The Tragedy of the Object: Democracy of Vision and the Terrorism of Things in André Bazin’s Nonhuman Cinema
Beyond the merits or demerits of André Bazin’s realist aesthetic – the emphasis on depth of field optical photography and unaffected mise-en-scène, valorization of documentary over fantasy, the long-take over montage, the spectator’s democratic freedom to explore film worlds, etc. – what usually strikes the contemporary reader initially is the apparent naivety of Bazin’s ontological position: that the analogical photographic basis of film puts the viewer in ‘direct’ contact with the physical world. The purpose of this paper is not to defend Bazin’s ontological realism, however, be it construed as direct, indirect, naïve, or whatever else – for there are already many others engaged in a return to Bazin and the rehabilitation of his cinematic realism (without at the same time committing it to the analogical nature of cinema), often through reference to Lacan’s notion of the Real. Plausible though this strategy is, its own reliance on Freudian psychodynamics makes it an odd candidate for rehabilitating Bazinian realism, given the former’s anthropocentric nature. For this, I believe, is the key to reviewing Bazin: his interest in analogical reproduction (as the scientifically objective basis of filmic realism), as well as the aesthetics of the long take, depth of field photography, and non-subjective, almost democratic mise-en-scène (or ‘décor’), exposes an interest in the nonhuman in cinema. It is this nonhuman, non-anthropocentric core to realism, based on a singular complex of physical space, animality, and even material objects, which offers another way of glimpsing the Real. Contra the supposedly inescapable mediations of language, gender and culture – all wrought by a transcendent human hand – this glimpse that Bazin affords us testifies to an immanence of the Real: such nonhuman, objective realism is not about capturing (representing) reality in toto, but registering the fact that the human is only a part of (and immanent within) reality, that there are realities beyond human subjectivity – in space, in objects, in animality – realities that we are put in contact with through cinema. In this variation of Bazin, a Bazin without subjectivist phenomenology, and certainly without the Lacanian Real (and all of the post-Kantian ideology attendant with that) we see an objectivist phenomenology of filmic objects.