what do you think of this video as an interpretation (or mimetic rehearsal cum interpretation) of blake’s poem?  which elements in the video seem especially significant to you in respect to the issue of reification?

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13 Responses to

  1. Alyzee Lakhani says:

    The sublime tiger-makers

    What stands out to me in Blake’s poem is that the tyger is of secondary focus, the primary one being the “immortal hand” and “furnace” that conceived the idea of the tiger, and then was audacious enough to create this majestic killing-machine. Though the creator is the subject of the poem, the images of the tiger are what impress themselves most strongly upon the reader so that at a glance one can gather only the fearsomeness of the tiger and not that of the mastermind behind the tiger that is insinuated and wondered at.

    This duality of focus in shown in the video by the three silhoutted puppetmasters controlling the tiger – though in shadow – they are the authors of the spectacular upheaval we see in the film. The tiger is only a vehicle, a reification of the imagined greater forces behind it. The makers of the tiger in both film and poem are abstract, terrifyingly powerful, and sublime, but the tiger phenomenon itself is the only hint that we can use to characterize the sublime forces that operate it. The poem reifies the position of the benighted human in the face of the sublime mystery of creation, and the video takes the poem’s attempt even further by involving more of our senses that tell is “the idea is real/concrete”. But the “concrete” idea being expressed is that we have no idea about the universe – is this video an attempt at reification in the face of the sublime? (Am I using “reification” correctly?)

    Does Blake’s voice fetishize the tiger, meaning his awe for the animal is a misplaced awe for what he presumes to be the creator of the universe? Or is the impulse that created the tiger/fetish one of disavowal that the creator is capable of violence or evil genius (mesmerized by the tiger, the threat of its creator is much less immediate)?

  2. Rhiannon Gascoigne says:

    Actually I’m not sure the “tyger” is the fetish at all. What struck me most about the film was that as he passed the characters were enlivened and illuminated by the light of the fire whilst simultaneously turning into beasts. I took this to mean a return to nature. They stopped focusing on the hum-drum video games and televisions and mindless clubs and drinking parties and became animals all of a sudden.

    Was the tyger showing them for what they were? Does our experience of the sublime reveal to us just how like the animals we are? Or does is return us to a “state of nature” somehow? Or are they the same thing? (I don’t have any answers to these questions as yet).

    But on the topic of reification it seems to me that the fetishizing was not in the portrayal of the Tyger himself, but in the actions of the human characters before they encountered him. Their interactions are abstract and distant until the Tyger appears. I don’t know if you noticed but one character was watching porn on tv before the Tyger came and he turned into an ape and Honneth mentions sexual objectification as an example of reification.

    It was interesting to note that the “creator” was a trinity–unknowable I’ll grant you, but distant? Definitely not. Clearly interested in the creation and its upheaval– as you put it, though perhaps enlivenment would be a better phrase. Also note that the “fire” grows up in this organic floral motif, again recalling nature, and contrasting distinctly with the hard, contrived appearance of the city buildings.

    I wonder does anyone have any idea what the “looping star” might represent at the beginning of the film? Or the “Viking” up in lights at the funfair? It’s interesting that the Tyger leaps out from behind a house of horrors too. What can this mean?

  3. Aron Rosenberg says:

    Alyzee, I loved reading your comment. I don’t think I fully understood the misplacement inherent in fetishizing something until I read that. I think that you are correct in implying that the film and Blake’s original text both intend to invoke reflection on one’s “awe for the tiger as a [potentially] misplaced awe for what [one] presumes to be the creator of the universe” or, in place of creator I might say one’s own imagined/speculative sense of what a tiger represents. Perhaps it could be said that this awe is not misplaced but it is placed based on misunderstandings. For if experienced directly by the five cleansed doors of perception (which is perhaps impossible) that Blake lauds in “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell”, the experience of the tiger would be different. That is to say, without the sense of things brought on by the commodification described by Marx and in general, speculation, or at its orgins, written language, the tiger would seem different. How so? I donno. I sorta don’t think I can know so I’m going to go with Keats’ idea of Negative Capability (existing, even comfortably, in uncertainty) and interest myself in the value in having an awareness of the limits of our current conventional modes of perception which might be to say I’ll reflect on the benefits of having an awareness of the failings of reification (if that means, as I’m thinking it does, the taking of abstract or extrapolated or imagined truths as a direct and personal truth). Can this mode of thinking or praxis be avoided or escaped? Is there an imperative that necessitates this escape?

    In traditional Japanese puppetry, Bunraku, there are three black-robed figures in plain site but in the background, like in this Tyger film. For each puppet, three puppeteers operate together. The omozukai does the right hand and head, the hidarizukai or sashizukai does the left hand and props, and the ashizukai operates the legs, feet, and, in some cases perhaps even tail. These three puppeteers take on the spirit of the puppet they are giving life to by training together for years and years and then breathing in unison while performing. I believe the oneness embodied by the three puppeteers in Bunraku and, I’d like to think relatedly, in this Tyger film can represent the negatively capable approach to the conundrum of knowing the essential tiger. If the tiger is made of its composite parts with the three puppeteers, actual tigers, and our own sense of things all informing our perceptual result, there is no conclusion to be reached: “Everything possible to be believed is an image of truth.” (Blake, Marriage of Heaven and Hell-Proverbs of Hell plate) How, in a sense superior to Lukacs attempt, could one disprove that everything plays a part and there is no essential element?

  4. myotherleft@gmail.com says:

    Very interesting! I didn’t know that about Japanese puppetry and I’m fascinated by the way people feel compelled to take on a persona in all forms of artwork- to the point where the character they portray becomes a part of their everyday life.

    And yes Alyzee makes a very good point about how the tyger is the image we, as readers (or viewers of the film) become fixated on– missing the actual subject of the poem, which is the tyger’s creator.

    But I feel I have to point out, as if to illustrate your point better perhaps, that while the Tyger of the poem and the film IS threatening and awesome ( in the original sense of the word) he’s not actually a killing machine and he’s not evil either. In the film he brings life and growth and radical change– movement to the characters. If anything, he’s quite the opposite of what your impression was.

    And the Tyger of the poem may be the same. It is tempting to look at him as evil and an instrument of destruction, but it never actually says that entirely. I’ve never felt comfortable with the impression that the Tyger was an image of the creation of evil. I’ve always felt it was another aspect of the creation (or an expression of the Creator?) itself. It is good but embodies the power of the creator, which is dreadful and terrifying, in its very nature awe-inspiring. There is a fierceness, a raw strength and a passion, but that does not imply evil per se. It is however concentrated and unmixed as an image– the way the Lamb is an image of meekness and innocence.

    So I perhaps you are right when you refer to the Tyger as the fetish Alyzee– he is certainly the fetish to the audience at any rate.

  5. Alyzee Lakhani says:

    Rhiannon, I think you’re right in giving the action in a video a more positive spin by calling it “enlivenment” rather than upheaval. The Tiger really does bring glow and movement to what looked like the drudgery of city life.

    The images shown in the beginning before the Tiger comes out are sections of larger things (The trunk of the merry-go-round, the loop of the ferris wheel and roller coaster) – things that are inspiration for the creation of the Tiger. If the Tiger is both phenomenon and the imagined sublime behind it (the one we are false in thinking exists), it makes sense that the sublime idea would be constructed by things already familiar to humans. In this way the idea behind the Tiger is a spliced version of concepts from the everyday. The sublime effect that the Tiger has is thus a product of the imagination, not a the effect of an external stimulus – is this why the Tiger “jumps” out behind the House of Horrors? The “Horrors” here are a general mix of things we’ve invented that have predictably similar effects on people – can the feeling of horror be likened to that of the sublime? If so, do we search for a deeper meaning behind why things horrify us?

    Aron, your knowledge of Bunraku is so useful for this film! Thanks. Just to clarify your point about negative capability: is the contrived oneness of the Bunraku and the Tyger wielders the reason why we can’t identify an “essence” as we try and fail to do? Because if there are multiple forces working all at once, one can’t assume a single cause behind behind the phenomenon?

  6. Rhiannon Gascoigne says:

    That’s a really interesting idea about the beginning of the film! I never thought of it as the “inspiration” for the Tyger. Sitting here thinking about it again I sort of wonder if it might also– or alternatively– be an image of nothingness, captivity, and emptiness. “Looping star” and the image of the ferris wheel make me think of being stuck going round in circles endlessly, overstimulated, with our brains switched off, slaves to pure emotion– which the people in the film certainly were. We’re all trapped by our particular experiences of reality maybe? Until the tyger appears– the sublime– and snaps us our of it? But it’s kind of scary and threatening because it changes us dramatically.

    • Rhiannon Gascoigne says:

      Also I think my above comment nicely illustrates what Adorno/Horkheimer say about how “the only kind of thinking that is sufficiently hard to shatter myths is ultimately self-destructive” and that “Enlightenment is totalitarian.”

  7. Aron Rosenberg says:

    To respond to Alyzee, I’d say yes. Similarly to your discussion of the composite parts that you see as forming the inspiration for the tiger.

    I saw Tear the Curtain tonight at the Stanley Theatre. Though at times a bit glib, the play is about an attempt to reconnect with one’s senses and communicate with presence and directness. It has several monologues about the paradoxes of representations relationship with “reality” and about identity as troublingly unstable. Commoditization even comes up.

    The “play”, as I’ve called it, is actually half film, switching back and forth with live action, changing in clever and form-as-content/meaning ways. The plot (the piece was not about the plot) was about finding a medium more capable and “original” then film or theatre. Watching it made me feel like I had entered a really symbolic dream, especially considering the reading that I’ve been doing today for this class. I highly recommend this play and not only because it was scary, engaging, and super technologically advanced, but because it is centered around the content we’ve been covering so far in class.

    Plays until October 10th, here’s the site with more info and a trailer:
    http://www.artsclub.com/20102011/plays/tear-the-curtain.htm

  8. Madeline Fuchs says:

    I really like this interpretation of Blake’s poem, and also reading all of your comments before me.

    I agree with Rhiannon in the sense that I think it is important to also put an emphasis on the actions of the people before the tiger comes along. To continue on your original post, the idea that the people immediately turn into animals (I don’t know if I would use the word beast – some of them turn into butterflies..), in my opinion, is a comment on the notion of fear. Although the tiger is not represented as evil, or committing any harm (in the video or the poem), there will always be the element of fear attached to the tiger. The idea that the people transformed into animals at the sight of the tiger could be a suggestion that in the face of fear we return to our most natural, animalistic, and honest (too far?) state of being.

    Love the three puppet masters in the video – and Aron your added knowledge about it really helped in understanding it more. I agree that most of the emphasis in the poem is on the creator, instead of the tiger, and I think this video does a good job of presenting that (regardless of it simply being the way that style of puppetry is done – or if it was on purpose).

    Just curious if any of you guys had a comment about the video’s choice of music in the background? I think it definitely adds to the interpretation, but I’m not sure where to take it…

  9. Arin Vaillancourt says:

    “Did he who make the Lamb make thee?” (Blake, Line 20) Balance is key to the songs that Blake has written. We cannot look at “The Tyger” without considering it’s innocent counter part “The Lamb”. The lamb and the tiger are two parts to a ying and yang, two sides of one coin, and the light and the dark. To me, the lamb is not whole without it’s terribly beautiful counterpart. What I find particularily interesting is that this video chooses to leave out any sort of allusion to the lamb. It’s absence is a comment on the state of humanity. The Tyger is supposed to represent experience, it is not evil, but a representation of the opposite of a pure and kinder state of being. Experience is not an inferior state of being, but simply a different one, and one that is harder to define. However, this video points out the lack of the innocent state in the human world. There is no innocence in these people, and no form of mature experience either. The humans in this video are simply aping the animals that they later turn into, and it is an eloquent statement that most of them resemble flies, moths, and cockroaches. Humans have fallen into an intermediary state between the two elevated forms of being, they do not have the purity and sweet naivety of innocence, and they do not possess the mature wisdom of experience. They are caught in between and this is why they revert into a more primal state when the tiger prowls by. The tiger rips the veil off of their farce of an existence. He tears the lies of their humanity out of their souls and shows them for what they really are; liars. The tiger makes no pretense of it’s existence or nature, it is what it is. We are the ones who waste our lives with fruitless frivolity and meaningless pursuits. Blake asked us if “he smile{d} his work to see?” (Blake, Line 19) Well, would He smile to see us is the real question.

  10. Natassia Orr says:

    Animals carry a lot of symbolism, and many animals are treated as an embodiment of a specific trait. When the various people are turned into animals, it’s as if they’re being reduced to the single trait embodied by that animal. The people are objectified. The man watching TV on the couch who turns into a sloth becomes nothing more than laziness. The people on the street who turn into birds are reduced to their flight from the tiger. The people stuck in traffic become their speed, etc. The tiger is treated in the same way– the only traits we see is its raw power. Its “humanity”, the full complexity of its nature, is lost. This fits into some possible interpretations of the poem with the unuttered concept of evil. There is an implied concept of good vs evil, especially in the comparison with the lamb. These two very complex abstractions are reified into relatively simple shapes.

    As the animals are reified, the people that they were are objectified. This seems to illustrate the point that I think Honneth is trying to make, where treating the abstract as concrete also creates the reverse effect.

    Regarding Madeline’s comment about the music: I was reminded of anvils in a forge, bellows and heartbeats–the images/instruments of creation mentioned in the poem. Perhaps the music is suggesting that we are witnessing the creation of a world of tigers?

  11. Tina says:

    Reification, in the form of the tyger, brings out the primal energies from the people and metamorphosizes them into something concrete and true: animals. I heartily agree with Alyzee’s definition of the tygers as being fetishized. I am also inclined to go one step further by claiming that the tyger itself is a fetish. All these people in the video are deriving sensory pleasure under the cover of night – voyeurism, hedonism etc… But the tyger unleashes (brings life) these pent-up energies, and releases them, thereby freeing them from the stifling walls of societal norms and expectations – thus the explosion of the invasive vines and algae. Therefore, the tyger is definitely not a Messiah sent down from heaven to punish people for their vice (in the same way the tyger in Blake’s poem is not a symbol of the anti-christ).

    In this video, fetishism is explored in the form of horror. Like what Rhiannon has pointed out, the tyger emerges from the House of Horrors (a carnival, a place of limitless sensory pleasure and excitement) and is unleashed into an unsuspecting city. Set against a backdrop of a grimy cityscape (which I must say reminds me a lot of Asia – Hong Kong to be precise), the tyger slouches towards the hilltop, proclaiming it’s place as King, and surveys the jungle of life he has created.

    Do you ever feel, when you’re watching a horror movie, this delicious mix of excitement and dread as you wait in anticipation for the entrance of the ghost/ poltergeist/ spirit/ monster? I guess this is my layman’s take on fetishism derived from horror. It’s hard to put into words, but there’s just something about the tyger that’s so utterly captivating and awesome. Besides, tygers are a symbol of virility and sexual potency during Blake’s time.

    And yes, of course, one tends to forget the three figures (i.e. Blake) who bring life to the tyger in the first place. The issue of reification in this video is explored in the same way that Blake embodies horror into the image of a tyger – it is the your sensory experience as you watch the video/ read the poem. The music, like every self-respecting horror flick, is intended to mimic your heartbeat. Following Naussbaum’s take on objectivity, if one is inclined to regard the tyger as a fetish, then reification should only be explored through the sensory experience of the film/ poem. This is because the tyger is merely an instrument to our aim – the aim to derive sensory pleasure through an aesthetic interpretation of something so utterly grotesque and malicious.

    I believe that all of these readings interconnect because they are able to show us what knowledge cannot. According to Adorno/ Horkheimer, “it is in the nature of the work of art, or aesthetic semblance, to be what the new, terrifying occurrence became in the primitive’s magic: the appearance of the whole in the particular.” (19) Blake and the creators of the “Tyger” screenplay have utilised art and the aesthetics to describe the sublime.

    And finally, yay for pretending to be able to use “reification” in a sentence, even though it’s probably the first time I’ve ever seen the word in my life. Thank you, too, to Aron for your amazing contribution of the art of Bunraku.

  12. @Aron Rosenberg: Tear the Curtain was amazing! I wonder if there is a way to get a copy of the script, there are so many relevant quotes!

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