in the middle of the night. Then he was tortured (but refused to confirm the FSB’s accusations) and transported to Russia where he was deprived of his citizenship of Ukraine (as a native of the annexed peninsula) and locked up in Moscow’s Lefortovo prison on the false accusation of “plotting terrorist acts.” Before the abduction, Sentsov was openly protesting against the regime of Yanukovych on Maidan in Kyiv and against the occupation of Crimea in his native Simferopol as an act of structural terrorism also known as official state terrorism of the country whose president announced that Ukraine does not exist. ‘There have never been people here.’
A minor cinema, and Zvenyhora in particular, “is not a renunciation of political cinema,” Deleuze writes, “but on the contrary, the new basis on which it is founded, in the third world and for minorities”; and as such, it is the “acknowledgement of a people who are missing.” In a sense, “a missing people” might seem an unusual concept for Deleuze, who is resistant to the notion of a lack. However, it is entirely in accordance with his thought: this concept opens up a potentiality and anticipation of the new to evolve in the place of the missing. “Art, and especially cinematographic art, must take part in this task: not that of addressing a people, which is presupposed already there, but of contributing to the invention of people. The moment the master, or the colonizer, proclaims ‘There have never been people here,’ the missing people are a becoming, they invent themselves, in shanty towns and camps, or in ghettos, in new conditions of struggle to which a necessary political art must contribute.” Recently, a demand for political art, political philosophy, and political science has been voiced across many disciplines. However, the political in the Deleuzian sense, like the political of the minor, cannot be demanded; it is simply beyond the reach of demand as such and even more so, the demand of a “political everything.” The Deleuzian political, which punctuates and subverts the majority’s metanarratives, is the very impossibility of not writing, the impossibility of writing in the dominant language, the impossibility of writing differently—always unexpected, never timely, and persisting prior to any manifestation of a rationalized demand. The impossibility of filming differently, the impossibility of not filming as the political in Zvenyhora is related to Dovzhenko’s powerful way of “show[ing] how we inhabit time, how we move in it, in this form which carries us away, picks us up and enlarges us.” Although so far away, we are still so much there, in the past that occasionally transgresses the present, but only to remind us that there is no way we can break through to a still-missing people—unless we realize that the missing people are we.
UPDATE: In the end of August 2015, a military court in Russia’s Rostov-on-the-Don has sentenced Oleh Sentsov to 20 years of hard labor in a high-security prison on charges of planning a “terrorist attack” in Crimea. More here.
About Oleh Sentsov and his work:
- Masha Gessen about Oleh Sentsov’s trial for The New York Times.
- My 2012 review of Oleh Sentsov’ film Gamer for KinoKultura.
- Ukrainian writer Serhij Zhadan about Oleg Sentsov’s verdict.
- Jana Stepankovska tells the story of making Oleh Sentsov’s Gamer.
Genosko, Gary. “Introduction to ‘A Project for a Film by Kafka’.” Deleuze Studies, vol. 3, no. 2 (2009b): 145-49.
Guattari, Félix. “Project for a Film by Kafka.” Deleuze Studies, vol. 3, no. 2 (2009b): 150-61.