August 25, 2013 § Leave a comment
A few unfriendly notes on Film Studies while I re-write something for possible publication; they’re also at a tangent to some quotes from TJ Clark’s The Sight of Death that JGV posted the other day, & wh/ I want to write something longer about (alienation from the visible, etc.)
At the moment I’m writing on Marker, whose work has attracted a surprisingly small amount of academic attention, at least in English – a couple of monographs, a number of articles, etc. There has, however, been enough for a hierarchy to develop – those at the top are automatically asked to comment on anything even vaguely Marker-related, no matter how staid or politically dubious* or jaw-droppingly obvious their opinions are (“he uses montage” “WOW, REALLY?”). So one is obliged to take their work onboard. The problem is that their opinions are for the most part so utterly mediocre & ignorable – & so far from the Marxist political aesthetics enmeshed in the film texts themselves – that one wouldn’t bother to think about them in any context other than one in wh/ you are forced to pay heed to them. So one becomes an irritated swatter of multitudinous, swarming flies, a petulant 15 year old reduced to yelling & block-capsing like the guttersnipe one always was. One has to grit one’s teeth or be sidelined for offending middle-class decorum just as one always has. The necessity of asserting oneself, of asserting one’s point of view threatens at every step to turn one, against one’s better nature & best efforts, into a boor.
The problem w/ Film Studies isn’t, in isolation, the often astoundingly boring style in wh/ writers address films or topics wh/ might be incredibly animating, nor the lack of variety in writing style (one article often being interchangeable w/ another). Nor is it the tendency of every discussion of a particular topic – say, Westerns or German New Wave or British post-war cinema or Marker’s films – to circle obsessively through the same narrow set of references (Bazin, the same tired set of remarks by Marker (as if what an artist says about his work were the final word on a text rather than, uh, the text itself)) & debates (the index, genre, montage vs long takes, the easy point-scoring of a boiled-down politics of representation, Left vs Right Bank). Nor is it abandonment or never-taking-up of political aesthetics – the abandonment of aesthetics in favour of an unmediated social criticism wh/ mistakes the nature of the society it seeks to critique, in favour of a literal-minded “reading” of the image as if the primary characteristics of the visible in a regime “chimerically” composed of “semblance & matter” weren’t its flatness, its muteness, its inaccessibility to discourse, in a system in wh/ norms, law & discourse dispose themselves not as discourse or exercises in reason but simply as what appears, autonomous & brought into being by no discernible agent. Nor is it the seemingly total inability, long since taken for granted by other disciplines, to move between explanatory levels – between the microcosmic details of text (the disposition of a particular camera angle, the shape of an edit, lighting, set design, a careless whisper of dialogue, the narcotic shifts of a performance) & the macrocosmic shape of a whole text, of genre, of the innumerable glinting facets of superstructure, of the relentless, half-heard churning of economic base. It’s all of them****! Hooray! It continues to surprise me that it takes an outsider to notice these things enough to write a blogpost.
*Catherine Lupton, convert to Dark Mountain, who believes that politics consist of civilisational “stories” rather than, uh, actual material occurrences
** Most of the academic texts*** I’ve found most useful have been nestled somewhere in the lee of Visual Cultures or the history of photography
***As for film journalism, if it’s not by Ian Penman, forget it.