Birth

This is the first film I’ve made using, entirely, digital superimpositions. All I had to begin with was a spontaneous audio recording of my mother talking about my birth and about how she felt afterwards. I wanted to make a film with it, but I did not develop a structure or a blueprint in advance. I worked on it directly in my editing program, during the month of July, using videos I had already recorded, and sourcing the extra material (music, a few extracts from other films, my monologue) on the spot, as I felt the need of it. This is my thirteenth film and, while it is little, it is also quite complex and my most impulsive. If you are interested in genesis issues, here is where it comes from.

My wish, now, would be that you watch the film (at least twice) and keep reading only afterwards. But you’ll do whatever you want, of course. And I don’t know why I even ask for anything anymore…

I guess you could say that this is a film about my birth. My mother told me once that my father became another person the moment I was born. I believe her because, if I try to remember a time when I might have felt any connection with my father, I can’t: it’s as if there was never any. When I look at my brother playing with his two year old kid, I feel that there was never any. When I listen to my mother talking about how depressed and isolated she was after my birth, I know there was never any. I’ve heard details about that period before, but I’ve never had a full-on narration by her to which I could re-listen. Women’s stories always look like nothing, like a bunch of crazy fantasies or silly talk—but those fantasies are all threaded with the ideas about womanhood by which mothers live and suffer and into which baby girls are born.

James Hillman: “Such was the preparation for the girl’s birth: to be conceived out of inferior substance, carried in paleness, and delivered from the depression of her mother.” My mother still thinks there’s something wrong with her: in how she felt about maternity, in having been depressed upon my birth, in the views she expresses and which, she believes, belong to her alone and not to a whole field that is bigger than her subjectivity. Listening to her, I’ve realised that I, of course, think in the same fashion: that there’s something wrong with me and this is why nobody ever wants me. My father, as far as I know, has never felt any need to question his feelings, actions, lack of them, nothing whatsoever. He’s never had to entertain the idea that there’s something wrong with him: it’s always the others who are wrong.

This film is an attempt at understanding something about my patterns of sensitivity and attachment—patterns that don’t appear to have evolved much with age, that seem very old indeed, that seem very different indeed from those that other people exhibit. I’ve realised that, when I listen to my mother’s story, I identify with her a lot. Oscar Wilde: “All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That’s his.” In a way, maybe my life is a re-channelling of my mother’s anxiety and of her still repressed rage. But, at the same time, I have my very own anxiety and my full-blown rage that, it turns out, can’t be repressed. And I’m still the little crying thing that someone dropped and who became barely bearable, too much of a burden, the unacknowledged regret of the lost labours of love…

Family – frankly: I don’t know why you all insist on perpetuating that sickness.

There’s a crazy book by Otto Rank, The Trauma of Birth, where he discusses everything in life as a re-enactment, concealment, idealisation, defense, sublimation… of the most original of traumas: birth. I guess he’d take my film as an endorsement of his theory. It is not. But I still have sympathy for his book. First, because I think it was born (pun intended) from a deep dissatisfaction—and I can only share the feeling—with the Freudian Oedipus complex; second, because you have to be in great pain and need (and perhaps depressed) to be lured into the fantasy of the magic-master-key-event that will give meaning to every disturbance and undisturbance of life, psychic and otherwise. Yet, one can read this book not for its conclusion—which is also its premise and is, again and again, only one and the same—but for the research, inventiveness and fabulation that is nonetheless deployed (life is funny that way!) to arrive at such a restricted conclusion. This passage, for instance, might be the best thing you read today, and you may even remember me (!) the next time you have sex:

Thus the well-known cult of the sperm in the Gnostic Eucharist of the sect of the Phibionites (about A.D. 200-300) seems to be connected with the service of the Asiatic-Egyptian mother goddess called Mani by the Sumerians, Ishtar in Babylon, Magna Mater, Cybele, Ma, Ammas in Asia Minor, the Great Mother in Carthage, Isis in Egypt, Demeter among the Greeks, Astarte among the Syrians, Anahita among the Persians, Alilat among the Nabateans, Kwannyin in the Indian, Kwannon in Japanese Buddhism, and the “Primal Mother” in Chinese Taoism. The Phibionite meal, this religio libidinum, which “in spite of all the real heathenism in it, still consists essentially, as the old abstruse commentaries on the Christian Last Supper and its derivative the Mass assume”, and, as Fendt rightly recognized, not in sexual intercourse, which was so much urged against it as a reproach, but in eating (devouring) the sexual excreta.

[…] The evil Under-God, who brings children into the world thus compelling them continuously to endure the birth trauma, is the mother; and the entire (incestuous) unchastity of the Gnostics amounts simply to going back again into the mother’s womb, and thereby excluding the renewal of the birth trauma; this is why the semen is assimilated through the mouth (eaten). Should, however, conception result, then the embryo is cut out in order to prevent the trauma, and again assimilated only through the mouth.

I don’t think the trauma of birth can account for everything in life. But I think the trauma of birth is a powerful fantasy. Otto wrote a whole book out of it. I, for instance, fancy the idea that my inability to withstand pressure, the way I suffer when I’m externally forced into change, my restlessness about always being slow and late, was established at birth. I often find myself thinking of birth in terms of death because I imagine that’s how I might have felt—like dying and splitting apart—when, after twelve hours of labour, I was extracted (too late, according to some expert) from my mother’s womb. I’ve started imagining intra uterine life as some sort of lost paradise of wetness and wholeness and connection. And I even entertain stupid notions like: what if depression was a second birth? What if the time it takes me to come out of it can be deduced, by a simple rule of three, from the time it took me to come out of my mother’s womb? But, trust me on this, nothing is that simple. And, anyway, I suck at maths. But I know this: whatever else the trauma of birth is, it’s also a fantasy powerful enough to mobilise your soul into storying it.

With this film I also wanted to explore the link between narcissism and depression. These last months, I have done a bit of research on narcissism (if you can call research surfing this shithole called the Internet). It is telling that there’s so many articles about how to uncover a narcissist and so few that acknowledge that everybody wears one mask or another: on the Internet everybody becomes my father, it’s always someone else who is deeply wrong. Anyway, to get some serious insights, I turned to the “father” (it’s a way of speaking) of narcissism: Heinz Kohut (I have sympathy for this man, but he’s not the most exciting writer, let me tell you). My most precious (instead of serious) revelation on narcissism came, however, from Teddy. Teddy is Adrian’s teddy bear—but despite the fact that it’s his, they only have inner conversations. It’s me who has given the bear a voice. Once, Teddy even told me (whatever that means): “I chose you as a mother so I can be a God again”. He’s quite grandiose, Teddy, and often refers to himself as, well, God. We have the most intriguing conversations, Teddy and I—which, sometimes, surprise me greatly (it surprises me what he says, what comes out of my mouth). The other day, as I was musing about narcissism, he said something that left a profound mark on me: “Never forget that God created you in his image. What do you think you are searching for in the mirror?” I’ll leave that percolating with you…

I don’t know what the unconscious looks like, but mine might be all for grabs in a hard drive called, simply, VIDEOS. Stuff I record with my phone, raw material. I think that overlays or superimpositions might be my favourite way of image-making. These names are a bit tricky because it’s not just about putting one thing on top of another, but about how images can permeate each other. It’s all about relations—you need two or more images to begin with; and transformations—two becoming something else. This isn’t any longer about capturing, about figuring out in advance. It’s neither your vision nor your design that matters. Rather, the image that comes out is revealed to you in the mix. And it grips you or not.

The blending modes (there are 27, in Premiere and Photoshop) determine how, exactly, any two images will blend: how they will impregnate each other. These blending modes are modes of emergence or leakage, not modes of mastery. Overlaying unleashes the hidden potentialities of images by letting them caress each other: an overlay or superimposition is the crystallisation of that caress— which can atract or repel, contaminate, enliven, dissect, open up, push forward, envelop, fuse, lacerate… This is all about what images can do to each other and about how they become something else when affected by the other’s properties: it’s exactly like with people, folks.

© Cristina Álvarez López, August 2021

8 thoughts on “Birth

  1. Cristina, your film and your accompanying essay are quite moving and thought-provoking and also have prompted me to reconsider some skepticism I’d held about the possibilities of recording oneself crying …

    • Thanks, Zach. I’m actually quite proud of this film, of how it came together. And I am glad that it says something to someone other than myself. As for crying: I’d never done videos of myself crying until this last year. It never occured to me. But, I’ve cried so frequently and massively this year that, at one point, I said to myself: if this is what I’m doing most, what sense does it make to record anything else?

      By the way, you might like to know that I bought Vaihinger’s ‘The Philosophy of ‘as if” after finding several references to this book, including the one at your blog. I haven’t started it yet. I’ll let you know…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s