" Potency" 

Act and potency. Ever since Aristotle and his famous definition in Metaphysics, the figure which summarizes the dynamics of being, the relationship between its completeness and what has-yet-to-fully-come-into-being, has traversed and characterized Western thought. The couple, action and potency, are complex figures despite their seeming simplicity which, in the course of the centuries, have been subjected to a relevant series of transformations and new interpretations. The concept of “potency”, especially, has been revisited and re-evaluated in the course of modernity and contemporary thought, providing a starting point for a series of reflections which – especially in the 1900s – put into play the line of bifurcation between politics and aesthetics. From the centrality of potentia in Spinoza’s thought, the originary vital force of collectivity which is the only way through which a thought and a political form can originate, to the forms of mediation of power represented, for example, in Hegel’s thought. From the transgressive dynamics of Nietzch’s “Will to Power” as self-growth, up to the potency of nature in Emerson’s reflections, or to potency as the dark side of power, exceeding and incommensurable, in the Kafkaesque concept of Macht or in the ambivalence of the German term Gewalt, at the same time power, law, potency and violence (as Benjamin highlights in his famous essay Critique of Violence. The identity/distinction relationship between power and potency is another crucial issue in all of 20th century thought. Finally, the re-evaluation, in an aesthetic-political sense, of the concept of potency is traceable in Giorgio Agamben’s reflections, who, in the personal interpretation of the Aristotelian couple, reverses the discourse highlighting it as “an experience of potency as such is only possible if the potency is, also, always the potency of not (doing or thinking something)” (Bartleby, or On Contingency). It’s inside this constellation of meanings that a reflection can commence on the concept of potency starting from cinema and from issues regarding the image. The basis of the journey of this issue of Fata Morgana is the awareness that cinema and audiovisual forms have been extraordinary moments of elaboration and reinterpretation of the multifaceted concept of potency. Different moments which open doors to different interpretations, this will emerge from the hypotheses of the journey in this synopsis.
The image of potency. In the course of the 20th century, cinema has intersected in various ways with the image of political potency which every state has produced of itself. The experience of totalitarianisms has also been made possible through the images which have arisen in different ways inside and outside of totalitarian structures. From the cinema of Leni Riefensthal to that by Walter Ruttman, from the apologetic frescoes by Mikhail Ciaureli to the incessant production (cinematographic and not) of propaganda images, to the staging of the totalitarian power as “total work of art” (Boris Groys), totalitarian states have constantly worked on the aestheticization of politics, and on the creation of images capable of representing the state as an accomplished “potency”. But the relationship between political willingness and cinematographic forms has never been simple nor linear. It’s exactly in the pleats of the images of “potency” of power where cinema reveals its capacity to present itself as a place of resistance to power itself, both inside and outside cinema made for entertainment, in cinematographic forms which oppose a certain image of potency. It is exactly in the space full of potency of power that the image reveals the empty space which supports it, the last arcanum imperii. In a different way, the great cineastes that address potency contrasting power (from Bellocchio to Sokurov) have therefore constituted the necessary counterpart in the cinema of the visible.
Potency in cinema. The great cinematographic device, capable of creating “images that reconcile our desires” has always accompanied the development of the seventh art, especially in the great cinematographic industrial systems (first of all Hollywood). The strength of cinema has always been based upon a constitutive ambivalence, on a double direction which has always accompanied development. On one side the grandeur of the image (from the time of the large formats, to the splendor of Technicolor, from audio experimentations up to the new technologies of digital images), tied to the idea that the power of cinema resides in its capacity to create a “bigger than life” image. From Griffith to Cameron, cinema has tasted the potency of the image through its capacity to renew the mythical universe which supports it, beyond any technological innovation. On the other side, the power of cinema has often been linked to what the image does not show; to what it can potentially say and not say (paraphrasing Agamben). Potency is, in this sense, potency of the excess and at the same time of the subtraction, power of light and the darkness which necessarily supports it. This vision is linked to a long and rich theoretical and (especially) implementative tradition. Here the term potency is to be understood with the double meaning that traverses history. Potency as deployment of human resources or of nature, a “titanic” vision of the world made explicit, and potency as dynamis of the imagination, open to the interaction with the gaze of the spectator.
The potency of bodies. What is a body capable of? It is a Deleuzian question which the French philosopher takes from Spinoza and which intersects with the cinematographic experience in more than one occasion. Asking what a body is in terms of potency, means thinking about (and putting into play) the image as a promise for the future. If power is the practice of taming bodies, of limitation of potency, cinema has constantly worked on an opposite movement, on the practices of liberating the filmed bodies, allowing them freedom of movement, bodies caught in the flux of their existence, in the perennial battle between the structures which they are part of and the yearning for freedom. It’s a constant tension, that of the image of the bodies, which goes from Rossellini’s cinema, full of bodies that fall, they get up again, wander freely (as the Franciscan monks), up to Pasolini’s cinema where the battle, the contrast between the potency of the bodies and the power which deciphers them is shown through the contrast between the face and the word, between gesture and immobility. And still, Bellocchio’s cinema, where the potency of the bodies becomes the guideline for possible rejection (even destined to defeat, to madness or oblivion) in relation to the abhorrent logic of power. Potency, here, is then intended as something which is opposed to power, something power is afraid of; from sexuality (as in Oshima) to abhorrent behavior, from the revolt to the complete negation of rules (as in Herzog’s cinema or in the body-word relationship in the films by Straub and Huillet).



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