FILM-PHILOSOPHY

ISSN 1466-4615

Volume 3 Number 40, October 1999

 


 

David B. Clarke

Cinecity Confidential: A Reply to Parsons

 


 

 

 

Deborah L. Parsons

'Urban Montage'

_Film-Philosophy_, vol. 3 no. 39, September 1999

http://www.film-philosophy.com/vol3-1999/n39parsons

 

The first review of _The Cinematic City_ I read delivered the following damning verdict: 'this is a book about neither cinema nor city; it is sophisticated post-structuralist theory being put through its paces . . . The cinema and city have to try and bear its weight'. [1] Some further out-takes indicate the vehemence and vitriol of that review: on my introduction: 'a verbose postmodern rant and eulogy to Baudrillard and Deleuze rather than anything resembling film commentary'; on Colin McArthur's chapter: 'a ponderous essay . . . banal and trivial'; [2] on Frank Krutnik's essay: 'serves only to fog the *noir* impressions he is trying to explicate'; on Antony Easthope's contribution: 'Worse, however, is to come . . . a startlingly shoddy account . . . replete with empty verbiage . . . How [such] mind-numbing assertions passed the editor's eye, I'll never know'; [3] on the essay by myself and Doel: 'We might have heard all this before, if only I had any idea of what was being said . . . largely unreadable and inaccessible; it seemed purposefully intended so too'; [4] Elisabeth Mahoney: 'resumes the feminist mantra against Soja's and Harvey's postmodernism . . . [Mahoney's argument] is not only going too far but is rather silly'; concluding: 'There is plenty more to be critical about . . . much sounded like the voice of wannabe film critics despairing because they never quite made it into the pre-release viewing sessions'. [5]

 

What a pleasure, then, to receive not only Deborah Parsons's thoughtful yet questioning review, but with it an invitation from _Film-Philosophy_ to pen a few words in response. In stark contrast to the knock-about stuff of Merrifield's foot-stamping little number, Parsons's measured consideration makes space to raise some questions that, for her, remained unanswered by the book -- alongside an exposition of its content designed to convey something of its overall flavour. I have to say at the outset that I found Parsons's review entirely fair, and although I cannot pretend to have any easy answers to some of the more searching questions she raises, the most imaginative tack I can come up with for the moment is to pick up on the various points made, in a manner which I hope sounds rather more an engagement than simply a string of defences, excuses, or alibis.

 

First of all, I think it is probably accurate for Parsons to point out that consideration of 'the relationship between urban space and the 'cinematic' form' was not quite as 'previously overlooked' as my introduction to the volume tried to suggest. I suppose I was guilty of 'talking up' the topic a little. Nonetheless, I was personally pleased with the result of bringing together a truly multi-disciplinary group of scholars to reflect on the cinema and the city, and even more pleased to see a range of reviewers suggesting that the collection made a genuine contribution to, as well as opening up, the field. Merrifield's review notwithstanding, the reception has by and large been a positive one, with most people, most of the time, finding something to like in it. (I was amused to receive, for instance, from an architect friend, a planning magazine's 'day in the life of'-style column, where someone like the Head of the Royal Town Planning Institute mentioned flicking through the book and alighting on Gold and Ward's chapter whilst his wife went out to the cinema! I've long since lost the article, and so can't properly identify the author or provide the full reference.) Slightly vindicating my over-enthusiastic pronouncement, it does seem that _The Cinematic City_ caught the wind of a *renewed engagement* with the relationship between city and cinema -- which has gone on to produce, for example, the British Film Institute volume on _Cinema and Architecture_, edited by Penz and Thomas; and which recently saw a further major international conference in Dublin (likely to result, rumour has it, in a publication from Athlone).

 

I also freely admit to finding it difficult to try to delineate and 'cover' the relationship between city and cinema in the collection's Introduction. I suspect this is an experience common to all editors of such collections, who find themselves having to negotiate a tension between saying something all-embracing enough to orientate the prospective reader through the pages that follow, whilst remaining 'open' enough to permit the diversity of approaches space enough to flourish in whichever direction the various contributors see fit. For Merrifield, 'the real problem here is that [my introductory] essay does press us into a corner and no space or light can enter from now onwards. Baudrillard and the 'hauntology' of the 'postmodern metanarrative' has immediately sealed everything off'. [6] Parsons, on the other hand, whilst expressing a general liking for my engagement with the flaneur -- despite my inattention to de Certeau -- finds my take on the postmodern and its relation to modernity overly elliptical. I am not going to pretend that I managed to find the ideal middle course; I am sure that a more skilful account might have satisfied both readers, integrating or at least differentiating between the varied positions adopted by the different contributors. The Introduction, in other words, serves a purpose, but I don't think too much should be invested in it.

 

I hope I'm not being overly circumspect by suggesting that the questions Parsons raises on 'modernity' and the 'postmodern' are, in and of themselves, more significant than any tentative answers I might attempt to give. To go a little further, though, I would back Kuspit's suggestion that 'the term 'postmodern' implies contradiction of the modern without transcendence of it', [7] thereby defining the relation between the modern and the postmodern as one of internal decomposition; of modernity undoing itself from within, so to speak. This seems to me to render Parsons's question of a 'newly postmodern 'cinematic'' undecidable, in a fundamental sense. As Kundera wrote, 'questions with no answers. . . describe the boundaries of human existence'. [8] The act of posing the question is of most importance.

 

The questions of geography this internal decomposition of modernity raises are equally important, but again serves to scramble the terms in which such questions are usually posed. Bauman, for instance, refers to certain 'expanding enclaves of 'post-modern' existence in which people are consumers first -- and workers only a very distant second', [9] in a way which directly addresses one of the questions posed by Parsons. But the way in which such a process stratifies society in terms of mobility and the ability to command space [10] immediately brings to mind Foucault's remarks on a heterotopic world of simultaneity, juxtaposition, the near and far, the side-by-side, the dispersed -- in other words, a scrambled space where the ability to map is rendered increasingly problematic. [11] A number of essays in the book attempt to explore these issues in relation to the cinematic form. But to be circumspect once more, I think recognizing the importance of the question is again more significant than agreeing on the answers. Here I would simply point to the significance of a broader array of technologies (see, for example, Crang, Crang, and May, _Virtual Geographies_) and processes (for example, _Detraditionalization_, edited by Heelas, Lash, and Morris), all of which have an equally profound bearing on issues of space-time transformation, and which add complexity to the situation in which the cinematic medium is itself embroiled.

 

Which brings me to the final point I'd like to make in replying to Parsons: the question concerning the definition of the 'cinematic', which Parsons finds addressed most satisfactorily in James Hay's engaging chapter. It would, no doubt, be inadequate to respond to the point that this issue is insufficiently covered elsewhere in the book by gesturing to chapters that were planned for inclusion but which, in the final instance, failed to materialize. Nonetheless, I will say that I do think one of the two sadly aborted chapters would have addressed this issue more thoroughly. But more generally, I would like to note that there are a multitude of implicit suggestions in the many chapters that did make it to the finished volume. I very much take Parsons's point, therefore, but suspect that the questions broached explicitly in Hay's chapter can also be profitably engaged through the brief allusions, suggestive passages, and telling lacunae elsewhere in the book.

 

_The Cinematic City_ seems, on the whole (and with exceptions), to have generated a genuine sense of enthusiasm from many of its readers and reviewers (which, at times, I like to think reflects the enthusiasm that went into it). It would be wrong to suggest that the book manages to sew up many things very neatly. I think it does, though, alongside an increasing body of similar work, open up lots of potentially profitable pathways that deserve to be more well-trodden, and look as if they are going to be. [12]

 

University of Leeds, England

 

 

Footnotes

 

1. Merrifield, 'Review of _The Cinematic City_, Clarke, D. B. (ed)', p. 132.

 

2. Ibid., both quotes p. 132.

 

3. Ibid., both quotes p. 133.

 

4. Ibid., pp. 133-4.

 

5. Ibid., both quotes p. 134.

 

6. Ibid., p. 132.

 

7. Kuspit, 'The Contradictory Character of Postmodernism', p. 60.

 

8. Kundera, _The Unbearable Lightness of Being_, p. 139.

 

9. Bauman, 'The Haunted House', p. 24.

 

10. See Bauman's _Globalization_.

 

11. Those who, like me, have found Bauman's writings on the postmodern instructive may be interested to learn that, on 27 June of this year, in a seminar on 'Modern and Postmodern Adventures of Work' given to the Sociology Department at the University of Leeds, Bauman announced that he would no longer be using the term 'postmodern'. This was not any kind of denouncement; the term has, for Bauman, simply been wrung dry. Henceforth, Bauman proposed, the distinction between 'solid' and 'liquid' modernity presents the most apt image of thought for capturing our present circumstances.

 

12. Interestingly, Routledge did suggest to me, some time ago, that they'd be interested in doing a second edition of _The Cinematic City_. They wanted to use market research to determine the 'teaching value' of the different chapters, cut out those the market didn't favour, and add a few additional chapters in their place. Coming soon! _The Cinematic City 2_: a more commercial version of the original, content determined by audience research! I suspect that changes in editorial staff will mean that the early floating of this idea will not be followed up (and feel ambivalent about that!).

 

 

Bibliography

 

Bauman, Zygmunt, 'The Haunted House', _New Internationalist_, April 1997.

--- _Globalization: The Human Consequences_ (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1998).

 

Crang, Mike, Phil Crang, and Jon May, _Virtual Geographies: Bodies, Space and Relations_ (London: Routledge, 1999).

 

Heelas, Paul, Scott Lash and Paul Morris, eds, _Detraditionalization_ (Oxford: Blackwell, 1996).

 

Kundera, Milan, _The Unbearable Lightness of Being_ (London: Faber and Faber, 1984).

 

Kuspit, Donald, 'The Contradictory Character of Postmodernism', in H. J. Silverman, ed., _Postmodernism: Philosophy and the Arts_ (London: Routledge, 1990).

 

Merrifield, Andy, 'Review of _The Cinematic City_, Clarke, D. B. (ed)' _Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers_, N.S. vol. 23 no. 1, 1998.

 

Penz, Franz and Maureen Thomas, eds, _Cinema and Architecture: Melies, Mallet-Stevens, Multimedia_ (London: British Film Institute, 1997).

 

 

 

Copyright © _Film-Philosophy_ 1999

 

 

David B. Clarke, 'Cinecity Confidential: A Reply to Parsons',  _Film-Philosophy_, vol. 3 no. 40, October 1999 <http://www.film-philosophy.com/vol3-1999/n40clarke>.

 

  

 

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