Forests #3, or: The Village

Travelers among Mountains and Streams - Fan K'uan, c. 1000 A.D.


The town of San Diego lies almost at the shores of the lake, amid open fields and rice paddies. It exports sugar, rice, coffee, and fruit, or sells them wholesale to the Chinese, who take advantage of the simplemindedness of the workers, or their vices.

When boys climb to the topmost vault of the church tower, which is covered in moss and climbing vines, they burst into exultant cries at the beauty of the panorama unfolding before their eyes. Each knows how to find his little house, his small nest among that cover of thatch, tile, zinc, and palm leaves divided by orchards, and gardens. Everything serves as a sign: a tree, a tamarind with its sparse foliage, a coconut palm with nuts like Astarte the goddess of fertility or the Diana of Ephesus with its many breasts, the swaying cane reads, a bonga-pine, a cross. There lies the river, a monstrous glass serpent asleep in a green carpet; from time to time in the sandy bed, rocks strewn here and there jut up to roll the current. There the riverbed narrows between two high banks, and naked, twisted tree-roots cling. Here the river flows down a soft incline and widens and eddies. There, in the distance, a tiny house, built into the ledge, defies height, wind, and the abyss; its thin posts make it seem like a giant mosquito stalking the reptile it is about to attack. The trunks of palm or other trees still bear their bark though they shift and roll as they connect the banks. If they are poor bridges, at least they serve as wonderful gym apparatus on which one can practice one's balance. Young boys bathing in the river take great pleasure in watching nervous women pass over them, baskets atop their heads, or old men, who shake violently and drop their canes into the water.

But what always draws attention is what one would call a spur of forest amid a section of tilled earth. It is an ancient stand of hollow trunks, which die only when lighting strikes the upper canopy and sets it afire. It is said the fire turns back on itself and dies where it began. There are boulders, which time and nature have attired in a pelt of moss; dust has left layer upon layer in their hollows. Rain holds it there 'til birds sow seed. Tropical vegetation grows liberally. Thickets and underbrush, tangled one and another like woven blankets, flow from one plant to the next. They hang from branches, cling to roots and to the ground and, as if Flora were still not satisfied, one plant grapples with another. Moss and fungi live on the cracked bark, while hanging plants, such gracious guests, entwine their arms with the leaves of the hosting trees.

The stand is held in great awe. Odd legends swirl around it, the most realistic of which and, hence, the least often believed and understood, is the following.

When the town was still a miserable pile of shacks and grass grew wildly in the so-called streets, in the times when deer and wild boar wandered about the town at night, there appeared one day an old Spaniard with deep eyes, who spoke fairly good Tagalog. After visiting and touring parcels of several areas, he asked for the owners of the wood, where various thermal springs flowed. A few men came along pretending to be the owners, and the old man acquired the land from them in exchange for clothes, jewels, and some money. Then, without anyone knowing how it came to be, the old man disappeared. The people thought he was bewitched, and when a fetid odor began to emerge from the forest, it drew the attention of a few shepherds. They followed the trail until they came upon the old man in a state of putrefaction, hanging from the branch of a baliti tree. When he was alive, he struck fear into the hearts of men because of his deep, cavernous voice, his deep-set eyes, and the way he laughed without making a sound. But now, dead, and a suicide to boot, he disrupted the women's sleep. They threw the jewels into the river and burned the clothing, and ever since the corpse was buried at the foot of that banana tree, no one was willing to venture near it. One shepherd, who was looking for his animals, told of having seen lights. Young men wandered by and claimed to have heard lamenting. One lovesick young man, in order to draw the attention of his would-be lover, vowed to spend the night beneath the tree and wind a long bulrush around its trunk. He died of a raging fever, which befell him the day after the night of his vow. Many stories and legends continue to circulate about the place.

Less than a few months had gone by when a young man appeared. In all appearances a Spanish half-breed, he claimed to be the dead man's son. He settled in the spot and proceeded to dedicate himself to farming, especially the planting of indigo. Don Saturnino was a taciturn man of violent character, cruel at times but energetic and a hard worker. He encircled his father's grave with a wall, and rarely visited it. After a few years, he married a young woman from Manila, with whom he had Don Rafael, Crisóstomo's father.

From the time he was young, Don Rafael was beloved by his workers. His farm, established and maintained by his father, developed quickly. New residents flowed in, including a great many Chinese. The hamlet soon became a village with a native priest, then a town. The native priest died and Father Dámaso arrived, but the tomb and the old boundaries were respected. From time to time boys, armed with sticks and stones, would wander in the environs to gather guavas, papayas, lomboi, and other such things, and it happened that whenever these tasks were going well or when they were contemplating the rope that swung from the branch, a few stones would fall from who knows where. Then, with a cry of "the old man, the old man!" they would run through the rocks and boulders, and not stop until they were out of the forest. Some were pale, others out of breath, and still others were crying, but no one was laughing at all.

--José Rizal, Noli Me Tangere, 1887 (trans. Harold Augenbraum, Penguin, 2006), p.62-64.



[A photograph of Rizal's execution came to light in the 1920s. Taken from a distance, it shows a man in a dark suit and bowler hat standing several paces from a firing squad, with tall, straight trees in the background. Several historians have questioned its authenticity - eyewitnesses have claimed there were no trees in Bagumbayan at the time - but it is often printed as the only extant photograph of Rizal's execution. --Harold Augenbraum, Noli Me Tangere, p.xxiv.]


Forests #2, or: the mist that hangs in the valley

The sky is full of black clouds
and the wind is blowing

you tell yourself that it's going to rain

between rocks
in the middle of a stand of trees
or on the slopes
of a hill or mountain
water has emerged from the ground
clear, fresh, murmuring...

La Vallée close - Jean-Claude Rousseau, 1995, super 8


Sharits #3, or: the retinal screen

---[original interests]

the recreation of personal feelings, stress moods, anxiety – experiences of bleakness, non-linear, temporal suspension, loss of “objective” mind set

---[attraction to home movies]

(grey, grainy, claustrophobic – highly filmic, a black and white landscape)

attempt to realize these emotions in EVENT (1963)

narrative-dramatic emphasis since, at this point, the experiences emerged from those systems. later, with RAY GUN VIRUS, “drama” is, hopefully, created rather than recreated, direct, empty, intense, non-humorous, non-serious feeling (what concerned malevich ... his “desert”) the mundane rather than the dream or fantastic.


(a "feature" of the psychedelic experience is the immense strangeness of the everyday object & situation.) my idea has been to charge the ordinary thru editing, to create something that is, as a whole, very different than any of its single parts, to make something out of nothing.

---[reading eisenstein in 1963]

differing from "montage" of eisenstein insomuch as he felt that the emergent images arising from juxtaposition must relate directly back to the films' literal narrative content. i would have liked to have had the "emergents" as the whole of the film. this was never accomplished although i believe it was approximated in EVENT. STORY was quite narrative, but the narrative was of very simple, slight value. in it i wanted to simply find kinaesthetic and imagistic metaphors of what was occurring literally, in WINTERCOURSE: machine to bare tree; trees to human; machine to sex act; automobile orgasm; etc. past continually in the present, penetration of the past with the present; blurring of past and future (i.e., the NOW line of division) results in no time, or presence, even though summer is counterposed to winter (warm - cold ... obvious symbolic values), i was concerned that this relationship be (imagistically, concretely) filmic, rhythmic; tonally the doubleday book of interior decorating albert kornfield all inclusive guide. illustrated in color. (pub. edition, 11.95).

---[this is being written under the influence of pot. the reason for this is to enable myself to write in the present. intercutting all relevant data leaves float. directness is established, disjarring of temporality, recurrence, departing to nowhere, just what i would like of my films. this then is relevant and will get to the REALITY & HEART of the situation: i am not being anarchistic. honest.y]

when i made the first three films i was involved with "non-objective" painting & sculpture. the films were more meaningful to me because i was not non-objective by nature.

---[experiential directness (and directness of media projection tangible "form")]

so the films, since it was necessary to do them, were more reflective of me, i was reading about zen & wanted to make haiku movies. i saw other persons' films; started film society; an image does not have a tangible, rather sensible ... no it is sensible ... "existence" - it exists in someone's nervous system ... memory cells is its physical analogue.



an image could be defined as a non-referential symbol. combine what does not make sense if you want an image. but do not reveal to the viewer the senselessness of these combinations. what is more invisible than a relationship? conflict of mundane content and senseless relationships. editing was, until recently, supreme. with the new work the program for structuring the system becomes ultra-supreme; then art is free to be not-art but actuality. it would be whatever it might just be. john cage and his random music are very important at present. but also burroughs who does not live in "the happy land" - this leads to a conflict that needs to be resolved not by dissolution of the problem, or by choosing one or the other, but to synthesize both into one. that is mondrian. and i also feel what mondrian felt. tibetan art is of great interest to me; however, they, like fellini, only literally hint, represent the energy flow, matter-antimatter, plus-, siva-sakti, yab-yum, the many and the one, yogic films.

---[herman greer askren]

burroughs is in happyland only thru cut-up, cut-in ... but not happy thru chicken liver.

---[re-edited IMAGES]

8mm sketches of color flicker with and without image. this is post-lsd. that world cannot be described. everything and nothing have changed. colors that are pure light, are made up of levels of other colors - molecular, atomic, electrical. time : present. ILLUMINATION ACCIDENT TO HAPPEN TO AUDIENCE. i would like to have total nonunderstanding and its consequence - involvement. mental orgasm.

---[reality visions]

nerve ending music/"tranart" (leary): does what everybody has tried to represent.


change to remove redundancies; to penetrate with white light; to physiologicalisize. deepen gap or effort to do so. burroughs does it - he takes you on a wave trip: in-out, thru, beneath, etc. ... but in waves of slowness & you lose location. the lose location is presence. when you lose location you become Located. and re-located; very quickly; it is over when you are finally able to

---[phosphorus 37%]

(mis)understand it. to happen before one can see it happen because they are happening with it. this THE TRUE PAUL SHARITS STATEMENT.

---[riboflavin 5%]

this writing becomes a movie ... paper movie. lash out at the old sentimentality program by slash.

---[iron 30%]

lite slash. actualize the auditorium showing everyone where they are at. n:o:t:h:i:n:g (in progress) is very involved with the programming stage; models are from "mandalas", "mantras", majikwheels, "yantra movie."

---[vitamin b1 11%]

to stimulate the audience nervous system into disslocation. the retinal screen. i wanted to see how the visual fugue form would work visually so here the necessary procedure is not to know what you are talking about but to keep thinking as you go further out into non-knowledge and not resolve thoughts as this is dangerous and "maya."

---[niacin 45%]

dual screen and extremely rapid cutting creating mental afterimages of thought syndromes. not a uni but a bioverse. there is too much to talk about too many levels word language is dead language a tired language. speak between the words and you have presence. having presence is exactly like not being present. nirvana is everyday life. splice those meanings together without film and project it on emptiness and you know what is being said herein. typewriter is a language before it types words. "all out of time into space" says hassan i s.

now it seems that everything that can be said has been said.

--Paul Sharits, "Movie Cookbook", 1966, Film Culture 65-66, 1978, p. 109-112. Formatting tweaked a little.

T,O,U,C,H,I,N,G - Paul Sharits, 1968, 16mm


More pigshit, or: Sharits #2

Piece Mandala/End War - Paul Sharits, 1966, 16mm


(OVERTURE: "All writing is pigshit. People who leave the obscure and try to define whatever it is that goes on in their heads, are pigs." -Antonin Artaud)

GENERAL STATEMENT FOR 4th INTERNATIONAL EXPERIMENTAL FILM FESTIVAL, KNOKKE-LE ZOUTE: I am tempted to use this occasion to say nothing at all and simply let my films function as the carriers of themselves – except that this would be perhaps too arrogant and, more important, a good deal of my art does not, in fact, “contain itself.” It is difficult for me to verbalize about “my intentions” not only because the films are non-verbal experiences but because they are structured so as to demand more of viewers than attention and appreciation; that is, these works require a certain fusion of “my intentions” and with the “viewer’s intentions.”

This has nothing to do with “pleasing an audience” – I mean to say that in my cinema flashes of projected light initiate neural transmission as much as they are analogues of such transmission systems and that the human retina is as much a “movie screen” as is the screen proper. At the risk of sounding immodest, by re-examining the basic mechanisms of motion pictures and by making these fundamentals explicitly concrete, I am working toward a completely new conception of cinema. Traditionally, “abstract films,” because they are extensions of the aesthetics and pictorial principles of painting or are simply demonstrations of optics, are no more cinematic than narrative-dramatic films which squeeze literature and theatre onto a two-dimensional screen. I wish to abandon imitation and illusion and enter directly into the higher drama of: celluloid, two-dimensional strips; individual rectangular frames; the nature of sprockets and emulsion; projector operations; the three-dimensional light beam; environmental illumination; the two-dimensional reflective screen surface; the retinal screen; optic nerve and individual psycho-physical subjectivities and consciousness. In this cinematic drama, light is energy rather than a tool for the representation of non-filmic objects, shapes and textures. Given the fact of retinal inertia and the flickering shutter mechanism of film projection, one may generate virtual forms, create actual motion (rather than illustrate it), build actual color-space (rather than picture it), and be involved in actual time (immediate presence).

While my films have thematic structures (such as the sense of striving, leading to mental suicide and death, and then rhythms of rebirth in Ray Gun Virus and the viability of sexual dynamics as an alternative to destructive violence in Piece Mandala End War), they are not at all stories. I think of my present work as being occasions for meditational-visionary experience.

RAY GUN VIRUS/SYNOPSIS FOR 4th INTERNATIONAL EXPERIMENTAL FILM FESTIVAL COMPETITION: The film was made to induce the sense of a consciousness which destroys itself by linear striving, fixated on achieving the “blueness” of inner vision yet caught up, by that very intention, in obsessive cycles – consciousness hung up in patterns external and in opposition to its own structure. Weakened by its own aggressiveness, infection sets in; progressive vicious cycles of decay amount to a self-induced death, a mental suicide. Through the blank darkness, consciousness is freed to turn inward upon itself and is reborn on its own organic terms. The film does what it is. Non-filmic images and stories are not allowed to interfere with the viewers’ awareness of the immediate reality while experiencing the film. Light-color-energy patterns generate internal time-shape and allow the viewer to become aware of the electrical-chemical functioning of his own nervous system. Just as the “film’s consciousness” becomes infected, so also does the viewers’: the projector is an audio-visual pistol; the screen looks at the audience; the retina screen is a target. Goal: the temporary assassination of the viewers’ normative consciousness. The film’s final “image” is a faint blue (attached by not striving for it) and the viewer is left to his own reconstruction of self, left with a screen upon which his retina may project its own patterns.

PIECE MANDALA/END WAR/SYNOPSIS FOR 4th INTERNATIONAL EXPERIMENTAL FILM FESTIVAL COMPETITION: This work was made for an anthology of films the general theme of which was to be For Life, Against The War; the film was not completed in time to be eligible for inclusion in that anthology and thus stands on its own as a statement of that theme. Piece Mandala is not narrative drama; instead it is meant to provide a short but intense meditative experience. “Meditative” implies suspension of linear time and spatial direction; circularity and simultaneity are basic characteristics of mandalas, the most effective tools for turning perception inward. In this temporal mandala, blank color frequencies space out and optically feed into black and white images of one love-making gesture which is seen simultaneously from both sides of its space and both ends of its time. Color structure is linear-directional but implies a largely infinite cycle; light-energy and image frequencies induce rhythms related to the psychophysical experience of the creative act of cunnilingus. Conflict and tension are natural in a yin/yang universe but atomic structure, yab/yum and other dynamic equilibrium systems make more cosmic sense as conflict models than do the destructive orgasms the United States is presently having in Vietnam.

(More truthfully, I had no idea of what I was actually doing while making Piece Mandala. My wife and I had been separated and I began the film immediately following our reconciliation; since then, in our unending attempt to understand what the film might mean, we have come to understand that that search – and then, the film – has been of the deepest significance in the reconstruction of our marriage. Only recently in Providence, while travelling with the poet David Franks, after awaking from nightmares and writing the following note to Frances, did it become clear to me that the film is properly dedicated to her: “seeing, at last, your mind as it must be at times in unendurable anguish, a series of events leading to that sense of self as burden, artaud making art of it, misery, saw your minding of such in my own horror, shocked, shaking my head to get a feeling for what is dream and what is not, my head a crazy catalogue of images, classical symbols, cartoons of grief – but it is not always so and it is that lack of it which has to stand in for joy in the absence of blessings – and there are, in rare instances, blessings and you are often there at those places and I have a total sense of sense and you are absolutely cream, having to step on plastic flowers, my mind bursting, blossoming – someday I will tell you my dreams when it is quiet and I am more willing to let the tragic have its due warmth – that comes later; now I am content that my dreams were dreams”).

RAZOR BLADES/FROM AN APPLICATION FOR A GRANT: The film is made to be projected from two reels, the images appearing side by side; speakers are to be placed to create a stereo sound environment. Razor Blades begins as a mandala; the mandala is visually sliced open (as if one had passed through the center of the mandala, “through a looking glass” into a realm of pure imagination – consciousness dissected (and as the film’s “theme” gradually expands it becomes less and less rational. After the midway point in the film, the themes-images become more coherent again, begin to “re-center”; at the end of the film the mandala is reformed and the overall sense of the film is that a large cycle has occurred. Since Razor Blades ends as it began, an infinite loop is suggested – metric time is destroyed. Apart from the beginning and ending footage, which is linear, the film is made up of 14 loops which, staggered, play against (“slice” back and forth, interpenetrate) each other. Each loop, in itself, is made so that one can chart variations in one’s own consciousness of speed, rhythm and image recognition; when these loops are projected side by side, so that both images are seen as one large image, because of their differences in cycle length, this variability of consciousness is geometrically increased; since there are constantly different pairs of images on the screen, the repetitive characteristic of loops is transcended. Since Ray Gun Virus I have attempted to subtract from my imagery all potentially discursive – symbolic – dramatic-narrative meaning so that each film might create its own particular filmic “meaning”, so that each film will be a living system in itself. These “meanings” may be partially associative since recognizable images appear; still, these images are intended to be primarily plastic, even physiological. A “theme” which preoccupies my everyday being and that which recurs in most of my film work is that of the cosmic, dynamic unity of opposites, the orders of disorder, the sense of constant circularity ... paradox as fundamental fact. In this work there is not only a formal sense of cycle but there is also a sense of the Life Cycle: mundane activity slashed open, revealing the positive-negative dynamics of sexuality, birth, growth, clashes at levels of reality, horror, confusion, absurdity, suicide; then, the “other side” of death-filled visions of life – the razor used to slash a wrist becomes Medicine (the life-giving scalpel) ... ends becoming beginnings.

N:O:T:H:I:N:G/FROM AN APPLICATION FOR A GRANT: The film will strip away anything (all present definitions of “something”) standing in the way of the film being its own reality, anything which would prevent the viewer from entering totally new levels of awareness. The theme of the work, if it can be called a theme, is to deal with the non-understandable, the impossible, in a tightly and precisely structured way. The film will not “mean” something – it will “mean,” in a very concrete way, nothing.

The film focuses and concentrates on two images and their highly linear but illogical and/or inverted development. The major image is that of a lightbulb which first retracts its light rays; upon retracting its light, the bulb becomes black and, impossibly, lights up the space around it. The bulb emits one burst of black light and begins melting; at the end of the film the bulb is a black puddle at the bottom of the screen. The other image (note that the film is composed, on all levels, of dualities) is that of a chair, seen against a graph-like background, falling backwards onto the floor (actually, it falls against and affirms the edge of the picture frame); this image sequence occurs in the center, “thig le” section of N:O:T:H:I:N:G. The mass of the film is highly vibratory color-energy rhythms; the color development is partially based on the Tibetan Mandala of the Five Dhyani Buddhas which is used in meditation to reach the highest level of inner consciousness – infinite, transcendental wisdom (symbolized by Vairocana being embraced by the Divine Mother of Infinite Blue Space). This formal-psychological composition moves progressively into more intense vibration (through the symbolic colors white, yellow, red and green) until the center of the mandala is reached (the center being the “thig le” or void point, containing all forms, both beginning and end of consciousness). The second half of the film is, in a sense, the inverse of the first; that is, after one has passed through the center of the void, he may return to a normative state retaining the richness of the revelatory “thig le” experience. The virtual shapes I have been working with (created by rapid alterations and patterns of blank color frames) are quite relevant in this work as is indicated by this passage from the Svetasvatara Upanishad: “As you practice meditation, you may see in vision forms resembling snow, crystals, smoke, fire, lightning, fireflies, the sun, the moon. These are signs that you are on your way to the revelation of Brahman.”

I am not at all interested in the mystical symbolism of Buddhism, only in its strong, intuitively developed imagistic power. In a sense, I am more interested in the mantra because unlike the mandala and yantra forms which are full of such symbols, the mantra is often nearly pure nonsense – yet it has intense potency psychologically, aesthetically and physiologically. The mantra used upon reaching the “thig le” of the Mandala of the Five Dhyani Buddhas is the simple “Om” – a steady vibrational hum. I’ve tried to compose the center of N:O:T:H:I:N:G, on one level, to visualize this auditory effect.

From a letter to Stan Brakhage, late spring 1968: “The film is about (it is) gradation-progression on many different levels; for years I had been thinking that if a fade is directional in that it is a hierarchical progression, and that that exists in and implies forward moving ‘time’, then why couldn’t one construct inverse time patterns, why couldn’t one structure a felt awareness of really going thru negative time? During the final shooting sessions these past few months I’ve had Vermeer’s ‘Lady Standing at the Virginals’ hanging above my animation stand and have had the most peculiar experience with that work in relation to N:O:T:H:I:N:G (the colons ‘meant’ to create somewhat the sense of the real yet paradoxical concreteness of ‘nothing’ ... as Wittgenstein so beautifully reveals). As I began to recognize the complex interweaving of all levels of ‘gradation’ (conceptually, sensually, rhythmically, proportionately ... even the metaphoric level of subject making music, etc.) in the Vermeer I began to see what I was doing in the film in a more conscious way. I allowed the feelings I was getting from this silent dialogue between process of seeing and process of structuring to further clarify the footage I was shooting. I can’t get over the intense mental-emotional journeys I got into with this work and hope that the film is powerful enough to allow others to travel along those networks.

Light comes thru the window on the left and not only illuminates the ‘Lady at the Virginals’ but illuminates the subjects in the two paintings (which are staggered in a forward-reverse simultaneous progression creating a sense of forward and backward time) hanging on the wall and the one painting the inside lid of the virginal! The whole composition is circular, folds in on itself but implies that part of that circle exists out in front of the surface. What really moved me was the realisation that the light falling across the woman’s face compounded the light-gradation-time theme by forcing one back on the awareness of (the paradox of) awareness. I.e., one eye, itself dark, is half covered with light while the other eye is in shadow; both eyes are gazing directly at the viewer as if the woman is projecting music at the viewer thru her gaze (as if reversing the ‘normal’ role of ‘perception’) ... I mean, the whole point is that the instrument by which light-perception is made possible is itself in the dark.”)

(POSTSCRIPT: Interrelated proportions welded into a formula consisting “of terms, some known and some unknown, some of which were equal to the rest; or rather all of which taken together are equal to nothing; for this is often the best form to consider.” –Descartes)

--Paul Sharits, "Notes on Films / 1966-68", Film Culture 47, Summer 1969, p.13-16.

A Lady Standing at a Virginal - Johannes Vermeer, c.1670-1672, oil on canvas

I seem to be drawn to a horizontal way of doing things... It always seems that paintings that are mythic are horizontal. Very horizontal paintings take a series of time layers and symbolically hold them all together on the same level. Verticality, to me, has an entirely different feeling, one which borders on being non-corporeally representational.

Most of my films set up an experiential field wherein the film is constantly imposing itself on you yet has enough consistency that you can 'move through' yourself rather than just follow the development of the film. All the films have a little bit to do with meditation. These locational works become the ultimate field for that kind of contemplative reflection. It becomes like watching fireflies or water flowing over a dam, something that's moving. A fire or a candle flame: it's shifting, but it doesn't change its form dramatically.

--Paul Sharits interviewed by Linda Cathcart, 1976, reprinted in Film Culture 65-66, 1978, p. 108.

Ray Gun Virus - Paul Sharits, 1966, 16mm