EVENT – The Definitive Collector’s Edition

 

 

The First Family of Disfunction

What is an event? Deleuze poses this question and (despite what you may think) answers it, albeit in a very ‘Deleuzian’ way. The event is an amorphous idea, but it’s also a useful one. The event offers us a framework, though even that is probably too specific a term, with which to view and contemplate the televisual event. Perhaps a useful approach is to start out with Deleuze’s initial question; What is an event? After which we can ask what is a televisual event? How is a televisual event constructed? And by whom?

An event you say?

In order to talk about the televisual event we must first address Deleuze directly. It is important to remember that the concept of the event is not just a filmic or televisual one, what Deleuze is articulating (however obliquely) is a notion, a method, a model of how things and people actually exist in space and time. In his discussion of the event Deleuze is providing us with a way to understand difference; why is one thing not another? How do we experience ourselves and the world as a continuity; changing, flowing, dare I say it ‘becoming’ while still delineating between things? Heady stuff!

First of all Deleuze takes us into chaos. Except that he doesn’t because chaos doesn’t exist. Well, actually it does exist, but it cannot be perceived, so it also does not exist. It exists and it doesn’t exist. Easy! Chaos would, according to Deleuze, be a ‘universal giddiness’ (Deleuze 1988, par. 3), an infinite effusion of all possibilities, all just generally milling about in unordered timelessness. Sounds pretty fun.

Chaos and the screen

But, unlike the rather rudimentary metaphor of a magic eye puzzle, chaos cannot actually be perceived, it is always filtered and shaped by ‘the great screen’  into ‘elements’ which form ‘series’(Deleuze 1988). This can all tend to sound hopelessly obtuse, but that’s because what Deleuze is describing here is, in fact, the nature of everything, which makes specifics a little difficult. The screen ‘refines’ the chaos and creates something from the everything (Deleuze 1988, par. 2) and the ‘something’ or ‘One’ which the great screen delineates is the first component of the event.

So we have a ‘One’ rather than a ‘Many’, thanks to our great screen filtering the chaos. It is a nice first step, but perhaps a little unsatisfying. Next Deleuze introduces us to Leibniz’s and Whitehead’s notion of ‘extension’ (Deleuze 1988, par. 3). When our One stretches or encroaches into/onto a subsequent One, now we’ve got a series going. We can think of this a little like chain mail, or maybe snakeskin, where each scale rests upon another scale and, importantly, each scale relies on the ones that come before it and presupposes the ones after it.

Elements as scales

Though rather than ‘before’ and ‘after’ (which aren’t really appropriate to describe snakeskin either, no scale is really ‘before’ or ‘after’ any other scale) we have Deleuze’s next buzzword; prehension. Prehension describes the relationship between elements, the way that every element of an event contains the potential, or perhaps the knowledge or energy, of every other element (Deleuze 1988, par. 5). As Deleuze says: “Everything prehends its antecedents and its concomitants and, by degrees, prehends a world” (Deleuze 1988, par. 5). So the Great Pyramid prehends Napoleon’s soldiers…it even prehends Sony’s rather surreal ad campaigns:

 

These prehensions collide in what Deleuze describes as a “nexus of prehension” (1988, par. 5), merging and expanding like waves, or to use one of Deleuze’s favourite metaphors, like harmonics, sound energy which reverberates eternally, continually begetting more prehensions in an ever expanding cloud of intersecting prehensions. These intersections between, or ‘concrescence’ of, elements are for Deleuze the individual (1988, par. 5). The individual doesn’t have to be a human, it is merely the place and time whence prehensions converge, or as Deleuze might have put it; ‘concrece’. The individual may be a monad, a discrete entity which is the expression, method and perception of the event (Deleuze 1988, par. 6) but it doesn’t have to be. The individual or subject expresses the datum of the event by perceiving it, whether it’s an emotion, a sense, a sound, an anything. But of course the individual is itself entirely constituted by prehended data. When “prehension is filled with its own data”(Deleuze 1988, par.6), when the concrescence of elements revel in their own existence under the unifying umbrella of the individual, then the individual experiences self-enjoyment, satisfaction, a realisation of ‘selfness’, the enjoyment of becoming (Deleuze1988, par. 7). It is a sense of self renewal from which spring creative forces and energies…the sort of forces and energies needed to create a TV show like the Sopranos, or indeed to think up an ingenious segue…

Televisually Speaking

(And yes, there will be spoilers)

Oh Tony

In the pilot episode of The Sopranos, Tony Soprano, our magnanimous mobster, has a panic attack because a family of ducks fly away from his pool.  (Watch from 2:21 if you’re in a hurry)

Ok, just kidding. Obviously there are more complex factors at play than a simple cause-and-effect relationship between Tony’s ducks and his panic attack. You don’t need Deleuze to tell you that. But the usefulness of Deleuze’s event is not simply to say ‘everything’s connected’ but to radically rethink our experience of the world beyond cause-and-effect binaries, which were never very helpful anyway. Nothing is merely a cause, nothing merely an effect. No effect has a single cause and no cause has a single effect. The event is a cloudy explosion of elements, not a neat timeline.

 

Just for fun, we might attempt to map the consequences, the ripples, the vibrations of Tony’s ducks. If we follow one particular strand of the duck event it might look like this: the ducks- the pool- Tony’s house – Tony’s wealth- Tony’s criminality- murder- guilt- stress- panic attacks- etc.

But then again it could go: the ducks- Tony’s panic attack- Tony’s psychiatrist- Tony’s Oedipal complex- Tony’s mother- attempt on Tony’s life- etc.

Or even something like: The ducks- ducklings- breeding- migratory patterns- the Arctic- ice caps- global warming- pollution- cars- freeways- New Jersey Turnpike- Sopranos opening sequence- Tony- Tony’s panic attacks- etc.

If anything this simplistic mapping shows just how arbitrary any delineation between events is. Why start with the ducks? Why not start with the eggs the ducks hatched from? Why not start with the big bang itself? Why even circle back to Tony? Why stay within the world of the show at all? How can we even define the ‘world of the show’ when the boundary between what is sanctioned ‘canonical’ (McKee 2004, 175) Sopranos product and what is extra-canonical fan-produced product, is so consistently blurred?  The Sopranos of course has fans, and inevitably these fans create their own textual products, which both expound and extend the world of the Sopranos (some more skillfully than others perhaps):

Some more so than others... 

The fans are still vibrating to the key of Tony’s Ducks, the event wave of The Sopranos never dies away, it spreads and influences, and perhaps lessens in intensity, but it will always be there.

Or are they David’s Ducks?

If we go further back than Tony’s Ducks we might fix upon David Chase himself as the centre of the ‘nexus of prehensions’ that The Sopranos has spawned. Though even he is, of course, an arbitrary starting point. What started The Sopranos in Chase? Frustration born of his years spent in the limbo of American TV writing? The gangster films he watched as a kid? His own Italian-American heritage? The list literally stretches into eternity.

Although we cannot consider the televisual text as a separate entity from the modes of its production within the capitalist televisual machine, of which even my beloved HBO is a part, that doesn’t mean David Chase is denied scope for creativity. Indeed for Deleuse, creativity; the drive for novelty and renewal is an intrinsic feature of the monad. The monad is filled with “a musical joy of contracting its vibrations, of calculating them without knowing their harmonics or of drawing force enough to go further and further ahead in order to produce something new” (Deleuze 1988, par. 7).

Deleuze is interested in creative forces, the innate and constant search for novelty. He says that “the best of all worlds is not the one that reproduces the eternal, but the one in which new new creations are produced, the one endowed with a capacity for innovation or creativity” (Deleuze1988, par. 7). It is this creative force, the energy of the event as expressed by the individual that is perhaps the answer to deleuze’s question: “what conditions does the objective world allow for a subjective production of novelty, that is, of creation?” (Deleuze 1988, par. 7)

David Chase constructs a televisual event, like Tony’s ducks, in the same way ripples spead from a pebble thrown into a pond. Chase cannot opt out of the televisual machine which ‘dopes’ the viewers(Guattari1996, 102) and commodofies Chase’s events, his creativity, his life. Nor can he control the ripples that spread from the televisual events he constructs. But he can always play around, he can always seek the novel, the creative, the new. He cannot stop the event, but he can alter it, manipulate it and send it in a new direction: 

Chase is more than aware of the implications his ending has for the entire series, indeed he almost sounds like he might have been reading a little Deleuze himself;

“Everything that pertains to that episode [the finale] was in that episode. And it was in the episode before that and the one before that and seasons before this one and so on. There had been indications of what the end is like. Remember when Jerry Toricano was killed? Silvio was not aware that the gun had been fired until after Jerry was on his way down to the floor. That’s the way things happen: It’s already going on by the time you even notice it (from here).

We might see that final scene as an attempt to halt the ‘Tony’s ducks event’ which kicked off an entire series, but surely it is more fruitful, and more accurate, to read the ending as a final, even definant, expression of Chase’s creative force. Chase is not trying to halt the event, rather he is stamping his personal creative drive onto the ‘Tony’s ducks event’ before he sends it out into the event matrix for the final time. Even he can’t control what will happen to it from there… 

 

 

 Bibliography

Deleuze, Gilles. 1988. What Is an Event? In The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque, trans. Tom Conley. London: The Athlone Press, 1993, 76-82. Reproduced at http://pratt.edu/~arch543p/readings/Deleuze.html (accessed May 20, 2008).

Guattari, Félix. 1996. Machinic Junkies. In Soft Subversions,ed. S. Lotringer, 101-105. New York: Semiotext(e).

McKee, Allan. 2004. How to tell the difference between production and consumption: A Case Study in Doctor Who Fandom. In Cult Television, eds. S. Gwenllian-Jones and R. E. Pearson, 167-185. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

 

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