Some scattered thoughts on film

I’d like to post quickly some thoughts regarding our relationship to the nature of film.  The content of these thought  calls attention to film’s parallel to a skeptical ontology that I’ve been developing for the past three or four months. To ask What is film? is to ask a metaphysical question the answer to which implicitly assumes an ontologische Weltstheorie. To prefer, say, Michael Haneke’s Siebente Kontinent to James Cameron’s Titanic is to engage implicitly in an ontological act which includes something, namely MH’s film, within a realm of “real film” and excludes Titanic as, to some degree, non-existent. (Suppose, however, one argued that Titanic presents an argument for the death of god (Cal’s “God himself could not sink this ship”) and the metaphorical depiction revolutionary upheaval via Freud’s” iceberg” metaphor which ultimately crushes the latest installment of secular humanism, a humanly instituted, hierarchical society. Furthermore, the return of the repressed emerges in the end, contrary to Zizek’s poor reading of the film’s end, when Jack gives his life for Rose, representing the christological metaphor, the true “heart of the ocean”? Does one’s theory allow the film to evolve into something the academic community takes seriously?) Here, any proposition of the form, Film is X, merely interjects a preferred film theory and a methodological attempt to make sense of or short-circuit our common-sense renderings of film for some theoretical or pragmatic end. One could ask, instead, an interesting Hegelian question regarding film: suppose we proceed presuppositionlessly and let film reveal its nature. As Hegel sought to avoid presupposing that thought IS such and so (say judgment or language, as in Kant), suppose we instead employ a skeptical suspension, an epoche, in order to let film reveal itself to us, bare its inner essence. To presume that film is capable of thought, then to posit a priori a philosophical definition of thought, is to define film in terms of philosophy. Instead, can we investigate film’s essence sans philosophy? An anti-philosophical account of film’s philosophy? (Or Badiou’s inclusion of film into art…the latter of which is one of the four conditions of philosophy. Thus, philosophy serves film contrary to those who seek to make film think philosophically) This is where I find a surprising overlap between Hegel and Heidegger. Heidegger’s later essays on language seek to enact a skeptical Gelassenheit in which we refrain from actively imposing a nature upon thought in effort to let thought/language/film be. This also picks up some themes from Cavell’s World Viewed insofar as he seeks to determine the nature of film via our common, everyday descriptions of film. This, too, is why Cavell is ultimately a Heideggerian in terms of methodology…just minus the annoying forays into fictitious etymologies.
To be actively passive is the task of the philosopher. To let film reveal itself…bare itself sans our theories. In this sense, film would be pornographic, striping its imposed presuppositional dress to expose its true inner nature. To utilize a skeptical method concerning the nature of film also highlights a comment made by veteran screenwriter William Golding when he claimed, regarding the success-conditions for a particular film, “Nobody knows anything”. Golding’s box-office skepticism can be transfered into an epistemological register in the following way: Nobody knows what film is. Or, perhaps more precisely (and generally), Nobody knows everything. Instead of offering a boring postmodern relativism, this instead offers the positive thesis that film always exceeds a ontic monism the purpose of which is the monistic reduction of film to a particular discourse. “Real” film isn’t reducible to one’s preferred-theorist’s set of philosophical films simply because these films explore and illustrate the same themes in which the theorist maintains a contingent interest. Perhaps one can apply Putnam’s excellent comment in Ethics without Ontology regarding the existential quantifier: “…the expressions “there are”, “there exist”, and “there exists a” do not have a single absolutely precise use but a whole family of uses.” In this sense the absolute of film, film’s truth, is its multiplicity and elusiveness with regard to our monistic-mongerings. The true, then, is the whole.

To give an Hegelian gloss, one could say that film’s essence involves its coming-to-be something or other. That is, its essence, its Sein, is Schein. Miller misleadingly translates this as “being is illusory being”…instead, I would argue for the following translation: “Being is manifestation”. To become manifest is to appear as such and so and, therefore, to be taken as something or other and, ipso facto, not as that or the other. To say that film is (really just) a cognitivist medium which represents reality is to say implicitly that film is “really not” a metaphysical “time image” or a socio-economic ideological symptom of the culture. Most theories of film presuppose a filmic thing-in-itself about which we formulate theories to discover its nature and given (privledged) example which supposedly function as examples. We should instead understand film in an Hegelian register: film becomes manifest. It becomes something or other…it is manifest as x rather than y or y rather than x. Its Sein is its Schein. In addition, a materialist view of film nicely illustrates the inability of this theory to account for itself…that is, part of film is the theory of what film is. To say that film is really just a projection of desire fails to include itself into the nature of film. We could say then that film doesn’t reflect our philosophy; rather it refracts it. Film is an example of thought insofar as it prompts thought…in its absence, its central void, its prompts theories…it prompts us to discover/determine its nature.


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