Film-Philosophy

International Salon-Journal (ISSN 1466-4615)

Vol. 9 No. 6, February 2005

 

 

 

 

 

 

Imre Szeman

 

Film Beyond Metaphysics:

On Wurzer's _Filming and Judgment_ [1]

 

 

Wilhelm S. Wurzer

_Filming and Judgment: Between Heidegger and Adorno_

Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey: Humanities Press International, 1990

ISBN 0391037412 (pb) 0391036874 (hb)

xviii + 149 pp.

 

Wilhelm Wurzer's _Filming and Judgment_ [2] is a complex, intricately argued, often difficult book, which draws together a somewhat eclectic group of thinkers in a highly original way. Yet for all its individual moments of brilliance -- and there are many -- Wurzer's effort to think beyond the last traces of ground which persist even in postmodernity cannot help but fail even as it begins.

 

Wurzer attempts to address 'the paradox of judgment's post-essentialist disarray' (3). Judgment, in its essentialist form, is inextricably linked to the metaphysical concept of ground. The postmodern rupturing of ground would thus appear to dismantle judgment, dissolving as it does the very condition of its possibility. For Wurzer, however, judgment continues to exist beyond the dissolution of ground. Judgment's apparent disarray, from the vantage-point of a 'new style of thought', is actually 'judgment discerning its freedom' (3) from the narrow metaphysical confines of ground and presence. 'Filming' is the name Wurzer gives to judgment's new found site of freedom. Filming shows judgment to be, in the absence of ground, an 'imaginal mode of discerning which releases imagination toward radical disinterestedness' (3), without this release being 'prerational, irrational or philosophically irresponsible' (35). Filming thus acts as the site of judgment's resurrection from the possible nihilism engendered by the postmodern collapse of ground, a resurrection which does not return judgment to its originary, metaphysical beginnings, but which rather suggests a *promesse du bonheur*. 'Even in the absence of *ethos*,' Wurzer writes, 'laughter still finds a place in thought' (xiv).

 

There is an immediate potential for confusion here. Although the title of Wurzer's book may suggest that his concern is to examine judgment's relation to films or filmmaking, it is clear that filming 'does not belong in the archives of cinema and detailed studies of filmmaking' (31). This is not to suggest that there is no connection between filming and films. Wurzer cites the cinematic studies of Cavell, Deleuze, Rentschler, and Rothman as exemplifying 'the importance of the cinematic in relation to our understanding of being' (4). Films serve to illuminate the 'cinematic transfiguration of being' (xiv), that shift of the world to image which is the terrain of filming. It is thus that 'films can now be studied as instances of philosophical texts founded not on metaphysical discourse but on a distinctly appreciative constellation of image, music, and language' (4). In his brief consideration of films, however, Wurzer does little to unfold and explore the distinct, non-metaphysical, 'appreciative constellation' that arises from filming. Wurzer's discussion of Bunuel's _That Obscure Object of Desire_, and his consideration of the films of Fassbinder, Herzog, and Hitchcock, does not open up an explicitly new way of reading films. Rather, particular films -- Herzog's _The Mystery of Kaspar Hauser_, Fassbinder's _Despair_, and Hitchcock's _Vertigo_ -- are taken as illustrations, in a somewhat conventional manner, of the possibility of a new space for judgment -- that of filming. The films of Herzog and Fassbinder, for example, display 'a different mode of seeing' (107), one which takes us 'into a movement of images whose power of discourse exceeds the representation of particulars shown in great detail' (107), while Hitchcock's _Vertigo_ 'reveals imagination within a circle of decentering turns in judgment' (113).

 

The book is divided into three parts. In the first part, Wurzer undertakes a genealogy of filming, in order to examine some of the problems which filming encounters in its withdrawal from metaphysics. Filming finds its beginnings in the works of Kant, Nietzsche, and Heidegger, whose works are characterized by attempts to free imagination from ground. In his early works, Nietzsche undertakes a critique of ground by giving imagination the 'Apollonian freedom of standing outside of reason's dialectical self- presence' (11). For a moment, imagination exceeds the limitations placed on it by metaphysics. However, Nietzsche's later introduction of the will to power both re-anchors imagination and shelters reason from imagination's new-found freedom, for 'while there may be infinite interpretations, they are invariably interpretations of power' (13). Kant, in the _Critique of Judgment_, precedes Nietzsche in setting the imagination free, in this case, from the schemas of understanding. Imagination exceeds schematizations, for it possesses 'such a wealth of thought as would never admit comprehension in a definite concept'. [3] Yet Kant, too, ultimately returns imagination to the principle of reason, for 'without reason an imaginal play of judging is purely arbitrary' (33). Filming is closest to Heidegger's *phainesthai*, 'a unique shining, which for filming appears neither in appearances nor in the things themselves' (29). *Phainesthai* shows the 'world as image', but without re-inscribing the vertical structure of *mimesis* which would ground imagination once again. Nonetheless, *phainesthai*, in its connection to Heidegger's ontological concerns with Being, does not yet approximate filming -- '*mimesis* turns to imaging without image' (30). Wurzer also finds this to be the case with postmodernity more generally. While filming is intimately related to the postmodern development of a ''plural style' of thinking' (23) -- as characterized by Derrida's deconstruction, Foucault's genealogies, and Deleuze's schizo -- it remains haunted by the last traces of ground which limit the free, disinterested play of imagination. 'In the end, deconstruction accommodates a contemporary metaphysics of relations' (100).

 

Wurzer thus attempts to locate a site where imagination makes the transition from modernity (ground) to postmodernity (groundlessness) without being re-inscribed in metaphysics. Wurzer begins the second part of the book by examining Adorno's _Aesthetic Theory_ as just such a space of transition. Adorno opens imagination up to postmodernity in his understanding of art as a 'cultural interweaving of art and society', which particular artworks point to in a 'singular showing of reality' (50). Such a showing cannot depend on a metaphysical aesthetic, which subjects 'images to pure conceptuality', but must be left to 'second reflection', which lets reflection 'be' (50). Second reflection shows works of art to be 'monadic moments of imagination freed from the secured spaces of identity' (51). Metaphysics fails to capture these moments of imagination's freedom because of the absence of artworks from ontology. For Adorno, 'an artwork is not a work of being, but a moment of becoming' (51). Art's absence from ontology is 'simultaneously imagination's breaking through ontology' (51). While imagination is thus set free, Adorno himself, however, remains tied to modernity insofar as he maintains a social presence, a material 'other' to art. 'Postmodern thought, on the other hand, insists that society be just as much a part of appearance as art' (62). Wurzer continues his exploration of the 'change in attitude toward being' (71) which art elicits, by a re-consideration of Kant's _Critique of Judgment_. Wurzer develops the relationship which he sees Kant as having left undeveloped: the relationship of 'matters of judgment and the 'free lawfulness' of imagination' (67). Just as imagination is free with regard to art, so too is judgment, since it need not conform to cognition or morality with regards to something which is neither *noumena* nor *phenomena*: that 'beautiful thing' which is art. What is judged to be beautiful in art is thus done so without a definite concept. At the same time, 'only the aesthetic power of imagination . . . prompts the rise of a pure work of art, continually shaping the presentations of particular works of art in the very process of judging something to be beautiful' (69). In this manner, judgment, enmeshed as it is with the free play of imagination, emerges as 'a pure post-aesthetic relation without the corollaries of judgment itself' (77). In other words, filming, 'which unnerves the power of synthesis, draws judging (*Beurteilung*) into a counter-metaphysical ending of interest, withdrawing from the supersensible altogether, without escaping from the 'epistemic' abyss (*Ab-grund*) of imagination in its uncanny freedom.' (77) It is thus that judgment emerges in the space of filming, unencumbered by its metaphysical debt.

 

In the final part of the book, Wurzer elaborates the 'radical questioning of the dialectical spirit imposed upon capital by infra/superstructural modes of interpretation' (83) that commences with filming. The filmic critique of ground brings about the end of political modernity. As world becomes image, freedom can no longer be seen as presencing itself in an 'outside' social space characterized by modernist socio-economic models. Filming exposes the Marxian concept of 'capital' as severed from power, power as withdrawn from capital. What remains of Marxism is 'its hidden genealogy, that 'untouched' reflection of capital whose task is neither theoretical nor practical' (58). Wurzer unearths this untouched sense of capital as an anticipatory movement within filming 'which seizes representation before it imposes a metaphysical script on time' (83). Capital is transformed from a socio-economic motor, into the motor of discontinuous images of newness, without taking on the character of a law by which the new necessarily appears. The dissolution of capital as a socio-economic constellation, and its refiguring as a site of the 'thinning out and fading of imaging' (83) in anticipation of a 'radically different time' (83), may raise concerns regarding the politics of filming. However, for Wurzer, this is to fail to understand filming's radical shattering of all 'landmarks or particular points of reference' (84), including 'any common ground such as capitalism' (88) -- that is, filming's shattering of politics *per se*. Thus 'while the ob-scenity of our age may reflect the absence of political and moral accountability, postmodern thought neither affirms nor denies this nontransformative propensity' (58).

 

As much as I was impressed by individual sections of Wurzer's book -- particularly his readings of Adorno's _Aesthetic Theory_ and Kant's _Critique of Judgment_ in the second part of the book -- the overall project of rescuing judgment from its 'post-essentialist disarray' strikes me as being full of difficulties. Why, after all, do we need to preserve judgment as, in any sense, 'judgment', especially when, after losing its metaphysical corollaries, it cannot help but become something completely other? My sense is that judgment's post-aesthetic, post-metaphysical guise awakens a *promesse du bonheur* in the wake of the nihilism of its disarray, only by smuggling in a sense of its former self: judgment as fidelity or responsibility to ground. There is something strikingly, perhaps unavoidably modernist about Wurzer's project and others like it which attempt to map the terrain beyond metaphysics, which points towards such fidelity. As much as Wurzer criticizes the repressive hypotheses which characterize modernist politics as exemplifying a metaphysical (by which one understands a 'naive' or 'violent') connection of social freedom and ground, the critique of modernity itself necessitates just such a hypothesis. Wurzer believes that imagination and judgment have been repressed by metaphysics; the overthrow of metaphysics will allow them to attain their true character, to actualize their 'species being'. The Heideggerian worry over 'the danger' (*Gefahr*) of technical enframing (*Ge-stell*), a worry Wurzer seems to share, appears as the *raison d'etre* for an interest in the overthrowing of metaphysics. Judgment is retained beyond metaphysics to enable thinking to avoid the possibility of free imagination becoming dangerous. Wurzer tells us that 'the task of thinking . . . is to measure this new freedom and to avoid the possible hazards of imagination's 'free play' with time' (25). Yet it would not seem that the new found freedom of judgment and imagination would allow for the determination of precisely such hazards. Does not every danger become unsettled by filming in such a way that it can no longer be identified as dangerous? While it is true that thinking does not aspire to the 'romantic venture' (31) of returning to modernity, filming itself appears to at least express a nostalgia for an earlier, modernist politic, a nostalgia which returns judgment to its post-essentialist disarray. There is correspondingly a hopelessly ontological dimension to Wurzer's concern with judgment's freedom. Even given Wurzer's warning that 'one should not impute to filming an epistemological or social theory with renewed metaphysical interests' (27), one cannot help but read his concern with freeing judgment from the narrowness of metaphysics as an inscription of an ontology of plurality and difference over a former ontology of identity: 'judgment is other, that is, more than what metaphysics has allowed it to be' (28). Filming seen this way becomes the site of the mimetic recovery of the world. The transformation of judgment to disinterestedness does not so much smash the mirror of *mimesis* as clarify it, so that it may reflect the plurality and discontinuity of things. Why else worry that a 'placid functionalism persists even in legal and ethico-political judgments' (1)? It may be that my criticism is an example of thinking which indicates 'an interest in the question of postmodernism without being postmodern' (35). Wurzer does suggest that 'what thinking (i.e., filming) is called upon to think (film) can no longer be thought (filmed) in a purely theoretical or practical vein, at least not to the extent to which thinking is related to a fading of presence and ab-sence' (38). Filming is a suggestion of 'what is yet to be', and so it is perhaps unfair to assess it in ways which might yet appear to be metaphysical. But this makes filming more prophecy that philosophy, necessitating not the type of detailed philosophical examination Wurzer presents, so much as a blind leap of faith which only those already converted are likely to take.

 

This is not to suggest that projects such as Wurzer's are better left alone. As this review might suggest, Wurzer's book exemplifies both the problems and possibilities of exploring the contemporary at a very high level of abstraction; the attempt to explain this abstraction and these concepts can itself seem so abstract that many will no doubt want to avoid a project such as this one at all costs. Wurzer tries to do two things at once: to think of film as a form of theory (in the mode of Deleuze), and to treat the advent of film-as-theory as part of a larger forward movement in the history of philosophy-as-concepts that breaks open historical limits to thought. The latter project is as problematic as the former is laden with possibility. In general, the attempt to think beyond metaphysics should be accompanied by a degree of caution which Wurzer here does not display. Heidegger's warning that 'a regard to metaphysics still prevails even in the intention to overcome metaphysics', [4] a warning echoed by Derrida's insistence that 'breaks are always, and fatally, reinscribed in an old cloth that must be continually, interminably undone', [5] should have been better heeded. As it is, an otherwise interesting and intelligent attempt at undoing the 'old cloth' of metaphysics inadvertently weaves it together ever more strongly.

 

McMaster University

Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

 

 

Notes

 

1. The original version of this review was first published in _Recherche Semiotique/Semiotic Inquiry_, vol. 11 nos 2-3, 1991, pp. 241-246. _RSSI_ is the official journal of the Canadian Semiotic Association (ACS), and is the successor to the _Canadian Journal of Semiotic Research_, founded in 1973 at the University of Alberta by Pierre and Madelaine Monod (see <http://www.er.uqam.ca/nobel/rssi>).

 

2. A revised German edition has also recently been published: Wilhelm S. Wurzer, _Filmisches Denken: Zwischen Heidegger und Adorno_ (Vienna: Turia and Kant Verlag, 2000); see <http://www.turia.at/titel/wurzer.html>.

 

3. Immanuel Kant, _Critique of Judgment_, trans. W. S. Pluhar (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1987), p. 217; quoted in Wurzer, p. 33.

 

4. Martin Heidegger, _Being and Time_ [1927], trans. Joan Stambaugh (New York: Harper and Row, 1977), p. 24.

 

5. Jacques Derrida, _Positions_ [1972], trans. Alan Bass (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981), p. 24.

 

 

Copyright Film-Philosophy 2005

 

 

Imre Szeman, 'Film Beyond Metaphysics: On Wurzer's _Filming and Judgment_', _Film-Philosophy_, vol. 9 no. 6, February 2005 <http://www.film-philosophy.com/vol9-2005/n6szeman>.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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