Interview: Janice Lee’s Obsession
Editor Matty Byloos, Interview, January 18th, 2016
"...rooted in this obsession is a strange desire to constantly slow down..."
NAILED MAGAZINE: Is there anything you’ve been so obsessed with, that it altered the way you see the world?
JANICE LEE: A long-time obsession of mine has been the filmic long take. I have been fascinated with and compelled by long takes in film for some time now. In college, I worked on an in-depth study on the motif of clocks in Wong Kar Wai’s In the Mood For Love. Pier Paolo Pasolini’s essay on the long take has become a canonical text for me:
The substance of cinema is therefore an endless long take, as is reality to our senses for as long as we are able to see and feel (a long take that ends with the end of our lives); and this long take is nothing but the reproduction of the language of reality. In other words, it is the reproduction of the present.
— Pier Paolo Pasolini, “Observations On the Long Take“
Some years ago, I was introduced to the work of Hungarian director Béla Tarr. His apocalyptic yet strangely hopeful worlds made perfect sense to me, and an obsession that started with a transposed gaze and fixation soon transformed the way I saw everything, and how I engaged with the world around me. The obsession really began thus: in a period of intense depression, melancholy, and writer’s block, I turned, as a frantic impulse and as a reprieve from the rest of “life,” to the films of Béla Tarr. A strange and persistent force compelled me to watch his films over and over again. As László Krasznahorkai has written:
“Condemned to look, yet at the same time to be deprived of sight, we are in a complex pitiless trap, a double cage, to the recognition of which though it cages us all—condemns confusingly few. […] There are those to whom it is obvious that it is impossible to make a whole out of all these billions of available images, who instinctively look away from the billions of fragments and in one surprising and elegant feint begin anew with the act of creation, imagining a brand new set of fragments out of which he constructs a brand new totality.”
I was compelled not only to watch and to persist alone in these films, but also to sketch out every single shot of the seven-hour epic Satantango, to write strange confessions and fictions that took place inside the films’ worlds, and the result of this strange meditative, hallucinatory, and compulsive project was my book Damnation.
To this day, the lens with which I view the world has changed. I see landscapes as beautiful, but constantly in the process of disintegration. I have become obsessed with the notion of slowness, and am working on essays that contemplate slowness and empathy in Satantango with writer Jared Woodland.
“The time after is neither that of reason recovered, nor that of the expected disaster… It is not the time in which we craft beautiful phrases or shots to make up for the emptiness of all waiting. It is the time in which we take an interest in the wait itself.” – Jacques Ranciere, Béla Tarr, The Time After
Naturally, I’m very much a fan of Slow TV.
I am one of those workaholics who is constantly multi-tasking and doing too much. But rooted in this obsession is a strange desire to constantly slow down, to take a few moments everyday to just watch the sunset, to do things slowly. It’s not an easy thing to combat the frantic velocity of the real world, but the compulsion for disintegration, too, pulls outwards and inwards, and in the end, it is the way in which one sees that condemns them.
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If you enjoyed this piece on obsession, then you might also like “#4: Leigh Camacho Rourks” which you can read here.
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Janice Lee is the author of KEROTAKIS (Dog Horn Press 2010), Daughter (Jaded Ibis 2011), Damnation (Penny-Ante Editions 2013), Reconsolidation: Or, it’s the ghosts who will answer you (Penny-Ante Editions 2015), and The Sky Isn’t Blue (Civil Coping Mechanisms, forthcoming 2016). She currently lives in Los Angeles where she is Editor of the #RECURRENT Novel Series for Jaded Ibis Press, Assistant Editor at Fanzine, Executive Editor at Entropy, and Founder/CEO of POTG Design. She teaches at CalArts and can be found online at janicel.com.
Header image courtesy of Daniil Maksyukov.