24 January 2002 Maya Deren's theory of film-making and nature

13:15 First notes, as I begin to read it...

Among several quotations and subsequent thoughts noted in my copy of Bill Nicholls' recent book* here are the ones that most impress me:

...as I read her book**, stunned by its relevance and clarity and range, I realise that most of it could be copied here, it's so dense... I feel for the first time that I'm reading from a mind close and congenial to my own, and exceeding it e.g.

the ritualistic form is much more the art equivalent of modern science than (is) the naturalism which claims to be so based... (page 20)
that quotation alone is enough to show the rightness of the non-realism to which I am drawn and the wrongness of the realism I so profoundly and unceasingly refuse. (Whew! - writing these paragraphs took much energy, perhaps because of their range?)

...ready or not, willing or not, we must come to comprehend, with full responsibility, the world we have created. (page 52)

Next day:

While reading the whole of her book (out of print for decades) I copied out passages which seem to me of great general interest and I marked many others that are more specific to film making... Here are some that seem particularly relevant to the idea of 'afternature' (and to my lifelong project!):

All of nature and reality, including man, had been previously accepted as manifestation of the will of a central, absolute consciousness. In transposing that consciousness from the central position in the metaphysical cosmos to a location in man's own brain, the principle of conscious control and creative manipulation was, if anything, reasserted in science. (page 7)
(for extra clarity I have inserted extra spaces (such as this) within a long and closely-worded paragraph on page 9)
...only when he (man) relinquished his concept of divine consciousness did he confront the choice of either developing his own (consciousness) and accepting all the moral responsibilities previously dispensated (!) by divinity, or of merging with inconscient nature and enjoying the luxurious irresponsibility of being one of its more complex phenomena. (page 9)
He resolved this problem by the simple expediency of choosing both; the forms of our modern culture are an accurate manifestation of this ambivalence. (page 9)
Man himself is a natural phenomenon and his activities may be either an extension and an exploitation of himself as a natural phenomenon, or he can dedicate himself to the creative manipulation and transfiguration of all nature, including himself, through the exercise of his conscious, rational powers. (page 9)
The forms of nature, being inevitable, are amoral, and even at their most destructive, as in disease, cannot be considered morally responsible. The forms of man are, on the contrary, subject to moral evaluations in terms of the conscious intentions which they incorporate... (page 9)
...that's enough for the moment - more to come, I hope... I sigh, after the exertion, and in happy anticipation that 'something lovely may emerge'!

The page numbers refer to Maya Deren's book - which retains its original numbering in Bill Nicholls' book.

*Maya Deren and the American Avant-Garde, edited by Bill Nicholls, University of California Press, Berkeley, Los Angeles, london 2001 (includes a reprint of the book below).

**Maya Deren, An anagram of ideas on art, form and film, The Alicat Book Shop Press, Yonkers, New York 1946.

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© 2002 john chris jones

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