The story never stops beginning or ending. It appears headless and bottomless for it is built on differences. Its (in)finitude subverts every notion of completeness and its frame remains a non-totalizable one. The differences it brings about are differences not only in structure, in the play of structures and of surfaces, but also in timbre and in silence. We--you and me, she and he, we and they--we differ . . . in the choice and mixing of utterances, the ethos, the tones, the paces, the cuts, the pauses. The story circulates like a gift; an empty gift which anybody can lay claim to by filling it to taste, yet can never truly possess. A gift built on multiplicity. One that stays inexhaustible within its own limits. Its departures and arrivals. Its quietness.
--Trinh T. Minh-Ha, Woman, Native, Other
Postcolonial perspectives aptly represent the reality of the fin de siècle, since they incorporate disjunctions and differences that were suppressed under Western metanarratives of progress or social justice. In postmodern times, the comfort and stability of first principles of any [End Page 598] kind is slipping away, while national boundaries are increasingly becoming porous. Humans and capital flow in myriad patterns in a network of relations that span the globe. As nation-states loosen their hold on the imagination of people in a world of transnational capitalism, the role of information technologies is crucial indeed. These technologies are having a profound impact on our literary as well as artistic practices, creating a new space that demands its own aesthetic. This new aesthetic, which I term "hypertext" or "Net" aesthetic, represents the need to switch from the linear, univocal, closed, authoritative aesthetic involving passive encounters to that of the nonlinear, multivocal, open, nonhierarchical aesthetic involving active encounters. The intertextual and interactive hypertext or Net aesthetic is most suited for representing postcolonial cultural experience since it embodies our changed conception of language, space, and time. Language and place are here no longer seen as existing in abstract space and time, but are seen as existing in a dynamic interaction of history, politics, and culture. Time is no longer the linear historical time of traditional historiography, a historical time that ignored the question "Whose time is it that is being recounted?," a time that muted minority voices in a discourse based on the othering of the world. In order to escape the homogenizing and unversalizing tendency of linear time, time in both postcolonial and hypertextual experience is represented as discontinuous and spatialized.
The hypertextual and the postcolonial are thus part of the changing topology that maps the constantly shifting, interpenetrating, and folding relations that bodies and texts experience in information culture. Both discourses are characterized by multivocality, multilinearity, open-endedness, active encounter, and traversal. In this essay, I focus on the one hand on representational modes--fragmentation/discontinuity, multiplicity/multilinearity, active traversal/active encounter in the hypertextual environment, both computer and cinematically generated. And on the other hand, I explore the threads of the social, the political, and the historical that interweave the subject of representation. Techno-enthusiasts have imagined computer-human interaction in cyberspace resulting in disembodiment. It can, however, be seen as a new mode of embodiment marked by moments of instantiation as well as desubstantiation. This contemporary topology is composed of cracks, in-between spaces, or gaps that do not fracture reality into this or that, but instead provide multiple points of articulation with a [End Page 599] potential for incorporating contradictions and ambiguities. Also, the in-between spaces themselves become the object of discourse as well as artistic representation. Artists, of both visual and verbal media, have felt compelled to reconfigure and rearticulate this new orientation that bodies and texts have assumed in the information culture. Judy Malloy's its name was Penelope, a fictional hypertext in the computer medium, and Trinh Minh-Ha's films Reassemblage and Naked Spaces--Living is Round, in the cinematic medium, use surprisingly similar strategies to open up new ways of seeing beyond the glass surfaces of normal vision. The technologized media, therefore, do not flatten the subject, but disperse it along new lines and give it new configurations.
The hypertextual has become an "environment," or a space that demands different mappings. Jay Bolter in Writing Space describes hypertext as a network of texts which allows the reader to choose any path--all paths are equally valid readings, "and in that simple fact the reader's relationship to the text changes radically. A text as a network has no univocal sense; it is a multiplicity without the imposition of a principle of domination" (25). In a hypertext environment, the reader can be explorative and choose multiple paths, thereby actively participate in its unfolding. Michael Joyce sees hypertexts as virtual spaces: he makes a distinction between exploratory hypertexts, in which readers create their own paths through a body of knowledge, and constructive hypertexts, where writers collect, shape, and act upon information and create visual maps of structures that are "versions of what they are becoming, a structure for what does not yet exist" (42). Joyce develops the idea of topological mapping, exploring the role memory and proprioception play in hypertext reading and writing. He notes that while we experience the world in time, we remember it in space (159); he thus describes hypertext as a "city of texts" which represents a space where the inner space of memory and the physical space of writing come together: "Our intuition is that we write proprioceptively, as the child's hand does, summoning the space of memory outward. It is a dream of depth, expressed in the depth of an elastic and windowing world" (171). Joyce regards "hypertext as an art form [that] concerns itself with constant reconfiguration and so is a true electronic medium. Hypertext is before anything else a visual form, a complex network of signs that presents texts and images in an order that the artist has shaped but which the viewer chooses and reshapes" (206). [End Page 600]
The narrative strategy used in the hypertextual environment lies in navigating through a body of lexia that allows the tracing of varied paths in the midst of open possibilities. Hypertextual tracing does not aim at reaching a destination; rather, the act of tracing itself becomes the object of navigation, so that the discrete nodes are subordinated to the lines of traversal. "Each moment of the journey-as-navigation is conditioned by the deferral that shapes its entire trajectory" (Harpold 128). Series of lexia in hypertext fiction in random sequence produce a textual surface that is fragmented and discontinuous, so that no two readings of such a work are similar. In the hypertextual environment, the viewers/readers do not disperse along the information superhighway, but are active decoders of the path that they create in a proprioceptive act where inside and outside coalesce in a space constituted of moments of textual embodiment and disembodiment. In modernist art, Fredric Jameson notes, the materiality of the bodies and the object world is translated into another kind of materiality of the aesthetic world, so that the work evokes in the viewer the object world that it is representing (8). The materiality of bodies and the object world is transformed in hypertextual/postcolonial cultural productions into an aesthetic act which is intertextual, where the text and the reader occupy the zone of the in-between of the transformation itself. The "centered" or "monadic" subject of the modernist era is thus transformed as the nomadic subject no longer passively contemplates the artist's expression but actively reshapes it.
Trinh Minh-Ha uses similar terminology to describe her exploratory camera work. Trinh's two films about West Africa, Reassemblage and Naked Spaces--Living is Round, are not documentaries in the conventional sense. Her camera explores the textured lives of the people and the living spaces that they inhabit. The living spaces and people are transformed into textual surfaces of multiperspectival representation. Linearly progressing images in motion are frequently replaced by multiple shots of the subject through jump cuts, a technique that conveys the filmmaker's awareness of the constructed nature of cinematic representation, even as it reveals the impossibility of ever capturing the "whole." And while the visual space is fractured by cinematic montage, the aural space of the music soundtrack is punctuated by long silences. Trinh's play with sound and silence can be traced to her interest in John Cage's experimental music. Cage, who was deeply interested in Eastern [End Page 601] philosophies, saw a relationship between Zen emptiness and the use of silence in his musical compositions. The concept of silence evolved in his thinking: first, he viewed sound and silence as excluding each other, then he went on to see them as existing together, and finally, he arrived at the concept that silence or emptiness is full of sound (De Visscher 129). Both visual saturation and aural silence, then, function as part of Trinh's transformative aesthetic that produces fragmentation and difference. For Trinh, fragmentation is not a binary opposite of the whole; she feels the need to go beyond any binaries, so that fragments exist on their own, and hence, fragmentation implies "a way of living with differences" (Framer 156). The term fragmentation can be used advantageously as denoting self-limitation because "the self, like the work you produce, is not so much a core as a process, one finds oneself, in the context of cultural hybridity always pushing one's questioning of oneself to the limit of what one is and what one is not . . . . Fragmentation is therefore a way of living at the borders" (Trinh, Framer 156-57).
Fragmentation, then, becomes the topological mode that produces the text of becomings. As in-between spaces proliferate along multiple routes, the hypertextual subject remains inscribed in a mode of fluid transformation. From this perspective, Jameson's equation of the fragmentation and discontinuity of postmodern cultural productions with a schizophrenic subjectivity is itself nostalgic because it is rooted in the formulation of the self that is enclosed, centered, and bounded. Postmodern/postcolonial art does not locate the centered subjectivity of the artist, but expresses her textual embodiment in a possible historical moment, always acknowledging that any artistic representation is just that--a representation, not a total, complete picture of reality. Fragmentation and discontinuity, then, comprise a tool that these artists use to allow for polyphonic narrative structures. Trinh also focuses on cinematic methods that bring out the role of the filmmaker and mark her politics of representation. Her camera work is hesitant, sudden, and unstable. She describes the exploratory movements of the camera "as a form of reflexive body writing. Its erratic and unassuming moves materialize those of the filming subject caught in a situation of trial, where the desire to capture on celluloid grows in a state of non-knowingness and with the understanding that no reality can be 'captured' without trans-forming" (Framer 115). Hesitance and silence [End Page 602] express a politics and aesthetic that refuse totalization; they are the technical analogues and expressions of fragmentation and discontinuity.
In documenting the West African villages, Trinh focuses on the practices of the daily life of the people. Her films transform the topographical places into topological spaces that trace the ensemble of spatializing practices of the people. The narrative trajectories traced by Trinh's camera are marked by mobile, folding, and interpenetrating relations among people, nature, and the cultural matrix of which they are a part. Trinh's films, as body writing, do not map spaces but create shifting storylines of linkages that do not crystallize into fixed form. Michel de Certeau in The Practice of Everyday Life describes spatializing practices in terms of stories that people perform as they go around, engaged in their daily activities. Stories as spatial trajectories "traverse and organize places; they select and link them together" (115). Analyzing spatializing practices moves the attention from structures to actions, from place to space. De Certeau compares space to the spoken word: "space is like the word when it is spoken, that is, when it is caught in the ambiguity of an actualization, transformed into a term dependent upon many different conventions, situated as the act of a present (or of a time), and modified by the transformations caused by successive contexts" (117). As a "practiced place," space, comprised of mobile elements, is fluid, and hence, it lacks stability or a fixed form (de Certeau 117). Whereas place is represented by a topographical map, space is represented by topological itinerary; for de Certeau, the former involves an act of seeing and hence "the knowledge of an order of places," while the latter concerns itself with an act of going that involves "spatializing actions" (119). As two modes of experience, the itinerary centers around "a discursive series of operations," while the map, by colonizing space, realizes itself as "a plane projection of totalizing observations" (119). With the ascendence of scientific discourse, de Certeau notes, itineraries were slowly replaced by maps, even though the former were "the condition of [their] possibility" (120). The hypertexual medium is also composed of mobile elements; the textual body comes momentarily into existence by the spatial trajectory traced by the reader who actualizes it through situating it and temporalizing it. The irreducibly multiple spatial trajectories of hypertext reading/writing transform the stable format of topographically fixed print text into itineraries of hypertext. [End Page 603]
The immateriality of hypertext as an image display, a temporary configuration of pixels, and its capacity for instant mutation arise from the pattern/randomness dialectic that is the basis of electronic textuality. N. Katherine Hayles has elaborated this pattern/randomness dialectic, describing it as the dialectic of the information age where actual commodities of production as well as consumption are bits of information stored as electromagnetic signals of pattern and randomness. Building upon Friedrich Kittler's description in Discourse Networks of fixed-type print as based on a presence-absence dialectic, where each key stroke corresponds to the letter typed, Hayles shows how computer-generated text consists of signifiers that exist "as a flexible chain of markers bound together by the arbitrary relations specified by the relevant codes" ("Virtual" 77). The machine code, the compiler language, and the processing language are all involved in a series of operations that produce "flickering signifiers" on the videoscreen (70). The signifier at one level becomes signified at another, and since the relationship between them at each level is arbitrary, a global command can bring about large changes in the text (70-71). The instant mutation of the text with respect to itself, and also as it is connected to other texts, allows for folding relations in the topological space that is thus created. The emergent nature of the actualization of hypertextual space, which is situated in the present act and transformed by successive transformations in context, has led theorists to see the similarities hypertext has to oral literature. Walter Ong notes that electronic technology has introduced the age of "secondary orality," which is very similar to preliterate oral cultures in "its participatory mystique, its fostering of a communal sense, its concentration on the present moment, and even its use of formulas" (136). Since hypertext reading/writing involves active encounter and traversal, the reader becomes an integral part of the topological space created by the interaction of multiple texts. In fact, hypertext reading/writing, like Trinh's explorative camera work, can be regarded as "reflexive body writing" of the text--the path the reader traces marks the materialization of her nomadic subjectivity.
The fragmentation and discontinuity that define the hypertextual environment do not lead to a fractured reading experience. In fact, the links between the nodes promote multiple narrative trajectories. Instead of thinking of links as pointers directed at the nodes where the [End Page 604] lexia or meaning-forming units reside, the links can be regarded as a positive invisible space with unlimited potential. This space leads to both disruption and continuation in the narrative stream. Carolyn Guyer and Martha Petry, who wrote their Izme Pass as a fourth text based on connections within a triad of texts--WOE, Quibbling, and Rosary--note that the most important thing that they realized from this experience was "how things are connected, not connection as conceptual negative space, but connection being itself a figure against the ground of writing" (82).
The space circumscribed by the link and the node can be regarded as embodying the presence/absence dialectic in virtual space, even though at another level the two are created by the dialectic of pattern/randomness. The link thus exists as the space only in its potential, neither this nor that, but as the third space that marks the site of encounter between the two nodes. The pattern/randomness dialectic infolds in traversing lexia, because the link's referential function is constantly subverted by the disruption and discontinuity in the transforming narrative trajectory. "What you are unable to do with the link is as significant as what you might do with it" (Harpold 129). If instead of assigning the function of textual communication to the link, it is regarded "as a trace of the iterability of hypertextual threads, as the shape of the turn that divides them and subverts the limiting traits of context, then navigation across (or by means of) the link amounts to moving within a dilatory space whose limits can't be circumscribed" (Harpold 132-33). As such it marks the space that can neither be defined as continuity or discontinuity, but something that goes beyond these limiting terms and joins the nodes in the trajectory of the open text in an always emergent context. George Landow describes the effect of electronic linking in terms of dispersal of an individual lexia into others since the physical and intellectual boundaries separating the lexias are continually crossed (53). The border-crossings made possible through electronic linking lead to spatially folding relations in the open space of hypertext or culture. This has been variously described as leading to "the disappearance of a stable, universal context" or again the "denaturing" of context is said to lead finally to a collapse between "the distinction of text and context altogether" (Hayles, Chaos 272, 275). Mireille Rosello argues that hypertextual space is "an environment most likely to make the very notion [of context] irrelevant and [End Page 605] obsolete," even going so far as to say that "it contributes to making it redundant" (133). A better conceptualization of the hypertextual space would be not to regard it as the dematerialization of the text and consequent dissolution of context, but as an always emergent context of embodiment marked by novelty and creativity. Thus the readers reading in the hypertextual environment are engaged in a "reflexive body writing" characterized by moments of textual embodiment (pattern) as well as disembodiment (randomness) as they trace their own unique path through the weave of multiple texts.
Stuart Moulthrop explores the interface between information technology and culture in terms of the confrontation between the smooth and the striated, the two types of social spaces or cultural registers that Deleuze and Guattari elaborate upon in A Thousand Plateaus. Smooth space is characterized by becoming, uncertainty, novelty, to which the trope of nomad or nomadology could be applied, where points of arrival or departure are subordinated to lines of flight. In the nomad's life, "the in-between has taken on all the consistency and enjoys both an autonomy and a direction of its own" (Deleuze and Guatarri 380). The definitive trope of smooth space is the rhizome, which "is composed not of units but of dimensions, or rather directions in motion"; hence, the rhizomatic space constitutes "an acentered, nonhierarchical, nonsignifying system," which is "defined solely by a circulation of states" (Deleuze and Guattari 21). Striated space, on the other hand, is the space ruled by logos and is characterized by order, causality, sequence, and hierarchy, and its distinguishing metaphor is the tree with its roots. The smooth and striated both exist; in fact, the smooth space constantly transforms into striated and the striated into smooth space. Thus the two spaces persist in a relation of difference. Moulthrop argues that hypertext and hypermedia represent the smooth space; the hypertextual links serve as spaces of rupture in an essentially open structure that leads to discontinuity and unpredictability in an encounter with the text. Thus he says that "work in hypertext will involve a constant alternation between nomos and logos. We will create structures which we will then deconstruct or deterritorialize and which we will replace with new structures, passing again from smooth to striated space and starting the process anew" (316).
Trinh formulates a similar dialectic in terms of strategies of displacement, which she sees as indispensable. Displacement creates a [End Page 606] dynamic where "[each] itinerary taken, each reading constructed is at the same time active in its uniqueness and reflective in its collectivity" (When the Moon 23). The postcolonial writer favors multilinear narrative as opposed to linear factual narrative, taking
delights in detours. Her wandering makes things such that even when Reason is given a (biblical) role, it will have to outplay its own logic. For a permanent sojourner walking barefooted on multiply de/re-territorialized land, thinking is not always knowing, and while an itinerary engaged in may first appear linearly inflexible--as Reason dictates--it is also capable of taking an abrupt turn, of making unanticipated intricate detours, playing thereby with its own straightness and likewise, outwitting the strategies of its own play. (When the Moon 24)
Thus, the de/re-territorialization of the trajectory, combined with the strategies of reversal and displacement, become the stylistic tools of the postcolonial writer/filmmaker.
We see many structural similarities and analogous tools at work in Judy Malloy's its name was Penelope, narrated by a forty-three-year-old photographer named Anne Mitchell. Anne's narrative appears in three main segments--"Dawn," "Sea," and "Song." The middle segment is divided into four sections: "a gathering of shades," "that far off island," "fine work and wide across," and "rock and a hard place." Each part consists of a series of lexias, which can be read in a sequence determined by the computer's pseudo-random number generator. The reader can jump from one section to another or use the default command to read the lexia in each section. This ensures that each reading is different, since each involves a different sequence of lexias and hence a different system of links that exposes many different types of spatial relations. These spatial relations then create a temporal tissue as they generate an assemblage of memories.
Malloy has noted that she wants her work "to be the writing equivalent of the captured photographic moment" and so she "utilizes the light/dark contrasts of photorealist painting" (13). The hypertextual format allows for individual memories to be presented like a photograph in a photo album, "so that the work is like a pack of small paintings or photographs that the computer continuously shuffles." The [End Page 607] simple interface brings the reader and the narrator together so that the reader can step into Anne's mind and experience her direct vision in the form of snapshot memories (Malloy 10). Even though each memory as it appears on the screen is a fragment, it is spatially connected to other memories. The narrator's distinctly visual memory photos create a hypertextual collage very similar to the cinematographic montages of Trinh's films, which lead to fragmentation and discontinuity while simultaneously opening spaces for multiple readings.
As the reader goes through screen after screen, a few images keep recurring in different forms; each iteration of the image touches off a recursive dynamic for us in our memory. One such image is that of a boat named Penelope, which Anne launches in a small tidepool as a child. The bright blue boat has two sails that her "mother has sewn from a torn sheet," pointing to the matriarchal contribution to Anne's artistic subjectivity. As the image is repeated, we see Anne launching other sailboats, even chasing after a small boat with her camera focused on it. The concrete action of launching a boat and trying to capture the image of the boat coalesce in the realization that she cannot capture reality without transforming it. Any totalizing description remains forever elusive.
Malloy uses the fluidity of the hypertextual medium to create a poetic text, which, in spite of its fragmentation and discontinuity, leads to a reading experience that is very satisfying because it allows the reader greater creativity as to the form the reading will take. Malloy's intentional use of a simple interface allows the reader direct access to Anne's mind, without turning the narrative into a puzzle to be solved. Even though the memory photos appear as inscriptions of language on a textual surface without depth, the tracing of a path through the text draws the reader into an intricate dialogue with the text, which turns the flat surface into a self-embedded spatial domain out of which emerges the nomadic subjectivity of the narrator.
In Malloy's text, the visual is transformed into the verbal. The border between the text and image dissolves, and image becomes the text. Malloy installs photographic conventions in the verbal medium, which is facilitated by the lexia format of the hypertext, only to subvert them to reveal their unacknowledged politics. In the first segment, "Dawn," Anne's childhood self is represented in the form of photos that crystallize distinct moments of her life. In the second segment, [End Page 608] "Sea," the nature of photographic images, usually considered transparent, is subtly revealed to be a construction. Here, the reader sees Anne engaged in the art of photography; she takes pictures in a way that suggests her awareness of her freedom to choose a subject and the way she wants to represent it, even as it is subject to the specificities of her gender, race, and class.
The epigraph in the subsection "fine work and wide across," taken from Homer's The Odyssey, reads:
first a close-grained web
I had the happy thought to set up weaving
on my big loom in hall. I said, that day:
"Young men--my suitors, now my lord is dead,
Let me finish my weaving before I marry,
or else my thread will have been spun in vain."
On the same screen we read about Anne's work,
The work I am making will be woven of twenty strips which
tapes. Each tape is five feet long made up of color Xeroxes
taken in one situation or place like
Macy's Department store the week before
Christmas, or The San Francisco subway, called BART, at
a Friday, or,
Sproul Plaza at UC Berkeley on a warm spring day,
or TV newscasters as they appear in the evening on my
TV monitor. (its name was Penelope)
Penelope's weaving centers around the fate of her "lord"; it is only through delay and explanations that she can engage in any weaving. As a ruse to defer her remarriage then, it is also a commentary about the necessity to engage in such a stratagem because of her historical location. Also, Penelope's weaving is not important in itself, but only as a means to escape her fate. Her act of weaving during the day what she unweaves at night constantly maintains the deferral of the text's end and also brings to light the emptiness that is at the heart of her project. Penelope's weaving of the web on the loom does not center on the [End Page 609] nature of representation: rather, it foregrounds her gendered position as the crafter of a representation imbued with an ambivalent status.
Even though Anne's artwork is not a stratagem centered on her "lord," she too feels the need to stay away from thoughts of a husband and children in order to pursue her art. Malloy's narrative strategy of juxtaposing two different texts on the same screen thus highlights the gendered location of Anne's artistic subjectivity as well as its historical context. Penelope's loom exfoliates in Anne's photographs into subway systems, department stores, and nomadic routes in the cityscape. Anne's xerox photomontages in the age of mechanical reproduction reflect the media-dominated consumer culture of our society. The interweaving of the narrative threads thus works at two levels: it brings into sharper focus the patriarchal arrangement where women like Penelope have historically stayed home weaving and unweaving, which means engaged in mind-numbing domestic labor, while men have gone outward into the world seeking adventures. The second level reveals the politics of representation as well as historical, social, and political factors that go into the production of cultural artifacts.
Anne's photomontage is made of color xeroxes of her photographs of scenes from Macy's department store, the San Francisco subway, and Sproul Plaza, which are combined with her pictures of the newscasters whom she photographs as they appear on her television screen. The xerox copies of copies of televised mass media images underscore the production and reproduction of images, while at the same time revealing their constructed nature. Since in a mass media culture, the image is exploited for its persuasive power, representation itself becomes the subject of Anne's photomontages. Anne's appropriation and recontextualization of powerful images from the mass media subversively exposes their politics and leads to a different experience of these images. Anne is not in search of an authenticity or aura that has disappeared due to the very nature of the photographic medium with its power of reproduction. As Walter Benjamin notes, when the criteria for authenticity can no longer be applied to a work of art, its function as well as its grounding undergoes a drastic transformation--the art in the age of mechanical reproduction is based on politics (217-51). We need to qualify Benjamin's statement, since not all art in the age of mechanical reproduction is based on politics of resistance. [End Page 610]
In the contemporary era, the mediated nature of representation is an accepted fact. Any form of representation is a cultural construction: "photographs, far from merely reproducing a pre-existing world, constitute a highly coded discourse which, among other things, constructs whatever is in the image as object of consumption--consumption by looking, as well as often quite literally by purchase" (Kuhn 19). Linda Hutcheon, while critiquing the Baudrillardian notion of hyperreality, points out that in theory-informed postmodern art, "it is not that representation now dominates or effaces the referent, but rather that it now self-consciously acknowledges its existence as representation--that is, as interpreting (indeed as creating) its referent, not as offering direct and immediate access to it" (34). Using highly coded visual discourse, these artists put under scrutiny both the conditions of "production" as well as "reception" of their art, thereby offering a re-visioning of the appropriated images--a "second seeing, through double vision, wearing the spectacles of irony" (Hutcheon 123).
Malloy emphasizes the framed nature of Anne's vision in memory photos that show her looking at the world through the camera lens. Anne's peripheral vision is shaped by seeing through the branches of trees, through clear water, through peep holes, through gaps in fences, or through cracks of doors, just as her reading is a reading of in-between spaces. One of the memory photos in "Dawn" is about Anne's father reading the Odyssey to her and her brother. As she listens to her father while sitting on the arm of his chair, she silently reads the passages that he skips over. Not only do the titles allude to Homer's epic, but also different sections begin with an epigraph from this epic. If the epigraphs stand for the sections that the father reads to his children, then the textual space in between epigraphs tells the story of Anne, a photographer, who has faith and courage in her personal vision and embarks on her journey to become an artist in a patriarchal culture. This story makes clear that, in order to pursue their vision, artists in general, but women artists in particular, must encounter obstacles--both of economic survival as well as gender-related discrimination in the art world.
Just as the narrator focuses on the gaps in the father's telling of the story, she seems to invite the reader to use the same strategy to focus on the cracks in her story. These cracks are created by the juxtaposition [End Page 611] of visual-verbal images in both her xerox-photo artwork and the memory photos of the lexia. The multiple readings of the text finally lie not so much in what the lexias say, but rather in the relationship they forge with one another. These relations come into existence and dissolve with each reading and unfold into different versions of the text. In Anne Mitchell's fragmentary memoryscape, the male text is reduced to a few epigraphs, whereas the female text exfoliates outward, spilling over the boundaries in multiple directions that reveal to the reader the significance of the social, the political, and the historical in any artistic endeavor.
Postcolonial writers also show a preoccupation with fragmentation, discontinuity, fluidity, and multiplicity. Even Trinh Minh-Ha's theoretical works are surprisingly hypertextual in their arrangement and imagery. Woman, Native, Other and When the Moon Waxes Red are divided into chapters that can be read in any order. The prose is interspersed with clips from her films, images that break the continuity of the text. The chapters, inter-chapters, and film clips stand in the same relationship as the nodes in the hypertext connected with links. The disruption of linear progression and the lack of a single narrative thread necessitate a continual negotiation of difference. Thus the construction of postcolonial subjectivity is based on the fundamental assumption of the incorporation of differences, because in "borderlands" reality is "not a mere crossing from one borderline to the other or that is not merely double, but a reality that involves the crossing of an indeterminate number of borderlines, one that remains multiple in its hyphenation" (Trinh, When the Moon 107).
In Borderlands/La Frontera, Gloria Anzaldúa envisions the hybrid nature of the subjectivity of the people who live in borderlands based on race, gender, class, or sexual orientation in terms of the new "mestiza" who has "a tolerance for contradictions, a tolerance for ambiguity" (79). Trinh sees the borderlines at which the hybrid subjectivity is located as constantly dissolving and re-forming, revealing a place that is "always-emerging" and "always in the making." She does not want to identify with any one definition of the borderlands; she instead wants "to play with it, or to play it like a musical score," so that identity is "not an end point in the struggle" but rather "a point of departure" (Framer 140). Trinh notes the strategic importance of the identity claim, and the importance of all three--the political, historical, and cultural [End Page 612] --in any self-understanding. "The reflexive question asked . . . is no longer: Who am I? but When, where, how am I (so and so)?" (Framer 157). Strategies of reversal, she posits, are ineffective without the strategies of displacement. Recognizing the shifting nature of cultural identity makes the notion of cultural displacement very important in postcolonial discourse. Place is no longer a topographically situated geographical location; instead, it is a topological space created through a dynamic interaction of politics, language, and culture. Trinh argues that "the notion of displacement is also a place of identity: there is no real me to return to, no whole self that synthesizes the woman, the woman of color and the writer; there are instead, diverse recognitions of self through difference, and unfinished, contingent, arbitrary closures that make possible both politics and identity" (Framer 157).
Postcolonial narratives cannot afford to be nonpolitical because of the writer's location in the matrix of power relations. Trinh rejects theories that regard art as self-expression because they lead to the artist's privileged status based on her inner vision, while obscuring the role class, race, and gender play in the creation of the artist and the acceptance of her work. In an interview, she says, the "personal in the context of my films does not mean an individual standpoint or the foregrounding of a self. I am not interested in using film to 'express myself,' but rather to expose the social self (and selves) which necessarily mediates the making as well as the viewing of the film" (Framer 119).
In Naked Spaces--Living is Round, an African legend is recounted that speaks of Ogo who rebelled against God Amma by introducing diversity into the original unity. As punishment, Ogo is turned into a fox who, having lost his speech, can communicate only by the touch of his paws on the divination tables, which consist of figures drawn on the smoothed sand by village diviners before sunset. The fox is lured by peanuts carefully scattered over the tables. The diviners return after the sunrise and read the path traced by the fox's footprints that would join, encircle, or avoid the figures. The diviners' readings vary depending on the path the fox has traced during the night. The filmmaker is like Ogo, who dares to rebel against the homogenizing tendency of the dominant culture and the mainstream films that perpetuate, standardize, and normalize this homogeneity. The very rebellion implies that the filmmaker must unlearn the dominant discourse and learn new ways of communicating insights that are based on the recognition of [End Page 613] difference. When transplanted into the Western context, this legend explains the impossibility of communicating difference in the standard linear Western narrative based on dualistic thinking.
Trinh makes a distinction between territorialized and deterritorialized knowledge: the former deals with colonizing and mastering the unknown by setting the unknown as the other that must be appropriated in an attempt to make it known. And as the "sight/site" is known or made visible, it is subject to the colonizer's grid of power and knowledge. Territorialized knowledge involves fixing people and places into stable configurations where the interrelations among the individual constituents are already mapped out: the maps define, categorize, and immobilize the spaces in which people move.
In her account of nineteenth-century European travel narratives, Mary Louise Pratt shows such a mapping of territorialized knowledge where the normalizing, generalizing voice of the European traveler/ writer "scans the prospects of the indigenous body and body politic and, in the ethnographic present, abstracts them out of the landscape that is under contention and away from the history that is being made--a history into which [indigenous people] will later be reinserted as an exploited labor pool" ("Scratches" 145). The European presence is concealed through this discursive configuration which "textually splits off indigenous inhabitants from habitat. It is a configuration which, in (mis)recognition of what was materially underway or in anticipation of what was to come, verbally depopulates landscapes. Indigenous peoples are relocated in separate manners-and-customs chapters as if in textual homelands or reservations, where they are pulled out of time to be preserved, contained, studied, admired, detested, pitied, mourned" ("Scratches" 145-46). In postcolonial discourse, the ethnographic portraits are exposed as part of the colonial project of commercial expansion of the new frontier in order to map sites, define parameters, and depopulate the landscape so that it can be appropriated, exploited, and colonized.
Deterritorialization then involves uncovering the dynamic, mobile nature of the interrelationships among people, as well as their dynamic interrelationships with and in the spaces they occupy. The focus then shifts from maps to itineraries, and from fixing and defining through the gaze to actively encountering through touch. The strategic importance of deterritorialization and reterritorialization marks the site of cultural [End Page 614] displacement. Instead of an "authentic" portrayal of cultures, the shifting, mobile relationships of cultures coming in contact with one another become the focus of attention. In the postcolonial context, the metaphor of touch replaces the metaphor of vision where the gaze controls and appropriates the unknown and brings it to the realm of the known. Thus the metaphor of touch rather than of vision is appropriate to describe postcolonial experience.
The active encounter through touch creates zones of hybrid languages and experiences that Pratt calls the "contact zone." Through the use of the term "contact zone," Pratt wants "to invoke the spatial and temporal copresence of subjects previously separated by geographic and historical disjunctures, and whose trajectories now intersect" (Imperial Eyes 7). The "contact" perspective, she adds, "foreground[s] the interactive, improvisational dimensions of colonial encounters so easily ignored or suppressed by diffusionist accounts of conquest and domination" (7). It also emphasizes "how subjects are constituted in and by their relations to each other" (7). Thus the interaction among "the colonizers and colonized, or travelers and 'travelees' [is] not in terms of separateness or apartheid, but in terms of copresence, interaction, interlocking understandings and practices, often within radically asymmetrical relations of power" (7). The "borderlands" of postcolonial discourse constitute a textual contact zone where the dominant and the marginal cultures meet. Homi Bhabha terms the mobile zone of interaction as the "enunciation of cultural difference" or the "Third Space" which is marked by "hybridity" (208). Any enunciation of cultural difference when seen as an act that transforms even as it creates a representation can never capture the whole of culture--not only because the act of representation is not transparent, but also because the act that is always in the state of becoming cannot be fixed into any stable final formulation. As the Third Space marks the site of encounter between the self and other, it cannot be represented in itself. It, therefore, "constitutes the discursive conditions of enunciation that ensure that the meaning and symbols of culture have no primordial unity or fixity, that even the same signs can be appropriated, translated, rehistoricized and read anew" (Bhabha 208). Recognizing the existence of the "split space of enunciation" or Third Space in theoretical discourse "may open the way to conceptualizing an international culture, based not on exoticism or multi-culturalism of the [End Page 615] diversity of cultures, but on the inscription and articulation of culture's hybridity" (209). Through retrieving the third space from its invisible status, Bhabha concludes, "we will find those words with which we can speak of Ourselves and Others. And by exploring this hybridity, this 'Third Space,' we may elude the politics of polarity and emerge as the others of our selves" (209).
The active encounter of the contact zone marked by fluidity does not lend itself to linear modes of representation, so postcolonial writers have created narratives that spread out horizontally. This exfoliation defines not only the nature of textual topologies, but also the spilling of texts across other genres, for example, autobiographical into nonautobiographical, fictional into nonfictional, or prose into poetry. Just as hypertextual narratives, written by both male and female writers, have been described as being similar to oral narratives in their transmutability and ephemerality, narratives by many ethnic women writers are marked by orality, which they achieve through the use of images and stories that flow and transform into other images and other stories, a strategy that embodies the impossibility of arriving at a definitive reading. Because of the fluidity and transmutability characterizing the narratives of the contact zone, Trinh proposes the replacement of the central symbol of patriarchal societies--the sun, representing logos, order, clarity--with that of the moon, because of its cycles and constant change, its waxing and waning. She notes the need for a dynamism of naming that does not become rigidified into commodifiable categories offered for consumption.
Trinh challenges conventional modes of filmmaking in order to critique their alliance with the regimes of power that seek to turn everything into commodities of consumption. Since the mainstream cinema circulates images for consumption, which become commodities attached with a meaning, the role of the filmmaker, Trinh argues, is to free the image from the "already attached" meanings and let it speak for itself "with its excess, its radical or unjustifiable character" (When the Moon 110). To bring what is invisible in an image to the surface "implies disturbing the comfort and security of stable meaning that leads to a different conception of montage, of framing and reframing in which the notions of time and of movement are redefined, while no single reading can exhaust the dimensions of the image" (When the Moon 110-11). Trinh achieves hypertextual montage by shifting her [End Page 616] attention away from action images that tell a linear story using characters that move in abstracted time and place, toward letting her camera focus in a decentered way on daily activities of the people, producing topological spaces in her films that demand the viewer's participation in their unfolding. In her films, "the relation between filmmaker, filmed subject, and film viewer becomes so tightly interdependent that the reading of the film can never be reduced to the filmmaker's intentions" (When the Moon 109). The film is like "a net with no fisherman," an image which is very close to a hypertextual web, where the browser can weave his or her own path in any direction. Trinh describes her film as a sheet of paper that she presents to the viewers; she is "responsible for what is within the boundary of the paper but [she does] not control and [does not] wish to control its folding. The viewers can fold it horizontally, obliquely, vertically; they can weave the elements to their liking and background" (When the Moon 109). The extreme openness of her films, with their narrative trajectories that spill in different directions, is realized through an extensive use of montage, creating images linked through light, music, color, and sound, so that reading her films, as opposed to just seeing them, becomes a creative experience.
Cinematographic montage, of course, became a prized formal aesthetic of the cinema in the hands of D. W. Griffith (The Gray Shadow, The Mark of Zorro, and The House of Hate) and Sergei Eisenstein (Potemkin, October). While Griffith confined himself to montage in the form of parallel action in his films, Eisenstein brought it to even more complex form by exploring montage both within a single shot as well as in the entire film and by describing it in terms of conflict or "the collision of independent shots--shots even opposite to one another" (107). Within the shot, he perceived montage "in the development of its intensity shattering the quadrilateral cage of the shot and exploding its conflict into montage impulses between the montage pieces" (98). In Cinema 1, Deleuze elaborates on the nature of montage and how it works by exploring it in terms of relationships that are created as well as dissolved between the parts and the wholes through the creation of "movement-images." Commenting on Bergson's critique of cinema as cinematographic illusion, Deleuze points out that Bergson's critique was in fact directed toward primitive cinema, which tried to imitate reality in the form of action images that represented a false movement in time [End Page 617] since the images as instantaneous sections were immobile, and the time of production as well as projection was abstract and impersonal. Thus the primitive cinema was like topographically fixed print text with immovable sections that followed a unilinear path, with a beginning, middle, and an end, which remained the same with each viewing. However, long before print text was replaced by hypertext, the cinema evolved and overcame its own limitations "through montage, the mobile camera and the emancipation of the view point, which became separate from projection" (Deleuze, Cinema 1 3). Through montage, an indirect image of time or whole is created which is not a "homogenous time or a spatialised duration"; it is instead "an effective duration and time which flow from the articulation of the movement-images" (Cinema 1 29). Exploring in greater depth the relationship between montage pieces, Deleuze refers to continuities through which parts enter into relative continuities with the sets, even as there are ruptures and discontinuities that reveal that the whole is not present. The whole, defined in terms of relations, appears at another level that cannot be reduced to discontinuities or continuities, but it "appears in the dimension of a duration that changes and never ceases to change. It appears in false continuities . . . as an essential pole of the cinema" (Cinema 1 27-28) Elaborating on the notion of false continuity further, Deleuze adds that it "is neither a connection of continuity, nor a rupture of a discontinuity in the connection. False continuity is in its own right a dimension of the Open which escapes sets and their parts. It realizes the other power of the out-of-field, this elsewhere or this empty zone, this 'white on white which is impossible to film'" (Cinema 1 28).
Projected onto the topology of hypertext, Deleuze's "false continuity" in cinematographic montage can be seen as the space circumscribed by the hypertextual link. This space, neither a mark of continuity nor a site of rupture, escapes the defined boundaries of nodes, marking the site of the in-between, even as it is reunited with them at another level that belongs to the dimension of the whole, but a whole that is open. "False continuity" is also similar to Bhabha's "third space" or the "split space of enunciation" that marks the site of cultural encounter. Or again, it can be compared to Trinh's "negative space," which she attempts to capture in her films. Trinh's "negative space" is neither the space that the subject of representation occupies nor the field around it; it is "rather the space that makes both composition [End Page 618] and framing possible, that characterizes the way an image breathes" (Framer 142). She compares this "negative space" to the Zen void, which reveals the image in its multiple difference.
Movement-images are created in Reassemblage primarily through fixed shots. Duration and intensity of the shot make the image subversive; the gaze of the viewer encounters the pensive image of the object and "sees it as an object that speaks" (When the Moon 115). Such an image does not lend itself to consumption, Trinh observes, because it speaks for itself, and in that it is a challenge to the fundamental assumptions of the mainstream cinema (When the Moon 115). It provokes the viewers to question and think instead of drawing them into a world of simulacrum represented on the screen. Trinh critiques filmic conventions because these are too limiting to portray the heterogeneous experiences of life. In her films, the images as instants frozen in time are transformed through mobile relationships between the image and the frame, the image and the image through jump cuts, light and darkness, the framed/reframed image, and the soundtrack, which is a succession of music, songs, voice-overs, nature's sounds, conversations, and silences, sometimes with overlaps and superimpositions. As part of the movement-images, images lose their contours, attain depth, and are united in the indirect time-image or duration of the film, which brings about a qualitative transformation in the experience of the film. In a process of continual feedback, the movement relates the framed images to an open duration, and this in turn opens up the images. The assemblage of diversely framed images works in a polarity that oscillates between the interval that defines the immediate relations of the image and the spiral or circle of time that puts it in relation with the duration of the film. Both Reassemblage and Naked Spaces end in a way that stimulates a qualitative transformation in the viewer's reading of the film. Both films begin and end with the same music or dance sequence and thus describe a circle, or rather a spiral of time, so that the experience of the end sequence is qualitatively different from the beginning sequence.
Trinh says Reassemblage was realized "as a desire not to simply mean," but rather "to expose the transformations that occurred with the attempt to materialize on film and between the frames the impossible experience of 'what' constituted Singhalese cultures" (Framer 113). Reassemblage can be seen as a critique of ethnographic films that [End Page 619] collect, preserve, and display cultures as museum artifacts. Through her critique, she questions the concept of "authenticity" as well as "objectivity" of ethnographic endeavor. She compares anthropologists to fishermen who locate themselves as observers in alien cultures, and then, in the name of objectivity, cast a net (their theoretical framework) to capture the culture they are observing. Trinh is acutely aware of herself as part of the net in which she is already caught as she does her catching. In her filmmaking there is no fisherman, only the net. As she focuses her camera on a woman, she watches "her through the lens, [she] look[s] at her becoming [hers] / Entering into the only reality of signs where [she herself is] a sign" ("Reassemblage" 101).
Both Reassemblage and Naked Spaces--Living is Round focus on people and the living spaces they inhabit. Trinh describes the dwelling as an integral part of the landscape, both social and natural, so that the earth and the sky, divinities and mortals, life and death come together in her filmic representation. She says
Dwelling is both material and immaterial; it invites volume and shape as well as it reflects a cosmology and a way of living creativity. . . . [T]o deal with architecture is to deal with the notion of light in space. To deal with the notion of light in space is to deal with color, and to deal with color is to deal with music, because the question of light in film is also, among others, a question of timing and rhythm. Such mutual accord of elements of daily existence is particularly striking in the built environments filmed and the way these materialize the multiple oneness of life. (Framer 120)
Trinh makes frequent use of deformed pans in order to depict spatial interrelationships that the camera would not otherwise capture. Rejecting the use of artificial light to lighten the indoor spaces, she films instead in natural indoor light and thereby reveals the beauty of these spaces. The play of light and darkness gives depth to the space. Thus, "[i]f light be called the life blood of a space, darkness could be called its soul" ("Naked Spaces" 31).
Trinh points out that the conceptual basis of Naked Spaces lies in the experience of momentary blindness that she frequently had in Africa when stepping inside into a dwelling from the broad daylight [End Page 620] outside. She turns this experience into a metaphor for describing any shift in reality that requires readjusting and refocusing of our vision. Thus, "[t]o move inside oneself, one has to be willing to go intermittently blind. Similarly, to move toward other people, one has to accept to take the jump and move ahead blindly at certain moments of inquiry" (Framer 119). In both films, Trinh represents this experience by focusing her camera on openings in the dwelling walls, looking from within through doors that open into luminous light outside, and sometimes looking from outside to look inside through doors or openings in the walls. We also see long moments of seeing through gaps, cracks, and in-between spaces. Trinh thus not only underscores the framed nature of her vision, but also the necessity to take a blind leap, beyond one's beliefs or cultural assumptions, to understand the other.
Trinh's use of black screens in Reassemblage seems to be a reminder to the viewer that the images presented are not just to be seen but also to be read. The black screen reflects the need to have momentary blindness or emptiness in order to enter the reality of the other. At another level, it marks the interval between two moments of embodiment--an interval that is stretched out and marks the site of encounter and depicts the space of traversal that connects the embodied images of the preceding and the following frames to the open duration of the film. In this respect, black screens are blank or empty visualizations of "false continuities" of the movement-images and could be compared to the emptiness of Zen Buddhism. This is not an emptiness of nothingness but that of presence, constituted not of essences but of relationships. Black screens of Reassemblage can also be seen as visualization of hypertextual links that are present here in their absence as the dilatory space between the full frames, marking the site of active traversal.
Aside from black screens, Trinh's camera also focuses on empty spaces--the interior or exterior of dwellings or occasional landscapes emptied of people. Deleuze describes Ozu, the Japanese filmmaker, as the inventor of empty spaces. Ozu's films, which deal with ordinary rather than extraordinary moments in the lives of ordinary people, raise the banality of the everyday to moments of pure contemplation. The emptied spaces, devoid of occupants, deserted exteriors, or landscapes in nature assume an autonomy and "reach the absolute, as [End Page 621] instances of pure contemplation, and immediately bring about the identity of the mental and the physical, the real and the imaginary, the subject and the object, the world and the I" (Cinema 2 16). Ozu also makes a skillful use of still lifes that are "defined by the presence and composition of objects which are wrapped up in themselves or become their own container" (16). As two modes of contemplation, "empty spaces, interiors or exteriors, constitute purely optical and sound situations, [and] still lifes are the reverse, the correlate" (17). Deleuze sees the basic distinction between the empty spaces and filled spaces as representing the emptiness/fullness dialectic in both Japanese and Chinese philosophy.
Trinh's films show a similar dialectic at work--her camera gazes at empty spaces, lingeringly moving to survey the spaces, producing an almost tactile sensation. The empty spaces are sometimes dark interiors stretching into shadows by bright luminous sunlight, entering through openings in the walls or in the ceiling. At other times, the empty spaces are bright exteriors of the dwellings or even landscapes. The play of light and darkness is pushed to the extreme, so that objects are revealed in their emptiness, and space is exposed in its unrealized possibilities. One can sense, "Floating around in these dark spaces is the subtle smell of clay, earth and straw" ("Naked Spaces" 31). The white luminous light reveals objects and spaces in their full potential: "An act of light lets day in night / Makes far nearer and near farther" (29). An act of light allows one to see beyond the surfaces and experience the images as joined in the open duration of the film, which connects the interval of time marked by the empty screen with the circle or spiral of time created by the movement-images of the full screens.
From the empty spaces, interior or exterior, a sudden cut takes the viewer to
the same or different spaces inhabited with people; sometimes the same frame
switches to the one inhabited with people. Transitions, subtle or sudden, from
one form to another are quite frequent. In Naked Spaces, a figure walking
in through a luminous doorway dematerializes into a shadow. Trinh seems to be
playing here with the interpenetration of two forms of
experience--instantiation/desubstantiation, light/darkness, emptiness/presence,
object--where one interpenetrates the other. The emptiness-presence dialectic in Trinh's films is very similar to textual embodiment-disembodiment in the hypertextual environment when the reader traces [End Page 622] a narrative trajectory through multiple texts. Trinh, however, illustrates how emptiness itself is marked with presence, which she describes as the "negative space" of her films that makes the images breathe.
Trinh's treatment of sound and silence is yet another form of the above dialectic. The soundtracks in both films are punctuated with long silences; while sometimes the interruption marks a switch to a different scene, at other times the music stops abruptly even though the scene continues uninterruptedly. For example, there are sections in Naked Spaces when the music suddenly stops while dancers continue dancing. Silence and sound, though aurally presented as excluding one another, are shown to be present together at another level: "Sounds are bubbles on the surface of silence" ("Naked Spaces" 4). Just as emptiness is permeated with presence, so is silence full of sounds--as is visually displayed in the dancing movements of the dancers dancing to a rhythm that the viewer cannot hear.
In Trinh's films the blanking of visual and aural space is done intentionally to provoke the viewer to think. In contrast to ethnographic films, which are circulated as "authentic" representations of different cultures, her films refrain from claims of "authenticity" while focusing on bringing out the multiplicity of the cultural matrix. Through an artful handling of light and darkness as well as the use of colors and music, Trinh represents a cross-section of the culture that "is at the same time transparent and opaque" as well as "irreducibly complex in its simplicity" ("Naked Spaces" 39).
Paul A. Harris's fractal conceptual model can be used effectively to illustrate Trinh's representation of a culture whose multidimensionality can only be brought out by the hypertextual handling of time and space. Even though fractal objects are discrete points, the shapes they produce are liquid, flowing, transforming into self-similar shapes with different iterations. The inside of the fractal shows an interlacing and stretching of space that exhibits a multivalent depth dimension. Time in this model no longer corresponds to a linear movement. Time is spatialized in a discontinuous form and appears as "the dynamic immanent to spatial trajectories" (189). Harris uses the spatially unfolding image of fractal time as a paradigm to read different spatial sites constituted by a bundle of narrative trajectories that intersect at different points and hence cannot be reduced to a single narrative. The "processual" subject is "the product of a differential, a difference located at [End Page 623] the seam dividing the purely discrete from the smoothly continuous," and memory "reroutes seemingly discrete experiences or impressions into recursively connected loops. The incomputable, unknowable totality of possible configurations that comprises one's life is like a sprawling fractal, and one's own self-knowledge and the events in one's life take shape as routes one may follow through the fractal" (190). As the subject exfoliates along multiple routes, the relationship of language to space also undergoes a transformation. In spatialized time, language is reduced to "a sequence of incursions of discourse on space" (188). Harris describes the text as a matrix that brings together disparate components across fractal dimensions "enabling reader, text and cultural context to combine within an encompassing ecology" (193). The boundaries between reader, text, and cultural context "interpenetrate and fold through one another in complex ways unrepresentable in conventional (Euclidean) spatial terms" (193).
Through her films, Trinh attempts to capture just this interpenetration of reader, text, and cultural matrix, so that the filming as well as the filmic subject emerge as "processual" entities whose contours transform as different components are seen in different combinations and configurations. The subject as presence or unitary subjectivity is replaced by the subject as "non-unitary" or "provisional or processual." In Naked Spaces, subjectivity is embodied through three female voice-overs. One quotes African writers and the villagers' sayings; the second voice-over follows Western rationalist logic; and the third relates personal stories--sometimes the three overlap. Both language and subject are thus dispersed across a multidimensional space. Trinh spatializes time by using her camera to explore the spaces in such a way that it brings out their multivalent depth dimension. Time is no longer a sequential narration of events; it is, rather, discontinuous and transformed into spatial trajectories that expose thick layers of time--"A sense of time not only of hours and days, / but also of decades and centuries / A sense of space as light and void" ("Naked Spaces" 9). The six villages that she films in Naked Spaces--Living is Round are in Senegal, Mauritania, Togo, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Benin. Senegal appears both in the beginning and the end of the film. If the seven filmic sites are seen as seven temporal levels in the form of visual recursive operation, Trinh's aim seems to be to reveal the self-embedded layers of multidimensional space of the cultural matrix. The [End Page 624] recursive movement appears not only in the visual images and aural sounds, but also in the verbal text that accompanies them. The fragmentation spatializes the linear time-bound flow of events, and instead of one flow of linearly sequenced events, we have multiple, self-embedded surfaces that flow into one another. The recursive loops appear in the spiraling trajectory of the narrative as well as the visual and aural space. The camera exploratively lingers for a moment too long on the objects as if in dialogue with them, letting them speak for themselves, bringing out the richly textured interlaced spatial trajectories to the surface. Trinh admits that the recursive loops in the film are used not simply to fragment or emphasize, but they are used to convey the experience of the same rhythms and patterns she had while she was filming in different villages. The repetitive patterns are "not just the automatic reproduction of the same but rather the production of the same with and in differences" (Framer 114).
Trinh's use of colors--shades of red, orange, yellow--is meant to forge flowing indeterminate relationships in an assemblage of images within the frame that coexist with the temporal order determined by the movement from frame to frame. Red is presented as "a warm limitless color that often acts as a sign of life" ("Naked Spaces" 21). Since color "is first and foremost a sensation" (11), it makes the images vibrant and suffuses them with emotional tones, making them come alive. The play of light also marks the movement of time as the day transforms into evening, the evening into dawn, and the dawn into the full day. The transitoriness of life, signified by the reference to "Houses and humans [as] both made of small balls of earth" (9), is set in the broader framework of unfolding of history. In another set of visual and verbal images, women's historical location in the past and present come together:
A long wail tore through the air
Blue veiled figures
She sailed down the alley
Her indigo-blue garment
Flowing behind her ("Naked Spaces" 13)
This verbal as well as visual image is followed by another that adds layers of time to it: [End Page 625]
As if for centuries
She sat there
Instinctively veiling her face as the men came in
Unveiling it as soon as they left. ("Naked Spaces" 13)
Images of nature--the sun, the earth, the moon--flow into the images of living spaces, creating a fluid experience where things named are in the following instant unnamed:
Blue like an orange
And orange becomes blue
Earth becomes Sun
Sun becomes Water
Water becomes Sky
And blue becomes orange like the earth. ("Naked Spaces" 38)
It is not the naming finally that has any significance, but the way it is connected to other named and subsequently unnamed images. The natural imagery merges with the images of the inhabitants of the living spaces and the activities that they perform: "It is by way of the 'house hole' that the rays of the noon Sun enter into the house to look at the family and speak with them. Family eats around it. The food cooked and spilled while eating are so much offered to the sun. Women give birth under it to secure the Sun's blessings" (31).
In Trinh's filmmaking style, the sounds, the images, the colors, and the music flow into one another. Music is one of the links in the films that connects the images to one another. The three voice-overs reflect on the role of music in bringing a sense of joy into the lives of people who respond to music through creative movement--dance. Music and dance go together. As this theme is developed at the higher, more complex recursive level, music is described as the life force of the people, sustaining nature and people alike: "Light becoming music" ("Naked Spaces" 41). In the village in Togo, we find further elaboration on the theme of music. As the film returns to Senegal in the final section, the themes developed through the exploration of sound, movement, light, color, and music once again reappear, but at a higher and more complex recursive level. Music is now described as the intermediary between darkness and light: "Music rests on accord between darkness and light" ("Naked Spaces" 43). The way this film tries to deal [End Page 626] with polarities throughout is in the fluidity of images, through the transformation of one into another, where meaning lies not in the one or the other but in a space that goes beyond both. John Cage's musical compositions for Merce Cunningham's dance choreography have led to avant-garde theories of dance and music where dance is not seen as an expression of music, but music and dance are seen as two different art forms that could be coperformed without one expressing the other. This philosophy becomes the basis of Trinh's use of dance and music, which are presented as coexisting in their difference. In Naked Spaces, we hear the following:
Dance and music form a dialogue between movement and sound. One who hears the music understands it with a dance. The dancers do not imitate or express the music heard; they converse with it and dance to the gaps in it. Both marked and unmarked beats. A different beat, one that is not there, one that you add because you feel it and fit it in. Your own beat, your own move, your own reading. (45)
In a further elaboration, music is described as tied to movement, dance, and speech, so that "the listener becomes a co-performer" (23), just as the viewer of Trinh's films becomes the cocreator in readings that have potential for multiple trajectories.
The postcolonial and the hypertextual represent two manifestations of the topology of postmodern information culture where grand narratives are being replaced by local narratives and local knowledges. Trinh's and Malloy's works show that the hypertextual is the representational space through which the postcolonial can work most effectively. It is postcolonial discourse that brings out the politics of embodiment and shows us most clearly that bodies do not exist in transparent space. Technology might claim to have made possible a clean virtual space where categories of race, gender, and class are said to be irrelevant and where humans can experience the freedom of total disembodiment. We know better. Since humans are half of the interaction of the real with the virtual, if our society is not changed at a fundamental level, no leaps into virtual space can bring us freedom from the inequality and injustices of the social reality. Hypertext theorists' exaggerated claims about the democratic potential of hypertext are not informed by politics. Communication in itself, as Henri Lefebvre [End Page 627] points out, cannot bring about revolutionary transformation of society (29). Navigating in the "city of texts" can be liberating when the sites are approached not in the spirit of possession and control, but as the sites of active encounter that is marked by a self-awareness of one's positioning. Changes in our technologies of production are intricately connected to changes in technologies of signification, which in turn are tied to the modes of consumption and those of embodiment (Hayles, "Virtual" 69). Postcolonial discourse, by placing bodies at the center stage of postmodern topology, resists a position that promotes disembodiment. In recognizing the site of the personal, the social, the political as the locus of struggle, postcolonial discourse acknowledges the necessity of locating the embodied body in a web of power relations, even as postmodern discourse wants to disperse it in the virtual domain. This latter is reminiscent of the "death of the subject" ideology promoted by male theorists that feminists find so problematic, since it makes the need or possibility of political action a virtual impossibility.
Jaishree K. Odin teaches in the Liberal Studies Program at the University of Hawai'i, Manoa. She has recently published essays in Commonwealth Studies and in the collection Postcolonialism and American Ethnicity. Her current work involves postcolonialism, hypertextuality, and cyberculture.
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