Film-Philosophy

International Salon-Journal (ISSN 1466-4615)

Vol. 9 No. 7, February 2005

 

 

 

 

 

 

Martin Donougho

 

Rethinking Cinema as Philosophy:

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.

 

Readers might find Wilhelm Wurzer's book hard to get a grip on or place; let me attempt a rough orientation. First of all, it is in an interdisciplinary series with the name 'Philosophy and Literature' -- a familiar conjunction of words nowadays, though, on the evidence of this inaugural volume, the series will put both in question as much as bring them together. Second -- as its subtitle suggests -- the book lies very much 'between', in a vertiginous void . . . between being's withdrawal and identity's aesthetic diffusion' (xiv-xv). Heidegger and Adorno are not the sole names between which Wurzer negotiates his way, other being Kant, Foucault, Derrida, and Baudrillard; the book is intertextual in a modern or postmodern mode.

 

Baudrillard counts because -- a third pointer -- he marks the dangerous edge of things from which Wurzer would keep his distance, describing both our postmodern predicament and the danger we should avoid if humanly possible. The book is haunted by the specter of a world of simulation, excess, the wholesale commodification of things and aestheticization (or imagification) of commodities, the obscenity of total relativism, functional technology, a 'post-age' of computers and ecstatic communications, and so on. Of course, it might be that you feel quite at home in such a 'world'. Wurzer does not: he wants, as he puts it, to dismantle 'the principle of ground' on the one hand, and 'the illusion of groundlessness' on the other (2). Such a via media, to anticipate his argument, is said to lie in 'filming', understood cinematographically and as the 'skin' (or 'fell') that stays resolutely at the surface of things -- *aus Tiefe* Nietzsche might say. (Etymology will not however support the further linkage with 'felling/*fallen*'.) The book represents an original attempt at drawing together postmodern theory and film, comparable with Brunette and Wills's Derridean _Screen/Play_, which uses the metaphor of 'frame', or Zizek's Lacanian/Hegelian readings of Hitchcock.

 

Now, whether there *is* any room for manoeuvre, whether *filming* can provide it, and whether Wurzer has given a sufficient *description* of what 'filming' amounts to -- these are crucial questions to return to. But there are some preliminary problems to sort out. Wurzer accepts as simple fact that our time is a '*Zwischenzeit*' at the end of philosophy, art, aesthetics, subjectivity, society, politics, ideology, and a good deal else. If a reader's reaction to such talk of the end is 'Not again!' this book is not a good choice. And even if the reader finds an apocalyptic tone congenial, the diagnosis of postmodern crisis lacks argument or illustration; and that too might prove hard to take.

 

Besides the postmodern premise, another potential obstacle is the language itself, resolutely post-Heideggerian and post-Adornian. Indeed, Wurzer borrows from each of these masters, assuming the bluntness, the etymologizing and wordplay, the poetic flights and questioning tone of the first; the paratactic density, Latinate vocabulary, and knowing apocalyptic gestures of the second. Not only that: the level of discussion tends towards the stratospheric, the kind of poststructuralist star wars that leaves many breathless. (A glossary of technical terms is provided, incidentally.)

 

But let us suppose the reader can get beyond the first few pages -- what lies in store? There are three parts, each with three chapters (not for any dialectical reason, I should add, dialectic being a now broken metaphysical 'frame' or '*Ge-stell'). The first part gives the genealogical background in Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Foucault. The second attempts a radicalizing of Adorno's aesthetic theory and Kant's theory of judgment. The third sketches a 'post-aesthetic of filming', and in its discussion of 'capital' as an economy of excess, must bear the brunt of the author's case for our being able to escape Baudrillardian simulation. Last comes an 'exergue' (inscription) on films by Fassbinder, Herzog, and Hitchcock.

 

Part One, 'Imaginal Delimitations', could be termed a genealogy of genealogies, for it looks at how Nietzsche and Heidegger in turn question, while falling victim to, metaphysics -- the principle of ground in the one, nostalgia for being in the other. Derrida has made us familiar with this game of 'upping the ante' (or is it 'post'?), that is, pulling the ground from under successive theorists' unsuspecting feet. It's been done to Derrida himself, of course, and we'll see that Wurzer hardly escapes this fate. Heidegger, for all his metaphysical backsliding, does in his notion of 'Denken' provide Wurzer with a model for his central notion of filming, 'a new *distant* home for thought' (xiv) -- a home from *Heimat* so to speak, beyond the regime of representation. The latter is the main topic of chapter three, a brief look at Foucault's virtuoso treatment of Velazquez's painting _Las Meninas_, which suggests the sole resistance to the regime is Nietzschean laughter -- but silent ('sigetic'), as _The Order of Things_ concludes.

 

Having cleared the ground somewhat, Wurzer proceeds in the second part ('Aesthetic Ruptures in Judgment') to put Adornian and Kantian aesthetics to the test. Thus, Adorno is criticised first for a modernist mindset and his dialectic of subjectivity, and second for maintaining a sociopolitical agenda. 'Alienation' and political praxis are simply outmoded, 'reification' and exchange value all-pervasive. Adorno receives praise for notions like 'apparition' and 'second reflection', which move beyond modernism while still allowing a bolthole in the imaginal inspiration of 'natural beauty'. But if Wurzer performs radical surgery on Adorno, Kant gets completely reconstituted (in fairness I should point out that Wurzer is not the only postmodern theorist to make Kantian 'judgment' a touchstone). Stressing the role of a free imagination in the reflective judgment, Wurzer claims that it subsumes the object neither to art nor to transcendental subjectivity.

 

Such a 'withdrawal' from objects becomes thematic for the third part. Here the author examines what might be called the unrestricted economy of 'capital', now loosened from its Marxist chains (e.g. real conditions of production, historical evolution). Where technology 'enframes us', sheer power overflows all such limits, and in the guise of capital offers a preliminary version of 'filming'. I was reminded that Eisenstein once wrote about filming _Das Kapital_. Here in contrast we would have the *non*dialectical filming of capital itself. Capital proposes, filming disposes -- hence its dynamic of 'swaying', 'spacing', or 'dis-position' (*Gelassenheit*). It is at this point that an opposition to Baudrillard's aesthetics of excess emerges by name, and yet curiously it is associated with a model of production he long ago abandoned (91). In short, I see no real attempt to engage the enemy, as there is with others on the postmodern scene (e.g. Lyotard, Deleuze, Lacoue-Labarthe, Derrida, Mouffe, and Laclau).

 

As for the notion of 'filming' itself -- it seems to suffer precisely from the fault Wurzer finds with Derridean 'writing' (unfairly, I think), that of being an 'infrastructure' (Gasche) which is little more than a figment of the author's own transcendental imagination. A 'geneafilmic turn' to judgment (*Ur-teil*) is projected, yet apparently as no more than a regulative necessity. And how exactly would filming work? 'Filming's contribution is only that of a question: What about spirit in an epoch that lets capital be?' (103) Again, what seems like the author's question, projected like the ventriloquist's voice into an indefinite future. And what has become of the author's earlier assurance that filming comes from *outside* the regime of representation?

 

Perhaps more can be expected of the final 'exergue'; for after all the proof of filming is in the seeing and hearing. But again expectations are disappointed: the analyses of particular films is neither discerning nor at all visual in mode (and this is not a complaint about the lack of pictures). Turning to Fassbinder's _Despair_ (by Stoppard out of Nabokov), and taking its cue from the words of its hero, Hermann Hermann -- 'Filming is about to begin' -- Wurzer proposes a reading of this and Herzog's _Kaspar Hauser_ that fastens on their tendency to undermine character identity. But it is odd that this should be a literary point, about character and plot, rather than concerned with image and sound, or the conditions of reception and perception, let alone contexts like the *Autoren-film*. Even odder are the few pages that follow on Riefenstahl's _Triumph of the Will_ -- of all people, of all films! -- interpreted in almost Schopenhauerian terms as the undoing of political representation. (Syberberg does not even get a mention, incidentally.) A reading of _Vertigo_ focuses on the character of Madeleine as an illusory work of art: Hitchcock is said to have left aesthetics behind, only to fall back upon religion (not at all *my* experience of that film's ending).

 

The problem here, I think, is that too large a gap exists between the high-flown discourse about 'judgment' and the world of actual films. But perhaps that is merely a reflection of the dangers of abandoning subjectivity, politics, and the rest, for will-o'-the-wisp like 'filming'. The idea of pulling together deconstruction, critical theory, and cinema remains a promissory note circulated through the book, but in the end unredeemed.

 

University of South Carolina

Columbia, South Carolina, USA

 

 

Note

 

1. This text was originally published as: Martin Donougho, Review of Wilhelm S. Wurzer's _Filming and Judgment: Between Heidegger and Adorno_, _Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism_, vol. 50 no. 1, Winter 1992, pp. 70-71; see <http://www.temple.edu/jaac/Volumes50-41(1992-1982).htm>.

 

 

Copyright Film-Philosophy 2005

 

 

Martin Donougho, 'Rethinking Cinema as Philosophy: On Wurzer's _Filming and Judgment_', _Film-Philosophy_, vol. 9 no. 7, February 2005 <http://www.film-philosophy.com/vol9-2005/n7donougho>.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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