Ngai, "Animatedness"

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Sianne Ngai, "Ugly Feelings" chapter 2

Text of Ngai, "Animatedness"

  • 88 . tone

    ecteo by the spectator is modeled on the expression of melancholy 0 .Iereilliy, that can be found in nature when it is not seen as an objen

    , of action" (AT, 275). With this striking invocation of individuated feelings as an index of objectivity as such, affect returns through the door to Adorno's theo ry of aura, as the product of an ove r-determined relay in his a rgument. For here, Adorno 's analogy between an artwork's "objective phenomenon of a tance," a'nd na ture w hen distanced from practical aims, might be sa io to feed bac k "melancholy" and "serenity" as semblances of feeling---':'and in a manner which sugges ts, in a reve rsal of our ear-lier d esc ription of tone as a specific version of aura, that what critics call "aura" is actually an unspecified kino of tone. For as Tomkins notes about affect, tone's gene rality and abstractness should not distract us fr om the fact that it is always "about" something. Ironically, nothing demonstrates this better than Melville 's affec-ti vely ambiguous novel, whose ato na l tone we have seen to be ulti -matel), "about" the simultaneously o rderly and noisy character of tone itself.

    l animatedness'

    I II Moving Pictures: They Are (1912), ,I scnes of volumes with the overall title Conquests of SCience" T rcderick A . Talhot announced that "Americans ha ve brought the HIlC turn one picture' movement to a high state of perfection, and have produced somc astonishing pictures as a result of its appii - ( It ion. " A technical explanation of "one turn one picture;" Tal- hilt's te rm for stop-motion animation, 'is offered by the c;xample of !I ll: "popular film" Animated Putty: "A lump qf this material was , hnw n upon a table . Suddenly it was obse rved to becom e agitated, .Ind to resolve itself gradually into statues and busts of well-known people, so cleve rly wrought as to be instantly identified.'"

    Anti cipating the an imation technique that would be trade-In arked decad es later in the Sta tes as Talhot's film featuring a lump of ea rthy matter seems a particularly I ing means for explaining stop-motion cinematography, given how primitive this "trick" \vas perceived til be. Despite the novelty and sophistication associated with specia l effects in gener;:tl, thy stop-motion technique "brought _ .. to a high state of perfection" by


  • 90 . a17imatedness

    Americans is not only "one of the simplest of trick "one of the most tedious to perform":

    The lump of material lies on the table.... The camera is set up. The modeler advances to the table whilst the shutter is closed and moves the cby slightly towards the desired result. He then steps our of the picture, and the camera handle is turned sufficiently Lo expose one picture and to cover the lens again. The modeler comes forward once again and advances a little further with his work; a fter which he retires from the scene, and the second stage is recorded upon the next picture. [... 1 This alternate process of shaping the putty a littk at a time, and photographing every separate movement, is contin-ued until the bust is completed.

    I t is essential thaI the progress should be very gradual, or else the material would look as if it took shape hy spasmodic jumps and the illusion would be destroyed. (1\JP, 236)

    Harking back to the familiar medium of still photography, film an imation was thus seen as a kind of technological atavism. As Tallll writes, "It will be observed ... that this magical effect is not pn duced in accordance with the generally accepted principles gover n ing cinematography. It is merely a series of snap-shots taken at en tain intervals, and could be produced just as well hy a hand-calllc-t if one had sufficient plates or film" (MP, 236). The simuitanco lI,1 basic yet exceptional character of this special effect is underscor by the ideological fantasy which Animated Putty seems to that of an "agitation" that is quickly stilled, and even seems COIl\ niently to "resolve itself' as the film's lumpen protagonist is trail formed into "cleverly-wrought" images of humans of unmistabhl social distinction: "a bust of the King, of the American Presidl'''' or some other illustrious personage" (MP, 236).

    The fact that such preclassical "trick films" scenes of production in the absence of human agents-for install( a film in which "a stocking [is] knitted before the audience by \I

    animatedness . 91

    ' n hands," or a "magical carpenter's shop" picture in which "tools rt' manipulated without hands and where the wood, .. is planed,

    W I1, chiseled, and fashions itself into a box ... by an apparently 'Y' te rious and invisible force"2-suggests a further irony: that 111)S based on a technically "backward" and labor-intensive princi-Ie were precisely those that most spectacularly imagined the uto-11 11 possibilities of a technology so advanced as to put an end to Iman bbor altogether (MP, 238, 237).) In contrast to the "vigor ul spirit" of the saws and knitting needles "moved to action," hu-II1 S appear strikingly inert in most of the dimensional animation

    Ims cited by Talbot, as in the case of a short depicting a shoeshine \,1 11 "going to sleep at his task, and the footwear cleaning itself hi le he dreams, brushes running to and fro to remove the dust, .Iply the blacking, and to give a vigorous polishing off' (MP, 235). rom this ambiguous interplay between agitated things and deacti-tt'd persons, one could argue that what early animation technol-y foregrounds most is the increasingly ambiguous status of hu-' 11 agency in a Fordist era. These questions of agency will figure 'ptl rtantiy in this chapter as we focus on one of the most basic ')'5 in which affect becomes socially recognizable in the age of

    ln hanical reproducibility: as a kind of "innervation," "agitation," (the term I prefer) "animatedness." Indeed, the rudimentary as-

    i I of stop-motion technology parallels the way in which the af-' live state of being "animated" seems to imply the most basic or lI1i mal of all affective conditions: that of being, in one way or an-1H.: r, "moved," Bllt as we press harder on the affective meanings of animated-"'. we shall see how the seemingly neutral state of "being moved" omes twisted into the image of the overemotional racialized

    .\liect, abctting his or her construction as unusually receptive to lernal control. This surprising interplay between the passionate n l the mechanical ...vill be our focus as we move through readings

    lexts by William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass, Harriet cher Stowe, Ralph Ellison, and the short-lived but aesthetically

  • 92 ' a12imatedness animatedness ' 93

    a.nd politically controversial Claymation television show The PJ. (1998-2001), tracing the affect's transformation into a racializinK technology in American cultural contexts ranging from nineteenlh century abolitionist writing to the contemporary cartoon, In order to unpack the ideologeme of racialized animatedness, we will keep returning to the questions of human agency associated with til much more general concept of "animation" that underlies it-with

    ' ''animation'' designating not only a "magical" screen practice, hilI also a rhetorical figure and the general process of activating or g i\' ing life to inert matter. It seems fitting, then, to begin by eX

  • 94 . animatedness

    novel The Confidence-Man (1857), where "Irish enthusiasm" is d scrihed as "flamlingl out" and irritating gentleman "of sense an respectability,"" and in Anzia Yezierska's Bread Givers (192

  • 96 . animatedness animatedneJ's . 97

    [this narrative] v,tithout a tearful eye, a heaving breast, an a spirit,-without being . .. animated with a determination to the immediate overthrow of that execrable system ...-must ha a flinty heart and be qualified to act the part of the trafficker' slaves and the souls ofmen."'1 2 The syntactic parallelism of the like construction ("without VV, X, Y,-without Z") invites us read "being animated" as synonymous with the terms that it, which indicate an impassioned state betrayed by involulll.1 movements of the body ("tearful eye," "heaving breast"), but also the endpoint of an action implicit in the form of the list it which, through its presentation of discrete elements separated commas, rnight be said to enact a segmentation of the human hi into a series of working parts (the eye, whose function is to tears; the breast, whose function is to heave). Hence, the anticipa animation of Douglass' reader seems not only to involve :1n un immediacy between emotional experience and bodily moven but to be the "outcome" of a process by which bodily movemenl broken down into phases. At the same time, however, Garri "l "animation" designates the process by which these involunta ry I poreal expressions of feeling come to exert a politicizing force. .vating the reader's desire to "seek the immediate overthrow" 01 entire system. There is an intim:1te link here, in other tween "animation" and the "agitation" that subtends our concqll the political agitator. Facilitating the transition from the imaw' I body whose parts are automatically moved, to the oppositional ( I sciousness required for the making of political movements. Ga'rrison calls "being animated" also hinges on a particularl) mediate relationship to Douglass' language, which is depict(,d havinga spontaneous and direct impact on both the body and I of the reader.

    Figured as this intensified attunement or hyperreceptivenc . the language of others, the animation of Douglass' reader that ( rison anticipates is strikingly similar to the kind of animated Harriet Beecher Stowe assigns to racialized subjects in Uncle

    hin (r852): "The negro mind, impas