Progress Report on my Independent Study – it’s taking a very strange and exciting turn, tell me what you think:
‘CINEMA: PART-MACHINE, PART-MAN’
There are a couple of ‘dots’ I want to try to connect and here’s two lines I think I can do it with:
- ‘theology of cinema’ – art & technology as a form of creation – as a way of emulating God – as a way of building a theology out of the chaos of life.
- ‘cinema as consciousness’ – cinema is more than art – narrative that tells a story caught by someone’s eye (via the camera), edited for casuality and brevity – similar to the way we store memories.
Each of us has a theology. We’ve either accepted an established religion or pieced one together from our life experiences – each valid options. Even if you don’t believe in a supreme being or think Man a divine creation, those ‘disbeliefs’ sum up a personal theology.
This personal theology represents a huge part of who we are, how we interpret the world around us and what we aspire towards. It’s strange that we rarely talk about it when discussing one of our loves – films. Somehow the theater is secular. Maybe because each of us has our own set of beliefs we try to find common ground in talking about the cinematography, set design, etc – things we can all see and agree upon – the world has enough conflict as is.
But what if cinema is religious – an inadvertent reflection of our own theologies?
What if cinema is religion – preaching a theology of its own?
Bear with me.
We learn a great deal about a religion through it’s creation-myth of the Earth and Mankind. Let us take Islam for example, which shares many similarities to Judaic-Christian stories of Adam’s origin:
‘. . . He first created man from clay, then made his descendants from an extra of underrated fluid. Then he moulded him; He breathed from His Ruh (Spirit) . . .’ [Quran 32.7-9]
Words fundamental to any theology like Ruh are very difficult to translate, especially considering there really is no definition of it in the Quran. But we can learn more about it, this divine element, through studying it’s context in other verses:
‘You Lord said to the angels, ‘I will create a mortal out of dried clay, formed from dark mud. When I have fashioned him and breathed My Ruh into him, bow down before him’ [Quran 15.28-29]
To extend this crucial moment in Man’s creation and to fully appreciate his station because of this Ruh relative to the Angels & Creation let us look at:
‘When your Lord told the angels, ‘I am putting a khalifah (successor/deputy) on earth,’ they said, ‘How can You put someone there who will cause damage and bloodshed, when we celebrate Your praise and proclaim Your holiness?’ but He said, “I know things you do not.’ He taught Adam all the names [of things], then He showed them to the angels and said, ‘Tell me the names of these if you truly [think you can can]’. they said, ‘May You be glorified! We have knowledge only of what You have taught us. You are the All Knowing and All Wise.’ Then He said, ‘Adam, tell them the names of these.’ when he told them their names, God said, ‘Did I not tell you that I know what is hidden in the heavens and the earth, and that I know what you reveal and what you conceal?’ When We told the angels, ‘Bow down before Adam,’ they all bowed . . . [Quran 2.30-34]
What can we understand about Ruh in relation to Man from the context of these verses?
- it is fundamental to what it means to be Human
- it is the cause of Man’s position as khalifah of creation
- it is our divine connection/software
- tied to our ability to name things/language
And maybe . . . our ability to create. This is not suggested by the verses but bear with me –
When I use the word ‘create’, I don’t mean in the sense of ‘forming something out of nothing’, but of combining existing elements.
We create through art – a relic of an emotion or thought – and through technology – tool-making that hopefully improves our lives.
Let us back up a little bit and talk about theology with broader strokes. Theology and religion are taught in terms of parameters – good & evil, this life and the hereafter, the body & the soul, etc. This idea of parameters, of the fathomable and impossible as somehow affected our own discussion of Man and his abilities. We have raised mankind’s uniqueness and gifts to the point that many of us believe there are limits to what our inventiveness will be able to accomplish. Specifically, some have suggested artificial intelligence is an impossibility. Why? It’s only a matter of time before we start terraforming planets and building things atom by atom. Acts of God. I believe eventually we will create human-like machines, able to reason, love and ‘create’, maybe even better at it than ourselves.
Not to be blasphemous but is it possible, that like God, we breath in our own spirit/ruh, albeit not as divine and perfect, into the things we make? Many of the things we create represent our yearnings, our shortcomings, and an attempt to make order out of chaos. If so – then why did we create cinema? Why do we continue to create cinema? Why are we so earnest to consume it?
I believe Cinema is part theology-building, a playing out of our moralities, origins, creation-myths, etc – THE NEW RELIGION – with celebrity idols, conventions of good & evil. Where we learn a scripture of what to aspire to and what to avoid. Where we witness stories of creation, destruction and salvation, related to us by new Prophets.
I believe Cinema is part man-building, building a Frankenstein-like consciousness out of a series of images and sounds, a voice that converses with the audience, like a real person or storyteller, in the form of a narrative. A narrative that depends heavily on your own brain to process and store. Cinema is not art, it is not simply an object that represents an emotion or object, it is built from the ground up like a Human memory that inserts itself through your eyes into our your own recollections as if you really experienced it.
Does this make any sense?