Journal | Salon | Portal (ISSN 1466-4615)

Vol. 5 No. 9, March 2001



Garrett Stewart

Last Things First: A Reply to Sutton




Damian Sutton

Photography and Cinema from Birth to Death

_Film-Philosophy_, vol. 5 no. 8, March 2001


I direct this brief response to Damian Sutton's review primarily at his

closing (and potentially misleading) note of exoneration, where he urges

his readers not to 'blame him [me] for making the (seemingly routine)

equation that since cinema makes the still image move, cinema must

automatically mean life, and photography death: After all, to whom else can

Stewart turn?'


But this is exactly the automatic equation, all too routine in film theory,

which the whole book is meant to correct. There was indeed no one to turn

to, at any sustained length, in resisting this more or less facile

assumption. That's why I wrote the book, and why I began it with a pretitle

sequence meant to lay out the allegorized relationship of death to both

still *and* moving images in a single British gothic.


My claims are thus advanced in reaction against a tacit phenomenological

strain in the work of Bazin, Arnheim, Cavell, Sobchack, Deleuze, and

Jameson, one which assumes the lifelikeness of film over against the

temporal fixity of the photograph. I wanted to show that the inherence of

the photogram in filmic advance, manifest at times like the return of the

suppressed, unsettles any such assumption of vital flux. My chief

allegiance is therefore, though apparently it did not show through

sufficiently in Sutton's view, to the micro-dialectics of Eisenstein's

theory, where juxtaposition makes for the overlapping collision of discrete

photo cells rather than for a true succession and flow of motion.


This argument does certainly take counsel from what I assume Barthes to

mean by the flat and depthless 'that has been' of photography, which I

understand in a very different sense, it would appear, than Sutton does.

The emphasis in Barthes seems to me on pastness, not duration, on that

which has *already* been (and gone). Indeed, I am confirmed in my suspicion

that Sutton is quite differently oriented toward the ontology of the

photograph when he misattributes Bazin's 'change mummified' to a

description of the still image, rather than (as Bazin intended) to the

impact of cinema's captured and preserved mobility, which adds the quotient

of ongoingness to what Bazin calls the 'embalmed time' of photography (see

my treatment of this on page 142). It is film alone, unlike photography,

for Bazin as for Deleuze, that preserves life's duration. But I side with

Bergson and Eisenstein: film, instead, mobilizes fixity.


To leave a reader of the review thinking I meant otherwise, that I

subscribed to the lifelikeness of film in the reigning theoretical dyad,

would, despite much patient and appreciated attention to my argument before

this, serve to cloud rather than critique the book's abiding purpose. Which

was to return the projective effects of the track to the material

conditions of the strip, and thus to rethink the titular interspace

*between film and screen*. I write now simply to fend off this



University of Iowa, USA



Copyright © _Film-Philosophy_ 2001


Garrett Stewart, 'Last Things First: A Reply to Sutton', _Film-Philosophy_,

vol. 5 no. 9, March 2001





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