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Weariness, Waiting: Enduration and Art Cinema’s Tired Bodies
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What characterizes gesture is that in it nothing is being produced or acted, but rather something is being endured and supported. The gesture, in other words, opens the sphere of ethos as the more proper sphere of that which is human. But in what way is an action endured and supported? —Giorgio Agamben, “Notes on Gesture”

Mediating the border of art cinema’s ontology of acting and an epistemology of narrative action, we find a permeation of fatigue. From Vittorio De Sica’s slowly stretching maid Maria to Robert Bresson’s dedramatized “models,” from Andy Warhol’s diffident portrait subjects to Tsai Ming-Liang’s itinerant sleepy drifters, from Agnes Varda’s vagabonding Mona to Pedro Costa’s Vanda, and from Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman to Lynne Ramsay’s deracinated Eva, art cinema presents a boundless corporeal lexicon of figures, gestures, and affects of exhaustion. Yet tiredness also presents a set of exegetic problems in terms of its visibility and invisibility, and at the level of an experienced, sensed temporality. That is, fatigue, weariness, tiredness, and exhaustion emerge from a relation to a sense of a time that passes, passes on, and passes through the actor’s laboring body, but also never ceases to pass on, to pass through. This is the constancy of an indeterminate state of abeyance, of lassitude, torpor, the intertwining of its metaphysical, aesthetic, and political dimensions. Can we extrapolate from a physiologically pervasive and collective commonplace an epistemic tool for reading filmic corporeality, focusing in this particular instance on the profilmic performing body, its weariness and wearing out? Following Agamben, might we uncover the gestures of tiredness, that which the gestures of tiredness endure and support? One of the most prominent mobilizations of fatigue as a figure in art cinema appears in Gilles Deleuze’s Cinema 2: The Time Image , which maps the telos and genealogy of an emergent postwar aesthetic form. A much-noted passage expresses the condition of art cinema’s embrace of the corporeal, producing an image of the body in a state of delay and arrest, its “tirednesses and waitings” attitudes that bespeak an essentially modern, fundamentally elliptical pose, and announcing an emergent cinema of gesture:

The body is never in the present, it contains the before and the after, tiredness and waiting. Tiredness and waiting, even despair are the attitudes of the body…. The daily attitude is what puts the before and after into the body, time into the body, the body as a revealer of the deadline…. Perhaps tiredness is the first and last attitude, because it simultaneously contains the before and after: what Blanchot says is what Antonioni shows, not the drama of communication, but the immense tiredness of the body, the tiredness there is beneath The Outcry and which suggests to thought, “something to incommunicate,” the “unthought,” life.

For Deleuze, tiredness insists on a belated condition, that which comes after, a state that lies at the precipice of the futural. Challenging the present as a viable mode, the belatedness of tiredness superimposes past and present in an overlay of sensation. Tiredness is both a trace of action, converted into malaise or enervation for which the body cannot fully account any longer, and an inscription of expectation. Thus, weariness falls into a state of waiting, a signification of expiring time and expiration’s anticipation. Fatigue foregrounds the body’s ineffable presence as the “unthought,” evading signification, a condition of liveliness in an image of dissipation. Deleuze reads the films of Michelangelo Antonioni, Jean-Luc Godard, Jacques Rivette, John Cassavetes, Philippe Garrel, and Chantal Akerman, and this is one of the few places where he discusses experimental film and female authored cinema. To the extent that Deleuze innovatively produces an archive of gestures linked to tiredness, the account of tiredness itself remains relatively descriptive—a feature of the body’s indexing of temporality, a vehicle for an account of the undoing of the action-image in the tracing of a cinema of the time-image—a cinema of attitudes, postures, and gestures.

To expand this territory and to conceptualize tiredness as a registration of unseen temporal relations and as a performative surplus is to query the cinema’s...

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