Film-Philosophy

Journal | Salon | Portal (ISSN 1466-4615)

Vol. 7 No. 44, November 2003

 

 

Marcia Landy

 

Traveling in Film Theory:

Giuliana Bruno's _Atlas of Emotion_

 

 

Giuliana Bruno

_Atlas of Emotion: Journeys in Art, Architecture, and Film_

London: Verso, 2002

ISBN 1859848028

484 pp.

 

Bruno's selection of the concept of an 'atlas' for the title of her book is more than a clever attention-getter: it is a guide to the core of her theoretical and critical objectives. Her book is infused with the cartographic impulse in the interest of mapping connections between figurations of space and emotion. In her hands, the work of mapping is ubiquitous, applicable to architecture, fashion, travel, and film. In her earlier _Streetwalking on a Ruined Map: Cultural Theory and the City Films of Elvira Notari_ (1993), Bruno had mapped the urban world of Naples by tracking connections between its landscape and the 'silent' films of Elvira Notari. According to Bruno _Streetwalking on a Ruined Map_ is 'a gesture toward the reappropriation of geography in history, the redrawing of a cultural map as a metonymy of fragmentations, the exploration of a territory of subjugated popular knowledge, the mapping out of a scene of cultural microhistories in the terrain of cultural knowledge and through the lens of cultural history'. [1]

 

_Atlas of Emotion_ extends this investigation into cultural micro-history. It is also interdisciplinary and intermedial. While it always has in mind the history and practices of cinema, it arrives at its reflections on film through a journey via a number of other disciplines, forms, and practices: architecture, painting, photography, travel writings, diaries, novels, city and country maps, fashion, food, and experimental films. Simultaneously, the 'journey' to which she alludes in the title, and invokes in her analysis of cartography, is also a personal journey that seeks to redirect the current practices of film scholars. As Bruno writes in the last chapter, her intellectual preference in writing the _Atlas_ is different from most prevailing models of film and cultural theory:

 

'Much has been written about spectatorial identification with the filmic text. We also know something about the phantasmatic structure that links the filmmaker to her text. I have done my share of thinking about these issues. But what of the *theorist's* relationship to a set of texts? What drives the analyst to an object choice? What navigates it? In what ways is the film an object of desire, a site of the bonds of love or domination, an emotional fabrication? What 'architexture' does this relationship dwell upon? How does one's own position as subject, and the change it undergoes, affect the reading of a film? Is there a historicity in this trajectory? What is the geography of this critical history? Does it have a place in writing? In short, what should or can we say about a critical journey? . . . Film theory generally has backed away from analyzing this subject, especially at the point when, in order to reach out and grasp the sense of the lived subject, one would have to plunge in the subjective realm.' (407 and 409).

 

It is evident from these comments that Bruno has more than an antiquarian interest in tracking down the antecedents of film. If this book is indeed engaged in historicizing, it is animated by cartographic and historical rather than traditional narrative concerns. While students of melodrama have sought to locate a language of affect, Bruno's book would suggest that the quest is doomed if it cannot map the realm of emotion (or, as she terms it, 'e-motion'). In her effort to provide a language and method to identify the various maps that comprise subjectivity, she introduces and redefines current usages of terms and their concepts as they open up different areas of thinking about relations among travel, architecture, subjectivity, and gender. Beyond the importance assigned to mapping, the most familiar term to the reader by the end of the book is 'haptic'. As she defines it, in contrast to other critics, the haptic serves the function of shifting from the exclusive emphasis on vision, and includes other senses and their relations to space. It is an 'emotional space' that is located in 'sites', not merely 'sights'. Her union of film/body/architecture is:

 

'a haptic dynamics, a phantasmatic structure of lived space and lived narrative; a narrativized space that is intersubjective, for it is a complex of socio-sexual mobilities. Unraveling a sequence of views, the architectural-filmic ensemble writes concrete maps. The scope of the view -- the horizon of site-seeing -- is the mapping of tangible sites.' (65)

 

Her 'site-seeing' is reminiscent of Gilles Deleuze's emphasis on the sensori-motor dimensions of film. Bruno's study of site seeing is not an inert and isolated study of landscapes and of buildings. The 'tangible sites' that she identifies are complicated by being places of 'inhabitation', of consuming space: one 'lives a film as one lives the space one inhabits: as an everyday passage, tangibly' (65). And, in its focus on the female traveler (the *voyageuse*), _Atlas of Emotion_ 'traverses a haptic, emotive terrain' (16) to complicate our understanding of the dynamics of mobility, the 'sites of transit' that contributed to the 'perceptual field' of modernity:

 

'On the eve of cinema's invention, a network of architectural forms produced a new spatiovisuality. Such venues as arcades, railways, department stores, the pavilions of exhibition halls, glass houses and winter gardens incarnated the new geography of modernity. They were all sites of transit. Mobility -- a form of cinematics -- was the essence of these new architectures. By changing the relation between spatial perception and bodily motion, the new architectures of transit and travel culture prepared the ground for the invention of the moving image, the very epitome of modernity' (17).

 

Bruno's impressive erudition drawn from art history, cultural theory, philosophy, and such filmmakers as Dziga Vertov, Sergei Eisenstein, Jean Luc Godard, Roberto Rossellini, Alain Resnais, and Peter Greenaway, is hardly a matter of citationality. In her panoramic tour through various filmmakers' works, the momentum of her argument relies on her ability to emphasize the dynamic character of writers' and artists' treatments of space, that work contrary to classic forms of perspective and conceptions of the human body in its encounter with space. For Bruno,

 

'Film space is not quite the homogeneous space of classical unified central perspective, which has been pictures as if, existing in front of the body, it could be seen 'with a single and immobile eye' . . . As a heterogeneous space comprised of constantly moving centers, the moving image 'embraces' the shifting trajectories of psychophysiological space, where the spectator-passenger is mapped within the landscape' (178).

 

These statements are earned generalizations. Bruno has done her research carefully, beginning with a fascinating discussion of the 'The Cine City', where she engages in a discussion of earlier cinematic texts -- _The Man with the Movie Camera_, _Paris qui dort_, _L'Inhumaine_, and _Sunrise_ -- eschewing static textbook and generic descriptions of these films as 'city films'. Rather, these films conjoin the science of radiography to film. While the x-ray is only alluded to in Rene Clair's film, it is made explicit in her discussion of Vertov's, where the 'x-ray that scans the human body shows that the cinema moves (and moves with the city)' (23). The Vertov film becomes 'a fascinating work of 'radiographic' condensation which maps the history of the film's genealogy and locates it within the body of the city' (23), becoming 'a grand spectacle of kinesthetics, fabricating its own moving elegy to the laboratory of the city, the body, and film' (25).

 

In her discussion of Pasolini's _Mamma Roma_, Bruno further situates the dynamics of streetwalking within her discussion of the urban milieu, architecture, public and private space, and their integral relation to the architectonics of film. In Bruno's assessment, _Mamma Roma_ is 'a film about architecture as a framework for life-style' (31). Through Mamma Roma's literal walks through the Roman streets, and her viewpoint on the urban landscape from her window, the 'borders between home and world become disorientingly confused' (32). These perspectives on the landscape carry 'the marks of history and the dream of its potential changes' (33). So as to further complicate the various manifestations of the 'architexture' of cinema (her term for the anastomosis of cinema, architecture and emotion), Bruno discusses a range of films -- urban diaries, homescapes, and 'amorous city maps' in such films as Moretti's _Caro diario_, Jarmusch's _Night on Earth_, Godard's _Le Mepris_, Resnais's _Hiroshima, mon amour_ -- to explore the interpenetration of inner and outer landscapes.

 

Bruno's cartography includes an examination of the geography of movie houses from early cinema to the present as further sites of exploration of filmic space and a way of examining film spectatorship and its modes of 'cultural transport' (40). Through Bruno's treatment of travel and perspective the reader becomes familiar with the architectonics of scenic space that are most often taken for granted rather than realized for their power of cultural transport where the body and milieu interpenetrate. _Atlas of Emotion_ makes evident how travel as mobility, understood as living space, is integrally tied to a reconfiguration of domestic space. As she reminds the reader, 'the voyage of modernity, of which cinema is an agent, is not only a matter of traveling to exterior locales; it also includes interiors . . . To understand the space of the moving image, we must therefore once more turn to architecture and return to the house (of gender)' (92).

 

Too often, 'contemporary spatial theory tends to erase both the female subject and the subject of feminism' (84). _Atlas of Emotion_ seeks to demonstrate that a 'look with geographical eyes at feminist film theory . . . could expose how travel in (film) space could advance earlier notions of gender identity, based on psychoanalytically oriented feminist theory, by incorporating the diversity of cultural landscapes' (85). For Bruno, 'dislocation has always marked the terrain of the female traveler' (86), and it is this dislocation she explores through an examination of the 'relations among home, house, and voyage' (100). For her, 'houses, like films, can be a private museum. They can tell stories of journeys and of travels within' (105).

 

The journey entails encounters with the interior space of the house and with the movie house. Bruno invites the reader to think critically and differently about travel as the sole measure of mobility. By contrast, she regards dwellings as exemplifying another notion of travel through 'a montage of living signs', a 'psychogeography' of memory, subjectivity, and affect (103). Bruno's observations on this form of 'gender nomadism' are derived from an examination of commercial texts such as _Craig's Wife_, and of more experimental texts by such filmmakers as Chantal Ackerman that involve geographic transit and establish the dynamic (rather than conventional static) quality of domestic space.

 

An important figure in Bruno's narrative of refashioning space is Esther Lyons, a travel lecturer. Lyons is a link between the phenomenon of the nineteenth-century travel lecture, its relations to early cinema, and connections between these cultural forms and feminist self-fashioning: 'The portrait of Esther Lyons, an explorer who chose to picture herself in an interior, speaks of inner explorations as it points to the expansion of female horizons' (114). Bruno by no means confines her investigations of travel to the 19th century. She introduces the reader to Madeleine de Scudery's _Carte de tendre_, a seventeenth century map of the body and of its affections, associated with gardens as 'a landscape of emotions to be experienced as a series of sensational movements' (219). Conceptions of geography expand as the reader is introduced to a cornucopia of cartographic works and their expression in terms of gardens, urban settings, museums, houses, and paintings (e.g. Longhi's eighteenth-century _The Geography Lesson_) and, moreover, connected to the art of memory and connections between the body and landscape.

 

As one might expect, the role of memory plays a commanding role in _Atlas of Emotion_, as Bruno invokes Bazin's linking of cinema, the technology of death, and mummification. Sensitive to the various cultural forms that preceded cinema -- museum collections, scientific apparatuses, curiosity cabinets, automata such as mechanical Dolls, optical machines, physiognomic studies, waxworks, and magic lanterns -- she is particularly concerned to explore connections between cinema, spectacle, and the body. She writes:

 

'Cinema -- like the cemetery -- is a space that is home to residual body images. Film and the cemetery share this special, corporeal geography. They are sites without a geography, or rather without a fixed, univocal, geometric notion of geography. They inhabit multiple points in time and collapse multiple places into a single place' (147).

 

In her desire to explore psychogeography, Bruno contends with the camera 'as a machine of death', one that is 'capable of not only of multiplying time and space but of extending time with prolonged mechanical movement, as well as freezing frames and slowing or accelerating movement, the language of film inhabits a boundless desire to capture life' (146). Cinema becomes a Promethean enterprise in its traversing of space and time, death and immortality. Bruno's fascinating journey through the pre-history of cinema is thus another form of exploring travel and geography as a means of establishing a language to talk about an architecture of interiority and emotion, the creation of a 'a modern traveling spectator' (194) as a prolegomenon to map filmic emotion.

 

_Atlas of Emotion_ draws on the theoretical work of Walter Benjamin as providing an 'inspiration for thinking haptically' (257). Similarly, Bruno invokes the writings of Gilles Deleuze, focusing particularly on his discussions of the 'movement-image' in _Cinema 1_. In discussing postwar Italian neorealism, she identifies _Ladri di biciclette_ (_Bicycle Thieves_, 1948) and _Paisa_ (_Paisan_, 1946) as belonging to a 'movement that developed street life filmically, exposing the living component of the production of space' (30). These 'city walks', she writes, are characteristic of the movement-image that 'called attention to the 'dispersive and lacunary identity of the aesthetic' (30). Later in the book, she again refers to Deleuze's work on cinema, finding his discussion of the affection-image in relation to 'the play of the haptic' to be 'inadequate and unsatisfactorily literal' (272), preferring Deleuze and Guattari's conception of geo-philosophy and its relation to nomadology (273).

 

Bruno's reliance on Deleuze's work validates the dynamic and deterritorializng character of the neorealist treatment of space. What I find problematic is her conception of the movement-image, that she treats in the context of Deleuze's explorations of affection and perception, whereas the 'dispersive and lacunary' character of neorealism is rather exemplary of a 'crisis of the movement-image' that implies a different relation to the expression of emotion. According to Deleuze, 'the optical and sound situations of neo-realism contrast with the strong sensory-motor situations of traditional realism' that rely on distinctions between subjective and objective perception and action within a milieu. [2] Neorealism was characterized by a crisis of the movement-image, with 'its slackening of the sensory-motor connections'. [3] In this changed regime 'the character has become a kind of viewer. He shifts, runs and becomes animated in vain, the situation he is in outstrips his motor capacities on all sides . . . He records rather than reacts'. [4]

 

The characters in this cinematic regime, if not children, are somnambulists, visionaries, and counterfeiters. The narratives blur lines between the everyday and the exceptional, the real and the imaginary, the physical and the mental, and the films are replete with empty spaces and idle periods of time. The 'limit situations' in which the characters find themselves extend into 'dehumanized landscapes' where the spectator comes face to face with time. The work of the Neorealists signals the regime of the time-image and with it a different historical and philosophic relation to perception, belief, and thought. In other words, by favoring Deleuze's discussion of the movement-image over his exploration of the time-image, Bruno slights important differences in our understanding of the relation between affect and thought.

 

Though not acknowledging important distinctions between the two cinematic regimes proposed by Deleuze, Bruno's subtle discussion of the films of Peter Greenaway does indeed suggest and invite further nuanced distinctions in relation to forms of affect and knowledge that differentiate cinematic responses to space and time over the course of modernity, distinctions that are critical to contemplate and rethink. Her brilliant discussion of Rossellini's _Viaggio in Italia_ (_Voyage in Italy_, 1953) is a coming together of many of the motifs of the book: relations between affect and place, the diary, the woman traveler, the city (Naples in particular), tourism, museums, urban mapping, the re-mapping of cultural travel, and the relation of all these to the critic's personal history and to the history of film. The discussion of the ruins of the past, the bodies at Pompei, the catacombs of Fontanelle, evoke Bruno's earlier discussions of death and mummification and their relation to cinema and nod to Deleuze's discussion of the regime of the time-image that assumes qualitatively different affective responses in relation to the world of the senses.

 

While Bruno draws on Deleuze's concept of the movement-image to convey the importance of a sensori-motor understanding of affect, she does not address significant historical and cultural differences that have altered affective responses to perceptions of space and time. The time-image 'disrupts chronological space defined by exteriority, extension, and continuity links . . . a whole cannot be restored to the image, nor can an idea of self-identity be restored in the image of a unique identity to which voice and body belong'. [5] In other words, in its treatment of space, history, and memory, Bruno's book suggests but stops short of exploring different relations 'to both subjectivity and thought'. [6]

 

Bruno's _Atlas of Emotion_ is a vast erudite text that orchestrates many aspects of cultural studies by way of cinema. It is a rewriting of the history of cinema, a theoretical work that challenges dominant aspects of film theory including psychoanalysis and feminism, an exploration of the landscape of modernity, and an intermedial text that conjoins architecture, literature, painting, the domestic arts, and cinema. Bruno has also charted a different route for the reader by introducing a self-critical and reflexive method that reveals the importance of situating the critic's voice in producing knowledge. The book moves gracefully through different critical discourses, forms of theory, and critical practices, constantly shocking the reader into an awareness of taken-for-granted images and forms of thought. _Atlas of Emotion_ is a brilliant intervention in media study, for the ways that it invites its readers to rethink concepts and methods in cultural and cinema studies. It is a rare and welcome book that will generate important debates and shape new directions in the study of cinema and culture.

 

University of Pittsburgh, USA

 

 

Notes

 

1. Bruno, _Streetwalking on a Ruined Map: Cultural Theory and the City Films of Elvira Notari_ (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1993), p. 4.

 

2. Gilles Deleuze, _Cinema 2: The Time-Image_, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Robert Galeta (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1989), p. 5.

 

3. Ibid., p. 3.

 

4. Ibid.

 

5. D. N. Rodowick, _Gilles Deleuze's Time Machine_ (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1997), pp. 186-187.

 

6. Ibid., p. 209.

 

 

Copyright © Film-Philosophy 2003

 

 

Marcia Landy, 'Traveling in Film Theory: Giuliana Bruno's _Atlas of Emotion_', _Film-Philosophy_, vol. 7 no. 44, November 2003 <http://www.film-philosophy.com/vol7-2003/n44landy>.

 

 

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