In Damietta Torlosco’s mostly wonderful film-theory book The Rhythym of Images, this is the point where she loses me:
“In other words, can we find the traces of a process that exceeds syncopation, of a rhythmic articulation that does not pivot around the beat?”
I have the same objection to this that I do to Deleuze and Guattari’s praise of “nonpulsed time” in Mille Plateaux. In both cases, an idealization of total deterritorialization undermines the very project of liberation that it is supposed to accomplish. Torlosco, like Deleuze and Guattari, champions an idea of irregular rhythm against mechanistic or assembly-line temporal regularity. But, like them, she pushes this to the limit of total abolition that destroys the very project of escape (or of a “line of flight”).
Think of it this way: if you are floating weightlessly in outer space, then ironically you can’t move because you don’t have any surfaces to push against. So the project of rhythm freed from pulse and meter ends up being tyrannical in the same way that the total reduction of rhythm to self-equal meter (as in an absolutely self-identical, pounding military march) is tyrannical. There is no opportunity for fluctuation or irregularity. There is no irregular rhythmic articulation if there is no beat.
The result is an insular, high culture Euro-modernism that is considered to be the only way to escape the deadening repetitions of the culture industry. Torlosco, like Deleuze and Guattari, turns into a grouchy Adorno without realizing it.
The better answer is to swim in the waters of syncopation, rather than seeking to “exceed” it. This doesn’t mean rejecting high modernism, but rather seeing a more expanded field of which it is only a part. Like including Jerry Lewis (or even, as Eugenie Brinkema suggests, The Human Centipede) alongside Godard, or George Clinton (as well as Ornette Coleman) alongside Schoenberg.
It is generally assumed that rhythm must be separated from meter — the former is flexible and swinging, while the latter is rigid and mechanistic. But perhaps this is a false opposition to begin with (as the musicologist Christopher Hasty suggests).