anima: of people, puppets, Tesla & Zeus

In the previous post, in Rodolphe Rapetti’s description, the little girl in the photograph on the harmonium has become a “living doll,” “lifeless,” with “vacant eyes;” the picture of her actual body “disembodies eroticism.” (He does not, however, pass over the opportunity to make a sexual joke of “pull[ing] all the stops” to produce the “perverse fascination” of the “mechanical performance” she promises.) Whereas the work of the Nabis and Jarry with marionettes and, by inference, Symbolism itself “conjure[s] up a dramaturgy in which an author’s inventiveness [can] forgo flesh-and-blood actors.” The puppets offer an embodiment for Symbolism’s theatre of concepts, the flesh and blood of actors forgone, that is by contrast alive, vital, full, and erotic. [Symbolism, pp. 73-74 & 83]

Pierre Louÿs’s little girl is posed. She’s sat on an organ; her legs are spread; her head is tilted. She is first a passive recipient of the photographer’s instruction and might easily have been replaced with an anatomically correct doll but for the affect of vitality the photographer perhaps wished to extract from her living body. The question is: Is that affect all the more striking for being pressed, posed, forced out and subsisting in the image as a furtive pulse or point? Or is it the knowledge we have, the presumption we make, that the girl was alive at the time the photo was taken?

These two possibilities correspond to Rolande Barthes’s concepts of the punctum and studium. In Camera Lucida, Barthes asks a similar question of a photograph. He asks it because the photograph has an immediate affect on him and he wants to discover whether that affect is somehow localisable on the surface in the photograph or is in him, on the surface, in the beholder’s eye. Contrary to expectation, he finds something, some little thing, in the photo, which does not belong to the body of knowledge, social, historic, etc. he brings to the photo. He invents the terms punctum to cover this small thing and studium for what the viewer brings to the photo, which, presumably, includes the part of the viewer’s knowledge that resonates along with the punctum.

An additional question may now be asked: Do puppets have a punctum? Rapetti quotes Heinrich von Kleist, who said that the line of movement, or arabesque, of the marionette was “nothing less than the path of the dancer’s soul.” [Symbolism, p. 83] Does puppetry distill a human aspect, an affect, and literally re-present it? And, then, the obvious further question: Or is it the actor or dancer, the living person, who steals from the puppet or doll its soul?

These questions revolve round the problem of representation encountered earlier in posts here with regard to Dorothea Olkowski’s The Ruin of Representation. Olkowski pursues her line of inquiry in The Universal to ask of the punctum and that in the viewer’s studium with which it resonates whether there is an ontological basis for this resonance, this passing of energy, this vibration in the sensibility. She asks, therefore, about a relational process of differentiation and differenciation.

Symbolism raised the disembodied and embodied spectre of animation at the end of the 19th century, the problem of the uncanny, of unholy possession and of transported and ambulatory souls. Spiritualism testifies to the perverse fascination of science with that furtive substance animating puppets, dolls and people in their affects and the immaterial in its effects. It was called electricity or magnetism, in combination, electromagnetism, as if the divine breath were experienced by mortal man and woman in a thunderbolt.

– publicity photo of Nikola Tesla

– Semele perishes at the sight of Zeus

Coming soon: rigid or yielding? How do you like your puppet? Anatomically correct or plushie?