Film-Philosophy

Journal | Salon | Portal (ISSN 1466-4615)

Vol. 8 No. 24, July 2004

 

 

Paul M. Malone

 

Thus Spake Nietzsche?:

Heide Schluepmann's _Abendroethe der Subjektphilosophie_

 

 

Heide Schluepmann

_Abendroethe der Subjektphilosophie: Eine Aesthetik des Kinos_

Frankfurt am Main/Basel: Stromfeld, 1998

ISBN 3-87877-740-X

187 pp.

 

Heide Schluepmann's _Abendroethe der Subjektphilosophie_ (literally, 'sunset-redness of subject philosophy') proclaims itself as a kind of feminist manifesto even before the text begins, with its frontispiece a self-portrait of the first great Italian independent woman painter, Sofonisba Anguissola (1532-1630), and its epigraph a verse by Elisabeth Epstein (presumably the relatively obscure French painter whose work was exhibited along with the Blaue Reiter group in 1911). The first section of the actual text is prefaced by a brief quotation from Helene Stoecker, a nineteenth-century German feminist political writer, taken from her 1900 book _Die Liebe und die Frauen_ ('Love and women'). This progression not only brings us closer to Schluepmann's subject, specifically the German cultural sphere at the turn of the 20th century, but introduces the motif of love, which will underpin the entirety of this difficult and somewhat convoluted book.

 

Schluepmann's project is inspired by the realisation that 'the feminist psychoanalytical film theory that was developed in the 1970s and 80s has today become stagnant' (7). [1] This is particularly true from Schluepmann's point of view, since the crucial theory of the 'gaze', as originally introduced by Laura Mulvey, was rooted in the practices of classical Hollywood cinema, whereas Schluepmann's own field of research is early German silent film, non-Hollywood and pre-classical. As Schluepmann herself argues in her previous monograph, _Unheimlichkeit des Blicks: Das Drama des fruehen deutschen Kinos_ ('The uncanny gaze: The drama of the early German cinema'), [2] these early films are not marked by the dominance of a male gaze, but rather predicated on a female audience seeking, and presumably finding, its own representation and reaffirmation on the screen. On the contrary, in the German historical context it was the 'reform movement' -- the reactionary forces that sought, in patriarchal fashion, to censor the cinema and protect the working-class audience whom the reformers saw as feminized and infantilized -- who embodied the dominance of the male gaze. However, where that previous book was sumptuously full of concrete examples (names and dates of films, stars, directors) and replete with film stills, _Abendroethe der Subjektphilosophie_ seems nakedly abstract: only a very few theorists and writers are mentioned (Mulvey, Derrida, de Sade), often only in passing, and only two filmmakers (Germaine Dulac and Maya Deren; 12-13).

 

Schluepmann argues that a feminist film aesthetic should not be founded on the idea of a 'man's cinema' reifying a male gaze. Instead, her ideal aesthetic would elucidate a critical view of this construction, based on women's self-evident *love* for the cinema -- a love that 'should not be condescendingly regarded as misguided and thus in need of enlightenment, but rather as something that can tell us about the revolutionary meaning of the cinema for women' (8). To this end, Schluepmann further proposes, such an aesthetic should not be founded in psychology, as Mulvey's theory is, but in philosophy. However, Schluepmann locates the problematic moment where film theory went astray not in the feminist theorists of the 1960s -- again, in a German context, emerging German feminists of this period were largely thrown back on the achievements and ideas of their colleagues abroad, since the highly promising early feminist movement within Germany had been interrupted, if not eradicated altogether, by the rise of the Nazis, the Second World War, and the conservative atmosphere of the postwar 'economic miracle' -- but rather in classical film theory's roots in a continuation of Kantian Enlightenment ideas.

 

In contrast to this legacy, Schluepmann constructs an alternate genealogy for her aesthetic, from Kant through Schopenhauer and finally to the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche, who becomes the cornerstone of her proposed feminist aesthetic. In order to accept this premise, of course, one has to accept a feminist reading of Nietzsche such as that of Sarah Kofman, whom Schluepmann specifically mentions (34), or Luce Irigaray, who is not mentioned but whose prose style haunts the edges of Schluepmann's paragraphs. Following Kofman, Schluepmann suggests that Nietzsche's apparently misogynist philosophy functions somewhat like Freud's explanation of the obscene joke: it seems to be aimed at a male audience only because it cannot be directed at the resistant 'real' female target (34-6). [3] Schluepmann further refers to the work of Guenter Schulte, whose construction of Nietzsche's work as suppressing or sublimating the writer's homosexuality allows it to express 'the femininity of man', thus facilitating Schluepmann's own project (25-6). [4]

 

As Schluepmann points out, Nietzsche, that most body-conscious of philosophers, once refers in the _Notebooks_ to proceeding 'along the guiding thread of the body' ('am Leitfaden des Leibes'). [5] To her end, Schluepmann alters this phrase to 'along the guiding thread of love' ('am Leitfaden der Liebe'; the closest English approximation of her wordplay her would be 'along the guiding thread of the bawdy', but that is not quite close enough, even though Schluepmann's aesthetic is meant to be erotic in its way as well, and Nietzsche might have recognised that 'Leitfaden der Liebe' in Sanskrit would be 'Kama Sutra'). This reformulation is both an analogy and a contradiction to Nietzsche's original, a 'mirroring' ('Spiegelung'), which is not only intended to allow Schluepmann to create an identity from which she can write as a woman -- here Schluepmann is following the strategy of Helene Stoecker, the above-mentioned contemporary reader and feminist critic of Nietzsche -- but also reflects the entire strategy of the book: Schluepmann intends to construct a feminist aesthetic of film by writing *a pastiche of Nietzsche* (8-9).

 

This pastiche permits Schluepmann to indulge in wordplay and aphorism to her heart's content, and thus to reflect Nietzsche's presence throughout her writing, despite the fact that no actual quotations from Nietzsche's writings appear beyond the fragmentary phrase which serves as the book's springboard. This also explains the quaint spelling of 'Abendroete' in the book's title, the antiquated 'h' (that Nietzsche would have recognised, and did himself use) signaling that something unusual is waiting between the covers. Moreover, it prompts Schluepmann to begin her arguments by recourse to Nietzsche's original discipline, philology: as she points out, the term 'aesthetics' in its original Greek form does not mean, as is often assumed, 'theory of beauty', but rather 'theory of perception'; and from this basis Schluepmann describes the Enlightenment construction of perception, especially in Kant's philosophy, as split between general knowledge and individual experience (such 'splits' will recur throughout Schluepmann's book). For Schluepmann, once Nietzsche has been enlisted as a symbol of anti-Enlightenment, whose writings communicate 'the individual perception as broken up by the rising mass society', it is a matter of constructing an aesthetics situated 'in the social space of the cinema, where the experience of the individual is simultaneously that of the mass' (11), and where a form of perception can be located which, because it is constructed from the feeling generated in the cinema auditorium, does not revolve around the gaze and is not objectifying (12). The remainder of _Abendroethe der Subjektphilosophie_ attempts to do just this.

 

As with Nietzsche, any attempt to reproduce Schluepmann's argument without the elegant and aphoristic style is simply to miss the point in more than one sense of the word, and this is doubly true in translation. To make the matter even more challenging, Schluepmann also knows both Nietzsche's works and his historical context well enough that her argument effortlessly and continually brings in new elements -- from Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer, the women's movement, cinema history -- to render her already dense text richly allusive; to this she adds the occasional untranslatable wordplay, as for example when she writes of 'die Differenz des Genusses and das Genus der Differenz' (i.e. 'the difference of pleasure and the gender of difference', 96-100). The connections drawn, particularly between Nietzsche's philosophical career (more than the content of his philosophy) and the rise of cinema, are certainly provocative. The individual reader will have to decide whether all of this is brilliant or merely too clever, but the book is as much a pleasure to read as it can be frustrating to unravel (which, in my case, certainly required the pleasure of re-reading, almost to the point of eternal recurrence).

 

To sum the argument up very briefly, and perhaps less than coherently, in order to reach some conclusions: Nietzsche's philosophical writings, in their apparent self-consciousness, ultimately both obscure and reveal Nietzsche's own essential lack of self. Because these writings appear and are read *by women* during the 1890s, the same period when women were discovering the pleasures of cinemagoing (even though Nietzsche himself was by this time no longer capable of appreciating or even perceiving the cinema), and because Nietzsche's writings, in a Derridean sense, proclaim not only the end of the autonomous subject in Enlightenment terms but also the end of writing itself, the cinema functions to take over from Nietzsche's philosophy, and Nietzsche's writings in fact culminate in the phenomenon of film: 'Film refers back to writing, and the cinema to love as the incentive for philosophy' (183).

 

If this potted summary fails to convince, it may be because, as Schluepmann herself points out, she could not, after all, get there from here -- or rather, she has managed to get there but not by the route that most of the book describes. As she admits only a few pages from the end: 'The attempt to gain a self-consciousness for the feminine love of the cinema from the writings of Nietzsche has come to nothing' ('gescheitert'); and yet this is ultimately an emancipatory development: 'This failure, however, also means a liberation from subjection to the writing' (174). As for Nietzsche, he has been reduced, as was already clear in his writing during his lifetime, to a mere name, a brand name, so to speak: 'Zarathustra, the name as metaphor for his [Nietzsche's] self, sets the example for the use of the name Nietzsche as a metaphor by other authors' (177) -- including, obviously, Schluepmann. In other words, if you like, Nietzsche turns out to be a bridge and not a goal, here connecting not man and superman but philosophy and cinema.

 

Against the philosopher's view of the cinema -- that is, the standpoint of the 'cinephile' -- as a 'tool for self-development' ('Selbstbearbeitung') to revive his lost faculties of perception and of love, is opposed the view of the 'cineaste', who takes the love present in the cinema for granted, and delegates to it everything which he cannot identify: '. . . all content that refers to the reality outside the cinema, all sentimentality and all unmasculine bodily arousal. Thus is the masculine subject yet again produced in the cinema' (185). Both cinephile and cineaste are here pointedly represented as masculine figures. Schluepmann wishes to draw attention to the fact that, examined along the guiding thread of love, the cinema ceases to be an 'abstract subject apparatus' and becomes a public, open space ('eine Oeffentlichkeit') in which women have found acknowledgment and a context in communication with the space itself, 'a place in the urban landscape where they become doubly visible: as part of the audience and as apparition on the screen' (186). With this reminder that neglecting this feminine 'culture of love' since the 1960s has led to the decline of the cineaste's cinema, the book ends, positing a 'crisis of cinema' in analogy to the 'crisis of philosophy' and 'crisis of love' (that is, of 'the social forms of private, intimate life') that Schluepmann has described at the end of the previous century (20), but promising by the same analogy yet another emancipatory potential: I take this to be the 'Abendroethe' described in the title, as Kant's legacy in film theory finally collapses in upon itself.

 

So has Schluepmann in fact produced a new aesthetic? By the end of the book she no longer even seems much interested in doing so, as opposed to clearing a space for other women to do so. Whether she has even done that may only become clear with time, but it seems unlikely that a dense little book in German is going to change many minds in America or Britain. Perhaps, however, German-speaking filmmakers and theorists will take up her challenge and translate their own ideas, either into English or into action.

 

Moreover, does Schluepmann really need to enlist Nietzsche, of all people, to accomplish even this (I do not say, or mean, 'this little')? I frankly don't know. As often with Nietzsche (admittedly *my* experience of Nietzsche), much of the argument seems less designed to show you the logical necessity of the next proposition based on what has gone before than it is meant to wear down your resistance; but as often with Nietzsche, the trip is scenic enough that you cannot resent your guide's taking you so far out of your way. In fact, in trying to recollect the journey afterward, you have to think that much harder to remember which sites were of real importance. In this sense Schluepmann, like Nietzsche, certainly succeeds in making you think; the idea of a 'straight read-through' becomes deeply ironic in dealing with a book so heavily invested in both Nietzsche's and Schluepmann's 'Erinnerung' (normally rendered as 'memory' or 'reminiscence', but in literal etymological terms a process of 'interiorising'). For a reader who is not extremely well acquainted with Nietzsche (and I would claim to be such a reader), this process can indeed be almost paralytic; and I am grateful to my graduate students in my recent seminar on classical film theory for helping me break this long-standing logjam by going through the basic premises of that era of theory with me -- even though Schluepmann's book was never mentioned in our discussions, it remained in the background for me (that is, 'in Erinnerung') and gradually began to stand out from that theory in relief.

 

The one thing of which I am certain is that I am going to re-read _Abendroethe der Subjektphilosophie: Eine Aesthetik des Kinos_ yet again, and I recommend it as a maddening and invigorating read to anyone else who feels that feminist film theory needs a shot in the arm -- even though this may not be it.

 

University of Waterloo

Ontario, Canada

 

 

Notes

 

1. Unless otherwise attributed, all translations from the German in the following are my own.

 

2. Heide Schluepmann, _Unheimlichkeit des Blicks: Das Drama des fruehen deutschen Kinos_ (Frankfurt am Main: Stromfeld, 1990).

 

3. See Sigmund Freud, _Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious_, ed. Angela Richards, trans. James Strachey (Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Pelican, 1976), pp. 142-6.

 

4. See Guenter Schulte, _Ich impfe euch mit dem Wahnsinn: Nietzsches Philosophie der verdraengten Weiblichkeit des Mannes_ (Frankfurt am Main: Qumran, 1982).

 

4. Fragment 35 from Notebook 36 (June-July 1885), as it appears in Friedrich Nietzsche, _Writings from the Late Notebooks_, ed. Ruediger Bittner, translated by Kate Sturge (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), p. 27.

 

 

Copyright © Film-Philosophy 2004

 

 

Paul M. Malone, 'Thus Spake Nietzsche?: Heide Schluepmann's _Abendroethe der Subjektphilosophie_', _Film-Philosophy_, vol. 8 no. 24, July 2004 <http://www.film-philosophy.com/vol8-2004/n24malone>.

 

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