Stochasticity and the Fact of Film

Curator's Note

Film projects a stochastic series of moving images. “Stochasticity” is the term we use to designate the discontinuity between individuated frames; that is, the fact that there are no governing rules for networking the succession of filmic images. Between each still there is the precursory darkness of a becoming that orchestrates neither beginning nor ending, but potentially both. The image is not causative of an alpha or an omega because it has no casual power. And yet each still is a beginning and ending. Of course there are genres and conventions, and more or less willful directors, who assemble a network of images in film. But whatever their selections, whatever their editing choices, there is nothing in the image that provides instruction on how it ought to be arranged. 

The Cargo clip (2009, Ivan Engler Dir.) displays this precarity by projecting the complicity of the strobe effect of filmic images (i.e., the flickering light passing through the ventilation system) with the stochastic seriality of hand-held pictures. This clip shows how each frame of film is an instant in a series and how each individuated still is an absolute realization of a world. Any change or alteration in the shot changes the world of the film. This means that each point in a network has no necessary relation to what preceded it or to what might succeed it. Hence the nature of stochasticity that denies the authority of criteria for conditioning the image as a finality. Ultimately, any shot may fall to the cutting room floor.

Absolute difference and absolute relatedness: this is what the Cargo scene illumines by showing a woman holding and beholding pictures with purpose, but without rhyme or reason. And is this not what we do, as beholders and culture-makers, when we look about our worlds? At any one point in time, we are all handlers of a stochastic series of moving images that flurry through our hands, our bodies, and our minds. Such is the everyday precarity of political life that the fact of film projects.


Thanks for this unusually poetic image of the logic (or illogic) of political networks. I generally think of them in more sordid terms, even when I think of them metaphorically!

If I take your proposition correctly, I appreciate the notion that political life is precarious simply because we see any number of images of the world posited on a daily basis, and can regard the world and its possibility as a set of possibilities coordinated by any number of different series of images plucked from this constant stream. But this leads me to wonder where you see the work of something called a "network" in all this. At least to my thinking it would pertain to the logic of seriality itself that coheres, however precariously, as a comparatively stable image. The phrase "persistence of vision" so often used to explain our ability to perceive film as a medium of movement rather than of stasis or structural stochastisity, would seem to apt here. So I wonder if you have something different in mind here. 

This is a great question, Meghan; and one that I certainly won't be able to engage adequately here. But - and in reference to your own post (esp. para. 2) - with these observations I want to raise some themes that Hume had raised regarding our relationship to that sense of network as continuity that you rightly find sordid: for Hume, the issue was one of habit. And here "persistence of vision" is an apt phrase, not just because of its cinematic and optical lineage, but also because it puts pressure on our having to ask what exactly is persistent, if anything is persistent at all? Is persistence itself not a habit - but one that cannot claim necessity"? Which is to say, is there a persistence of vision when we blink while watching a film? In other words, for me the issue is not one of not possessing a knowledge that would allow me to note the cuts and splices (for whatever ideological or technical reasons), but of having a disposition to continuity that disregards the fact that two things in a series need not be related. The relation or sense of continuity is the result of practices of aggregation that assemble the stochastic series. So the question is, for me, not what is oppressive about the sense of continuity in networks; but what precarities or cuts or discontinuities do we disregard when we begin from the position that networks are fluid. This is why Hume, to me, is such an important thinker today because he always began from the fact that things are unrelated and individuated, but that our minds work very hard to assemble things in such a way that we artifice relations between them. Which is, for me, also the fact of film.

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