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Forms of Cinema, Models of Self: Jack Chambers' The Hart of London

R. Bruce Elder   •    21.06.2023

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The Hart of London begins with a nearly pure field of white light accompanied by white noise on the sound-track. The image has several connotations: death, desolation, and above all that non-existence in which consciousness has its beginnings, that nothingness that is the ground of our being. It suggests, in a way quite familiar to those who know Chambers' work, that the beginning and end of our existence coincide-that our end is a return to our beginning.
 

The field of pure white light changes to an image of a white snow-covered field. A hart runs and leaps in the middle of the field, as though startled by something. This image, too, is richly laden with connotations. The hart is an animal of the forests and so evokes associations of unspoiled nature, of nature before civilization encroached upon it and corrupted it.
 

But this is a startled hart; it is feeling, not playing. The ominousness of the shots of the hart is reinforced by the alternation of normally exposed images with over-exposed images and fields of pure white light, inasmuch as shots of these latter two types have qualities in common with that annihilating nothingness we have just been considering. As yet we do not know what has startled the hart and why it is fleeing, but we soon learn, for we next see a gun being loaded. The gun is shown a number of times, first in over-exposed images, then in multiply exposed images; thus the line of regression from "normal" perception to "the wobbly image" to the negative hallucination is drawn.' The movement from normal to regressive and back to normal perception is repeated several times as the image of the gun alternates between normal and negative imagery which, overall, is very light-toned. By means of this alternation, the gun is associated with the negative hallucination.
 

The deer is shown leaping over a fence in a newsreel image that will be familiar to many viewers from Chambers' painting The Hart of London (1968). As in the painting, the deer is juxtaposed with a picture of a policeman carrying ropes, that is, with an image of the regulatory forces that ensnare and destroy playful innocence.

The film again changes to a field of white light, which once again suggests the negative hallucination and the idea of death. From this field of white emerge undefined, barely visible images of men walking on a city street carrying an en­snared deer. The focusing device on the lens is then racked over and we see a tree. Obviously this pull-focus is a device for making a transition from the idea of civilization to the idea of nature. But what is implied in this transition? One might be tempted to interpret it as expressing the familiar notion that our civi­lization is destroying nature. While this interpretation is given support by the fact that a deer-an animal that traditionally has served as a symbol of innocence-is used to represent nature, other attributes of this passage and of the film as a whole contradict it. For one thing, the film does not present nature as something that is wholly kind, gentle and innocent, for Chambers associates nature with the annihilating emptiness. Chambers' vision of the relation between civilization and nature is far more complex and far more disturbing than this interpretation would make it out to be. In The Hart of London, Chambers shows that while both civilization and nature have their innocent and gentle sides, each also has a violent and aggressive side that drives each to destroy the other.
 

Chambers here seems to be developing a tragic vision of the relation of civilization to nature akin to Martin Heidegger's vision of the relations of World to Earth. Heidegger, in "The Origin of the Work of Art", speaks of two fields of being, World and Earth. World comprises all conscious beings and all those beings which are manipulated by consciousness for its own purpose. Its will is to master and to control the Earth. It seeks to assimilate the earth by making the Earth knowable to consciousness. That which it cannot understand, it seeks to destroy.

Earth, on the other hand, is (or more precisely, is understood by World to be) the ensemble of material beings. It is driven by unconscious instinct. Like World, it too is self-aggrandizing and wants to return the World to the state of Earth. Finally, it is inscrutable to World.
 

Not the least troubling aspect of this description of the relation of these two fields of Being is that the distinction between World and Earth is not a knife-cut distinction, as that between nature and civilization is generally understood to be; it does not neatly categorize every object that exists as belonging exclusively to one or the other of these two domains. In fact, everything that exists can be understood as belonging simultaneously to both domains, for everything that exists is made of material that comes from the Earth and operates according to the laws of nature (that is, Earthly laws), and yet at the same time has now fallen under the control of the World's impulses.
 

More startling still is the fact that though everything belongs simultaneously to both domains, the two domains can be seen to be inevitably at odds with one another. The conflict between them can be understood in two ways. One is that each is self-aggrandizing-World seeks to assimilate Earth and Earth seeks to assimilate World-and the other is that Earth is inscrutable to World and World attacks in order to destroy that which it cannot understand.
 

Like Heidegger, Chambers seems to have believed that civilization and nature are locked in a closed circle of struggle. (Perhaps Heidegger's terms World and Earth better reveal Chambers' beliefs about the distinction between the two do­mains, for Chambers too seems to believe that World incorporates aspects of Earth and that Earth incorporates aspects of World.) And like Heidegger, Chambers seems, at least at the time he made The Hart of London, to have believed that the struggle makes existence essentially tragic, since this essential tension unleashes destructive forces.
 

As consciousness starts from the void or blankness of this annihilating noth­ingness, so World evolves from Earth; civilization from nature. In a similar fashion, the film begins with snowy fields, then shows animals in the snowy fields, then animals on city streets, and finally developed cities. But even though civilization is shown as developing from nature, and consciousness is shown to have its origins in the blankness of unknowing, still it is suggested that World (i.e., civilization and reason), when far enough developed, tries to overcome Earth (i.e., to eliminate nature and unreason) and claim everything for itself. And so it is with life and death: The life force drives all beings toward immortality, and the death force strives to destroy all life. This is quite a different conception of the relation between life and death than the one Chambers held when he made Circle; he then saw life and death as holding each other in balance. At the time he made The Hart of London, his vision of the relation of the two was a much more disturbing one, for he came to believe that each is locked in a tragic struggle with the other.
 

The images of World (i.e., of civilization) that follow are a montage of faces, buildings, and "cityscapes" arranged in what Christian Metz would call a bracket syntagma, that is, achronological groupings of loosely associated images which follow one another in the manner in which a parenthetic interpolation follows on the main text. As the passage proceeds, the city appears more and more industrial, but also included in the passage are a large number of old school photographs, photographs of groups of people wearing outfits that identify them as dating from a few decades ago, and pictures of people standing in formal poses before the entrance ways to some turn-of-the-century buildings, in the manner used in old photographs. Thus the passage takes on the features of a souvenir album. As the sequence proceeds, however, the montage becomes more rapid, and more and more of the images are in negative. The resemblance of the images to actual memory images becomes more striking, for the images cease to present themselves as the external representations of real events, as the contents of a souvenir album are, and seem more like the internal imagery of memory. Even the rapidity with which one image replaces another, and the indistinctness or indefiniteness of these images that results from their being in negative, seems calculated to convey the instability and uncertainty that so often characterizes memories, and to evoke that sense of loss which is so deeply involved in the process of remembering. The fact that some of these images, such as the images of the entrance to the Kellogg building, the Carling brewery truck and the McCormick biscuits factory, seem to belong to some indeterminately remote past, stresses the achronology of the passage, and so emphasizes its interior quality, at the same time as giving the imagery a very local character. In this way, Chambers provides a figure for the relation between consciousness and place. In fact, the alternation of negative and positive imagery, the recurrence of some images, the presence of flipped images and the use of rapid montage give this passage characteristics which resemble those of the process by which consciousness endeavours to form a stable image fixed in-or at least associated with-a time and space other than that of internal time and space consciousness, that is to say, a stable image. It therefore suggests the struggle of consciousness for a sense of place.
 

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We realize by this point, too, that the film imagery is becoming more distinct and definite, and that it is becoming more three-dimensional. In fact, the rest of the film will follow along on this course of development, for the imagery will change from black-and-white to colour, will become more stable, more conventionally "realistic," and will take on greater depth. This general development is one from imagery with the qualities of less stable, early, internal imagery, to conventional imagery representing the world external to consciousness. It rep­resents a move from within to without, or better, depicts the way in which the self finds a place in the real world. It shows how that imagery which is the ground of our being, and which at first seems to be purely internal, achieves a locus in the real world, thus bringing self and other into a fundamental ontological relation­ship.
 

Chambers' decision to have the opening passage begin with that primal "blank­ness" from which imagery emerges can certainly be taken as indicating his interest in the origins of consciousness and the foundations of identity. But the structure of the opening passage has other significances. It is largely composed from still­ and moving-picture imagery of London, Ontario's, local history. Chambers uses this imagery to convey the idea that one's sense of identity is forged in a community and that one's self is inextricably bound up in that community; this explains the "extended family" album quality of the passage, for a family album also interrelates personal and family identities. The instability of this imagery, which, I have shown, is to be taken as representing the contents of consciousness, is used to demonstrate that only when internal imagery comes to be associated with a fixed time and space, only when it achieves a place, does it become stable. Finally, in as much as the wobbly image is a product of the drives, the structure of the opening passage indicates that the sense of personal identity which is forged on the site of the stable image regulates the derivatives of the instinctual drives. Thus Chambers associates the notion of community' and that of a regulatory order; The Hart of London then, is in part about the vicissitudes of the instincts within the regulatory order.
 

The film continues with a passage which conveys a sense of difficulty of "fixing" these conscious images, of making them stable. Several devices are used to convey this difficulty. Close-up images of what appears to be branches create a flat, ratherJackson Pollock-like construction. Because these images lack in "space", they also seem not to have a fixed "place" in the real world. Positive-to-negative and negative-to-positive reversals (for example, of factory buildings and street scenes) are used to create a literal lack of stability. Negative images (of buildings. cars, etc.) are used to produce flattened spatial fields. Images are flipped left to right so that die direction of the movement in the image alternates between movement from left to right and movement from right to left. Superimpositions are used to create multiple vanishing points within a single frame, a cubist-like strategy which has the effect not only of reducing depth by multiplying vanishing points until none is especially effective, but also of suggesting, as the cubists themselves realized, the synthetic nature of perception. Grid-like structures such as bridges, girders and buildings with square windows are used with a similar purpose, for they flatten the image by reducing it to simple geometric forms that lie flat on the picture surface. Moreover, most of the movements in most of these images occur in directions that parallel the surface of the picture plane, a feature which also helps to eliminate any impression of depth. But of all these devices, it is probably the use of bas-relief (as in the image of the horse and buggy, created by combining positive and negative versions of the same image slightly out of phase with each other, with the result that the product of the combination is an image composed of silver-white forms in shallow relief with jittering at the edges of the forms) that most resembles the wobbly image of anxious drive-perception, and most clearly reveals the purpose of all these devices.
 

One set of images which appears several times in this passage and is of special importance is that of men dragging corpses of wolves across snow fields. Some of these are images of a single man with a wolf, others are images of several men with wolves. They suggest the interlocking violence of humans and nature, for the wolf, a violent animal, represents nature's violence, while the fact of its being slaughtered represents the violent human reaction to the violence of nature.


Near the end of this section. there appears an image of a man in the middle of a snowy field holding a hose as though flooding a skating rink. The whiteness of the field and the freezing cold are obvious allusions to death. This shot antici­pates other images of water that occur right at the end of the passage-images of flowing water that obviously signify dissolution and death (i.e., are analogues to the impulses motivating the negative hallucination)-for it is followed by a short passage which contains no distinct imagery whatsoever; following it is a shot, in clear focus, of maple keys.
 

The water image is a transitional device that carries us into a new senion of the film. This sectionalization is marked by a change in the sound-track from intermittent bursts of white noise (which are a kind of aural equivalent of the negative hallucination) to the sound of flowing water. This latter sound, while somewhat more representational and less aggressive than white noise, still carries connotations of dissolution and death. And while one might be inclined to con­jecture that the main shift of implication in this aural transition is a shift in the represented locus of the destructive drive from the internal realm to the external realm, this cannot really be so. Since Chambers seems to have believed, at least at the time he was making this film, that human violence interlocks with the violence of nature, and that each holds the other in a circle of mutual struggle (and much of the film's imagery embodies this belief), this aural transition can be interpreted only as a shift in attention from the internal to the external-from one part of the circle of violence to the other.

 

In this new section, shots or passages which signify life, birth, and the process of generation alternate with shots or passages which signify death and the process of dissolution. For example, images of maple keys are juxtaposed with images of a snowy field, as though to emphasize the deathly significance of these later images. Similarly, another passage begins out of focus with what to all appearances seems to be another "field of pure light" that, we have learned by now, signifies the negative hallucination. This field of pure light forms (through a pull-focus) into an image of a snow-covered field. in the middle of which is a mother holding her two sons. This shot itself, then, comprises symbols of both birth and death. Shortly thereafter, we are shown a mother carrying a baby out into the snow, in a shot that again relates the ideas of birth and death. This image is soon followed by a passage constituted of what seem to be overlaid images of branches; the sliding of images overtop one another. and the flat space that results, suggest the "wobbly image."
 

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The appearance of ''wobbly'' perception at this point is most interesting. Because snow-covered fields are most frequently used in these passages to convey the idea of death and destruction, it might have seemed that Chambers believed that the forces of destruction belong to the world external to consciousness, and that the image of the mother and child standing in the middle of the snowy field was meant as an image of Cartesian dualism, as an image which portrays humans as weak and vulnerable beings in the middle of a hostile nature-were it not that is, for the presence of these wobbly images. Wobbly percepts are percepts affected by the drives. and the anxiety they register is anxiety about the drives themselves or, more precisely, about the drives felt as attacts on the structures of the ego. Given the context in which these wobbly percepts occur, we can safely infer that the drives whose effects are here registered by the "destabilizing'' of perception are the aggressive drives. The "wobbly" image juxtaposed against the field of snow thus conveys the notion that humans answer external forces of aggression with their own aggressive drives. Here again, Chambers implies that humanity and nature are locked in mutual combat.
 

The section continues, alternating images which signify birth and growth with images which signify death and decay. Images of water are cut together with images of farmers ploughing fields, creating a conjunction which conveys the idea that water has fertilizing, life-sustaining powers. These images, which signify the life-sustaining forces, are followed by overexposed, intensely bright images which signify violence, aggression, destruction, and generally the negative drives which produce negative hallucination. In keeping with these connotations, the next im­ages are of flooded areas and ruined houses rather than of farmers ploughing fields. The passage thus conveys the idea that water can be life-destroying as well as life-sustaining and, on a broader level, the idea that there is an intimate rela­tionship between creation and destruction. In the next passages, shots of leaves and maple keys are superimposed over shots of the face of a person who appears to be lying quite still, as though dead. Here again, images of birth and death are associated with one another. We are then presented with several extreme close­ up images of shoots on a hedge being cut down by a man wielding a pair of enormous shears:'
 

With the next image, a new section begins, which although marked off from the previous section by different visual qualities, nevertheless is thematically nearly identical to it. This passage begins with a close-up of one eye, then moves to a close-up of a hand searching out a medicine bottle. The deathly significance of these images is emphasized by the next shot, a shot of a dripping tap, which condenses the idea of the corrosive effects of passing time and the idea of the dissolution of structure by water. This construction, inasmuch as it comments on the human condition, is a kind of intellectual montage; the next shots continue the pattern of the alternating syntagma which has provided the structure for this passage. They are shots of various parts of the body of a baby boy. We see first his hands indose-up, then extreme close-up shots of his entire body which, because they were taken with a moving camera, seem to represent the baby's own percep­tion of parts of his body, for they are not in clear focus; the shots soon come to emphasize first his eyes, and later his teeth. These later images are used to suggest that even a seemingly innocent baby possesses aggressive instincts, and thus that innocence and aggression can be associated with one another. When, still later in the passage, images of the baby playing with his penis are linked with images of his teeth, the pattern of alternation of images of behaviour motivated by creative drives with images or behaviour motivated by destructive drives is continued.

 

A new section of the film begins when the image changes from black-and­-white to colour. Like the previous one, this section is structured by the alternation of images of birth and images of death. In this passage, however, the images are more literal than those in previous passages, for they are images of the birth of a child and of the slaughter of a lamb. The lamb has obvious religious connotations, and the table on which it is slaughtered strongly resembles an altar. The scene is a transformation of the crucifixion scene, with the lamb representing Christ­ - Agnus Dei, the lamb of God that "taketh away the sins of the world". The Blood, whose redness, we surmise, the switch to colour was calculated to emphasize, is thus the blood of Christ that washes away our sins. This image is a complex one, for it brings together notions of sin, death. redemption, salvation and rebirth. Being a transformation of the crucifixion, it relates ideas of death and birth. At the end of the passage, shots of the newborn baby are juxtaposed with shots of a lamb embryo, presumably from the womb of the lamb we just saw slaughtered. This juxtaposition again relates ideas of birth and death and articulates the notion that there is a destructive force in things, a force that effectively slaughters in­nocents.

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The next passage consists of red-tinted images of a bonfire in which Christmas trees are burned. The Christmas tree is a symbol of Christ's birth, the red bonfire, of death. This, then, is yet another image which fuses allusions to birth with allusions to death. The following passage consists of images which deal with such notions as separation and merging, individuality and loss of individuality, and death as dissolution of individuality. We see pictures of a mother teaching her son to swim (in this image, water is depicted as the universal solvent which dissolves all individuality, leaving only a common "soup"); a lamb embryo (the whole) being divided into parts; and a human embryo (the individual part) enveloped in the surrounding tissue (the whole). In all these cases, it is the newly born or the not­ yet-born whose individuality and integrity are threatened. Here again, then, the ideas of birth and death are linked to one another. The pixillation effect used in this passage further emphasizes the dialectic of unity and division.
 

The passage continues with a soft-focus shot of light reflecting off water, that is, of short-lived dots of light dancing on an ever-changing, indeterminant ground. This is yet another variation on the theme of the dialectical unity of particularity and universality, and of death and life. This scene is followed by images of people near an ocean which, like the image of the children swimming, conveys the threat of the impending dissolution of individuality and particularity.
 

The fear of the loss of individuality with which these sections of film are concerned relates closely to the notions of identity with which the earlier sections of the film dealt. For one thing, the images of water are rather like the negative hallucination. Furthermore, one's sense of identity, we have shown, is forged on the site of the specific, concrete, definite image. These images of universality are all, to a greater or lesser degree, non-specific, abstract and indefinite. Thus, even in their formal characteristics, they represent the antithesis of a sense of identity. But the matter is not quite as simple as this. We have seen that Chambers believed that one's sense of identity develops in a community and in a place-in society and in nature. The use Chambers makes of "images of universality" in the last passages we have discussed implies that "the universal" has aspects other than its nurturing ones. The images reveal that at the same time that "the universal" helps forge "the individual", it threatens him/her with the dissolution of that individuality; thus the very agency that creates a person also threatens him/her with destruction.

The next section of the film presents additional examples of the duality within nature of nurturing and destructive forces. We see a man going for a brief swim in the icy cold water of a stream. Here, an activity that would normally be delightful and restorative has turned into a potentially lethal one. We then see men emerging from a hole, as though from a mineshaft which has collapsed. The implication that they very narrowly missed being destroyed is quite obvious, but the image also contains another less obvious implication: The way the men emerge from the underground cavern resembles the way a baby emerges from the birth canal. This passage also has a double connotation of birth and death. We then see shots of sailboats on a lake, some of which resemble scenes that appear in Chambers' well­ known painting Regatta No.1 (1968), a painting which alludes to the story of a boy dying at a boating event. Hence this passage at least adumbrates the notion that an activity which is normally life-enhancing can also result in the destruction of a life.
 

This is followed by a passage in which images which show individual units being brought into a unified whole and images which show unified wholes being broken into individual units alternate with one another. We see people crossing a bridge, their individual footsteps 'joining" to create a journey, and then railway watertowers being toppled over and destroyed. We see the image of a train, composed of a series of individual cars (in fact, this image suggests, at once, both integration and disintegration), and then a group of parachutists breaking up as the individuals plunge out of the plane one after the other. This section is followed by one that deals primarily with decay. We are shown fruit dying on a vine, and then scenes from some sort of recreational event, apparently at a nursing home or an asylum (some attendants are dressed as orderlies); rather sorry-looking old men stand in barrels and box one another- until one tips over. With this scene the theme of balance-the balance of life and death, for in all these games the loser is knocked to the ground-is made explicit. This theme is articulated again in the next passage showing a wheelbarrow game in which participants end up getting dumped on the ground. The destructive potential inherent in that which ordinarily supports and nurtures life is again depicted in a scene of huge flowers in the shade of large umbrellas: when looking at these shots, we realize that while the sun once nourished these flowers, it now threatens to destroy them. In the next scene, some young children enter a room and kiss an old couple who sit in rocking chairs. While the vitality and "lovingness'' of children is depicted in this scene, the overriding impression it produces is of the immobility of the old people; thus it suggests more the fate of youth than the continuity of the generations, even though the latter is also definitely implied by the scene. Next we see old people looking at old photographs, perhaps searching for lost friends. Chambers seems to be suggesting that the loss these people obviously feel is not counteracted by the ability of photographs, or memories, to preserve moments against time; a pho­tograph can never secure a moment against loss, precisely because a representation can never really make what was past, present again.
 

The use of photographs in this sequence reveals something quite important both about the use of dated newsreel footage in this particular film, and more generally about Chambers' interest in creating images that derive from photo­graphs, as nearly all his paintings after 1962 did. Part of Chambers' interest in the photograph is obviously that it acts as a sort of memory. A photograph is like a memory in two respects. Firstly, it is a "re-presentation" in the sense that it renews the past. In this regard, the photograph has the power to affect us with bygone things; it can disturb us in the same way that the thought of and the affects surrounding the "lost object" can disturb us. Chambers' paintings have consistently exploited the capacity of the photograph to inflict nostalgia on us. Olga Visiting Graham (1964), one of Chambers' earlier "realist" paintings, depicts his wife visiting a departed friend. The family scenes such as Sunday Morning No. 2 (1970) and Diego Sleeping No. 2 (1971) are simple scenes of passing childhood, depicting moments that are known to all parents, retrospectively, to be both very perfect and very short-lived. Even the later still life and nude pictures present objects and people whose beauty is bitterly transient. The dated quality of the found footage in The Hart of London evokes feelings of sadness similar to those we feel when we think of objects that we cherished or people whom we loved who have now gone. The faded, undetailed quality of much of the found footage only emphasizes the pastness, the "bygone-ness", of these lost objects, just as the indistinctness of mem­ories-and the fundamental unrecoverability of their missing details-provides an index of the loss of the events and objects which are their source.
 

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Jack Chambers, Sunday Morning No. 2, 1968–70

Oil on wood

Loch Gallery, Toronto

Secondly, like some memories, a photograph can present us with an illusion which so closely resembles our experience of actual objects that it very nearly ovenwhelms our recognition that it is an illusion, and convinces us, rather, that it has actually rendered the object it depicts eternal. There are two consequences to this. One is that memory, and consequently love, can very nearly render events and persons enduring and save them from destruction. This, I think, is the con­viction behind Chambers' repeated insistence that perception, which begins in love, ends in a photograph. The second is a more bitter consequence, to wit, that the eternity which a photograph seems to achieve for its object is achieved only by turning the object into an illusion-into something unreal. A dialectic between eternity and unreality that lies at the very heart of the photograph is the reason why the photograph, as I put it earlier, "breaks so many promises". To render something permanent, a photograph must first render it unreal. Chambers seems to have been haunted by this dilemma, for it appears to have been the source of the realization that life-sustaining and life-denying forces-creative forces and destructive forces-are intimately interrelated even in artmaking. Like Michael Snow in Presents, he seems to have come to the saddening conclusion that a pho­tograph is marked by both the presence and the absence of its model. When making The Hart of London, at least, Chambers seems to have been convinced that it is the illusory nature of the photograph that is its primary attribute; that a photograph-like a memory-triumphs over time only by rendering its model unreal. One is leftonly with ghostly traces of a bygone world-with "Flying Dutch­ men", as Snow remarked in his conversation with me.
 

The theme of the destruction of natural beauty that occurs when things of beauty are turned into art objects is reworked in the scenes of women picking flowers to wear as boutonnieres. The following scenes, of birds "trapped" in their cages like the spirit in the flesh, like the "real" in the illusory, like the transient objects of nature in the eternal time of the photograph, offer additional articu­lations of the same concept. The fundamental destructiveness of human beings, nature, and the processof making art (and perhaps even of the process of forming memories) is suggested by the following images of corpses lying in rows.


In the final passage, Chambers' two sons, John and Diego, approach some deer in what appears to be a zoo, seemingly wanting to pet them or to feed them. The sound-track presents Olga Chambers' voice, lowered to a chilling whisper, giving the boys instructions and repeating over and over again, "You've got to be very careful". In certain important respects, this scene is a reversal of the opening scenes in the film, for there the hart was the victim, and here it threatens to be the destroyer that kills innocent victims. The scene also clarifies the role of the hart in the film. This role, it turns out, depends upon the tradictional symbolic value of the image of the hart. Like the eagle and the lion, the hart has traditionally been understood as an enemy of the serpent, and so has been associated with light and goodness. The slaughter of the hart depicted at the beginning of the film, therefore, represents the slaughter of innocence, while the menacing quality of the hart at the end of the film implies that even goodness has curned threatening and destructive. Moreover, the hart, because of the way its antlers are renewed, is also a traditional image of regeneration. The image of the slaughter of the hart is an image of destruction of the regenerative forces, that is to say, of the ultimate victory of destruction over regeneration; while the hart's menacing the children at the end of the film is another image of the potential lethality of the creative force, and of the manner in which creativity threatens to destroy innocence. Finally, because of the resemblance of its antlers to branches, the hart is linked with the Tree of Life. The killing of the hart is thus a symbol of the destruction of life, while the menacing hart is a symbol of life-sustaining forces turned aggressive and destructive.
 

I am, however, being imprecise, or rather, too simple, for there is a central ambiguity to this passage that I have ignored entirely. Olga Chambers may be taken not as cautioning her children about the hart's threats, but as exhorting them to take care for the hart. "You've got to be very careful" may also be taken as a moral statement, encouraging her children not to frighten the deer unne- cessarily. References to the violence of humans and the violence of nature are thus condensed in this ambiguous exhortation.
 

The Hart of London is a film concerned with the activity of creation and with the process by which identity is constituted. It establishes that the means by which a person's identity is forged have their roots in imagery, in images of self, of nature and of community; or, more precisely, of self-and-community-and-nature, for it shows thatself, community and nature are indissolubly linked. But it is, in addition, a film based on a profound understanding of the nature of types of mental imagery. The interest in memory of which the film gives evidence arises from Chambers' concern with the stable image upon which a stable sense of identity is grounded. These images, because of their stable, object-like characteristics, nor­mally belong to-or at least are closely associated with-what the psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott referred to as the third space, a space which is neither external to consciousness nor internal to consciousness, and it is this that makes them valuable in the process of forging an identity which relates self to world within a stable matrix. However, we have seen in retrospect that as these images grow fainter and less distinct, the fact that they are internal to consciousness becomes increasingly evident, as does the fact that they are subject to the same vicissitudes as all internal objects. Above all, it becomes clear, as The Hart of London intimates, that they are as much prey to being eliminated in aggressive rage, to being done away with by the negative hallucination, as any other internal objects. The negative hallucination does away with the ground of one's identity, and is therefore felt to pose a threat to the very foundation of one's being. Nevertheless, in an almost paradoxical fashion, because these images are, under ordinary circumstances, believed to belong to "the third space," and because we normally deal with our destructive impulses by projection, the destructive forces involved in the negative hallucination, forces that are felt to threaten our very being, are attributed to the community and nature which surround and support us. This explains Chambers' notion that the violence of self, nature and community interlock, and why, in Chambers' work generally and especially in The Hart of London, images of community and nature have the dual characteristic of supporting our ·sense of identity as well as threatening it.

This is an excerpt from an article comparing the conception of the self implied by Jack Chambers' The Hart of London and Michael Snow's La region centrale, A long introductory section outlining the theoretical underpinnings of this comparison has been omitted. The writing of this article was subsidized by a grant from the Visual Arts Critics Program of the Ontario Art Council.

1984

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