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Responsive Reconfiguration

Soon people will not be able to watch films like Theo Angelopoulos’s Ulysses’ Gaze or to read Henry James because they will not have the concentration to get from one interminable scene or sentence to the next. The time when I might have been able to read late-period Henry James has passed and because I have not read late-period Henry James I am in no position to say what harm has been done to my sensibility by not having done so. But I do know that if I had not seen Stalker in my early twenties my responsiveness to the world would have been radically diminished. As for Ulysses’ Gaze, in spite of the fact that it starred an implausible Harvey Keitel, it was another nail in the coffin of European art cinema (a coffin, cynics would say, made up almost entirely of nails), opening the floodgates to everything that was not art because anything seemed preferable to having to sit through a film like that, especially since the whole thing could be boiled down, anyway, to a single still photograph—a statue of Lenin gliding along the Danube on a barge, a petrified Pharaoh floating down the Nile of history—by Josef Koudelka.


Writer comes scurrying back like a whupped dog, demanding to know who told him to stop. Stalker? No. Professor? Not him either. It’s your own fear, Professor tells him. You’re too frightened to go on so you invent a voice telling you to stop. That sounds about right, but the thing about the Zone is that it’s always subtly reconfiguring itself according to your thoughts and expectations. You want it to seem ordinary? It’s ordinary—or is it? And at that moment something occurs to make you think maybe it’s not ordinary, whereupon it does something briefly extraordinary. (Or does it?) Whereupon it becomes quite ordinary again. The Zone manifests itself even as it withholds itself—and vice versa.

—Geoff Dyer, Zona

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