Film-Philosophy

International Salon-Journal (ISSN 1466-4615)

Vol. 9 No. 10, February 2005

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jakob Hesler

 

Filming Without Film:

On Wurzer's _Filmisches Denken_

 

 

Wilhelm S. Wurzer

_Filmisches Denken: Zwischen Heidegger und Adorno_

Translated by Erik Michael Vogt

Vienna: Turia and Kant, 2000

ISBN 3-85132-233-9

200 pp.

 

In the history of philosophy the expansion of the scope of aesthetics beyond art as such is not a new figure of thought. As soon as the discipline of aesthetics evolved, the critics of enlightenment construed the experience of art as a way of relating to the world which transgresses enlightenment's supposedly imperious, rigid rationality. In this critical counter-tradition, Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Adorno developed many of their central philosophical concepts in constant reflection upon art. In his 1990 book _Filming and Judgment_, the American philosopher Wilhelm S. Wurzer had a new look at this tradition, critically reiterating it while shifting its focus towards the concept of a new mode of experience (or judgment, as he prefers to say) which he calls filming. His book, though, 'is not about films' (xiii/21). [1] Contrary to what the title might suggest to the uninitiated reader, it does not deal with judgments involved in empirical filmmaking. In Wurzer's sense, filming is something quite different from the common usage of that word: here it is a mode of human thinking -- filmic thinking (as the recent German translation's title has it). Filming is 'the name for a new site of judgment at the turn of the century' (2/28), a 'postmetaphysical', 'post-aesthetic' 'imaginal' judgment appropriate to a 'postmodern' era in which concepts like ground, reason, and essence have collapsed in the flood of signs and images. Of course, it is not coincidental to Wurzer's understanding of filming that this era is at the same time the era of film. He does see instances of filming in films, and he intends to contribute to our understanding of cinema with his new concept, but this is rather a side effect, since filming goes far beyond cinematic practice.

 

Although Wurzer's project initially seems to resemble Deleuze's account of cinema, there is a fundamental methodical difference: Wurzer does not derive his concept of filming by analysing the cinematic operations of actual films. Instead, he sketches something like a virtual *Begriffsgeschichte* (concept-history) of filming, freely inspired by Heidegger's concept of the essence of technology as enframing (*Ge-stell*). Heidegger argues that technology was enabled only by the metaphysical thinking of modernity. Quite similarly, Wurzer traces filming's roots in Kant, Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Adorno (consciously leaving aside the technical history of film from da Vinci to Edison). These thinkers' texts offer hints towards filming, but in the end each of them falls back into the trap of the concept of ground, which for Wurzer is the main feature of metaphysics. This history of filming can not only be called virtual because the term 'filming' is obviously not mentioned by Wurzer's predecessors, but also because its focus lies in the future: filming is not yet fully accomplished by contemporary thinking. Filming is perhaps best understood to be Wurzer's suggestion for how to overcome (as in Heidegger's 'verwinden') not only metaphysics, but also the postmodernist confusion -- by embracing the latter and by reversing its inherent danger of nihilism into an affirmative, optimistic way of thinking.

 

This is indeed an immense undertaking. It is clear from the outset that in order to appreciate it one has to accept, apart from the notorious post-isms, the Heideggerian background of Wurzer's approach to the history of philosophy (or 'thinking') and its significance (the author studied in Freiburg, the Heideggerian stronghold). One promising thing about Wurzer's approach is that he brings this Heideggerian impetus into constellation with Adorno's _Aesthetic Theory_. It has often been noted that, although Adorno attacked Heidegger as often as possible, their philosophies actually do converge in substantial areas, especially their thoughts about art. But, so far, there are not many thorough accounts of this. [2] More generally, the book opens up the prospect of a new philosophical approach to film. Even though filming is not confined to films, the concept promises insights in the discursive (or trans-discursive) contents, structures, or powers of this art form, or, as Wurzer puts it: 'Arguably, films can now be studied as instances of philosophical texts' (4/30) -- and conversely, philosophical texts as films: both do film, both can be filmed. Unfortunately, the book is a disappointment in the second respect. Although Wurzer's readings of canonic philosophical texts are often inspiring, I think he fails in the end to substantiate filming as a new mode of judgment *in films*, his concept of filming remaining a philosophical lab construction.

 

The book, which is based on previously published essays, is divided into three parts, developing filming alongside readings of Nietzsche, Heidegger, and, very briefly, Foucault (I), Adorno and Kant (II), and culminating in a theory of filming as the apparition of capital (III), followed by an annex devoted to individual film readings and an aphoristic glossary. The text is arranged in a rather associative way, therefore I will contract the issues suitably in the following. Wurzer is not a friend of clear-cut exposition, sometimes forcing the reader to a conjectural reading (and the reviewer to many quotations). His style is often poetic and enthusiastic, always very abstract, a mixture of Heideggerian etymologisms on the one hand and Adornite conceptual movement on the other. The concept of filming is a prime example: in its metaphysical version, 'filming' (with quotation marks) is a 'coating' of appearance with the dialectical images of reason; in its post-metaphysical version, filming (without quotation marks) is a 'felling', i.e. an overthrowing of received images, pointing beyond the realm of reason. [3]

 

Wurzer begins his exploration of filming with a discussion of Nietzsche (Chapter 1). In _The Birth of Tragedy_ Nietzsche deconstructs the concept of ground, in the guise of Dionysus, by confronting it with the will to images (Apollo). Whereas in this early text ground still persists in the Dionysian 'primal One' (Ur-Eines), Wurzer finds a more radical 'dehiscence of reason' (13/42) in Nietzsche's _Thus Spoke Zarathustra_. But it is soon consumed by the will to power and its politics as a new ground (presence, logos) -- already in the _Zarathustra_, but especially in the late and latest Nietzsche. This reading of Nietzsche is convincing, yet not very original. [4] More instructive for the concept of filming are Wurzer's comments on Kant in Chapters 2 and 6.

 

Historically, Wurzer finds the first hint towards filming in Kant's _Critique of Judgment_. Here, the implicit shift towards filming is located in the theory of aesthetic judgment. In epistemic judgments, the schematism of transcendental imagination serves as a mediating device for subsuming sense data under categorical concepts. The 'schema as pure synthesis' enables the formation of images (32/67), but these are fully determined by their role in synthetic apperception. Opposed to this epistemic use of imagination ('filming') is its use in aesthetic judgments. Imagination never comes to an end in trying out different concepts onto sense data. In filming, judgment is freed from the supreme rule of reason. This state of disinterestedness, i.e. of freedom from purposes, is the dynamic of the Kantian 'free play' of capacities: 'In an equivocally postmodern sense, Kant grants imagination 'a free play' of thought that is no longer determined by an objective principle of ground.' (33/68)

 

Of course, Kant re-integrates, in the course of the third Critique, imagination and aesthetic judgment in a system of 'ground': the larger framework of the teleology of nature which is in the end rooted in morality (see 33-34/69). However, Kant concedes that this rooting can not be proven, that it is assumed only for the sake of practical reason. Wurzer pushes this point further and in an original reading of the relation of reason and imagination deconstructs their systematic hierarchy. He sees in the third Critique an 'epistemic leap from the transcendental method of the distinction of ground to an aesthetic manner of seeing, which dissolves this distinction in free play' (72/117). In the aesthetic judgment, the beautiful 'object' evades the Kantian categories of objectivity (phaenomenon and noumenon): 'The mimesis of cognition and morality is no longer founded on the idea of the noumenon as the supersensible but rather on a pure work of art which serves to stand as the 'new ground' of judgment. Art reveals that reason imitates imagination in its new search of the supersensible.' (72-3/118) The aesthetic practices of imagination are now somehow primordial -- reason just applies and imitates them. Appearance and objects dissolve in mere images. This implies that Kant's aesthetics can no longer be (mis)construed as subjectivist. Beauty is not an objective attribute of the object, it exists virtually in the judgment itself -- but a judgment devoid of its subjective pole. In the free play of filming: 'The self is shown neither as appearance nor as noumenon in the perceptions, actions, and emotions of imaginal formations.' (26/60) '[N]ow, the self *is* an imaginal constellation' (26/59). Accordingly, Wurzer prefers the Kantian term 'judging' ('Beurteilen') to 'judgment' ('Urteil'), with its reminiscences of a subject's hierarchy of capacities (134/193). Like the German idealists, Wurzer stresses the etymological implication of disruption in the German 'Urteil': filming aims at an 'Ur-teil', wherein the 'ground' implied in 'Ur-' (arche) is being disseminated in a plenitude of parts ('Teile') (5/32-33). [5]

 

Filming in that sense has another predecessor in Heidegger, who made explicit what in Kant has to be unveiled, by reading against the systematic grain: 'Heidegger's phainestai denotes a decisive turning point in the history of philosophy, one in which the Spielraum ('play-ground') of being is thematized from the perspectives of the power of imagination rather than of the dominance of the principle of sufficient reason' (29/63). In Chapter 2 Wurzer reads Heidegger's account of the phenomenon as being similar to his reading of Kant's concept of imagination. In the early _Being and Time_, phainestai as showing-itself is still centred in the being-there, i.e. in a (somewhat dislocated) version of subjectivity, aiming to a transcendental understanding of Being. Yet the later Heidegger does not seek to unveil ontologically fundamental structures beneath appearance. Instead, he suggests the notion of letting-be (*Gelassenheit*). Phainestai is now to be understood 'as 'free play' of shining without shining *for* someone or *at* something', i.e. an imaginal relation beyond 'representational thinking' (29/63). Filming is something quite similar: a post-phenomenological showing without self, 'a kind of thinking that fades from the 'showing' of presence without fading from the 'showing'' (n. 3, 128/186).

 

Heidegger is central to Wurzer's project in a second respect. Wurzer's reading of Kant and the difference between 'filming' and filming are variations of Heidegger's concept of technology as Ge-stell. In 'The Question Concerning Technology' (_Die Technik und die Kehre_) Heidegger analyses the universal instrumentalism of technology and its global danger. The Ge-stell is a necessary way in which Being gives itself in our era, but the poetic aspect of this giving bears a hint towards the possibility of overcoming (verwinden) it by art. Similarly, Wurzer's 'filming' means the instrumental, technical use of imagination under the rule of reason. Filming, on the other hand, is a judgment freed from teleology, judging in the mode of 'Gelassenheit'. Filming is for Wurzer the 'different beginning' ('anderer Anfang', 2/28) that Heidegger meditated in his strategy of sigetics (the pre- and post-aesthetic beginning of thinking). Filming, as Wurzer suggests implicitly, fulfils Heidegger's eschatology of Being.

 

Wurzer also comments on the metaphors of image and visuals that Heidegger uses. The historical situation of danger and Ge-stell is a constellation (Konstellation). The event (Ereignis), the coming of salvation, happens in 'imaginal formations' like insight, lightning-in (Einsicht, Einblitz). Wurzer sees in 'The Question Concerning Technology' an instance of 'imaginal' filming-thinking. But Heidegger still pleas for an ontological 'Wesensblick' ('essential glance') (38/74), whereas 'filming is more and less than der Wesensblick of being. It is less because it relates to the 'essential' glance of glances while de-lighting being; it is more than an imaginal disclosure in that it disrupts ('films') 'imagocentrism', opting for a reflection beyond images and appearances' (38/74). Filming is more radical than Heidegger's 'Eraeugnis' (38/74) because it goes beyond images as such: it is an 'imaginal de-sighting of being' (4/31), an 'imaging off images' (xiv/22).

 

Wurzer further develops this difficult yet central aspect of filming in the sections about Adorno (Chapters 4 and 5). His reading of the _Aesthetic Theory_ is indeed 'provocative', as translator Erik Michael Vogt points out in his Introduction (15). Wurzer dismisses Adorno's Marxism and his socio-political motives as modernisms while retaining his utopianism as a 'site' for filming. He radicalises Adorno's notion of art as something that 'promises what is not real' (Adorno quoted by Wurzer, 64/107). Works of art allow for a new way of disclosure of the world towards the unknown, the novel, a way beyond reason's mechanisms of identity. This is because of the artwork's 'second reflection' (Adorno), which reflects on a higher level art's inherent reflection of the world. Second reflection implies a dis-ontologifying of art: 'An artwork is not a work of being but a moment of becoming' (51/92). Through second reflection, the work ruptures the semiotic values of images and language towards a new literalness -- as Adorno writes in a passage not quoted by Wurzer. [6] This corresponds to Adorno's account on mimesis. The mimesis at play in artworks is not identical with the mythic mimesis banned by reason, although in its expressive quality, art retains some of its force. Nor is art's mimesis a Platonic adjustment to and imitation of the idea -- an 'aemulatio' of the eidos, as Wurzer calls it (with Foucault). Wurzer calls this new type of mimesis 'horizontal', as opposed to the 'vertical' hierarchical mimesis of reason. With it: 'We are granted a reflective com-posure [Wurzer's translation of *Gelassenheit*] of images, not proto-images of metaphysical anticipation, but images turning themselves, against themselves, withdrawing from representation, drawn into an aesthetic explosion of appearances, what Adorno calls 'apparition'.' (54/95)

 

However, Wurzer sees a conceptual antinomy in Adorno's _Aesthetic Theory_, which he discusses in Chapter 5. Advanced art's mimesis is always a mimesis of the structures of the respective social reality (as Adorno showed in Beckett), or, in Heideggerian terms, an enactment of Ge-stell. At the same time, it is a mimesis of 'what society is not' (55/96). Adorno's incessant reference to the socio-politic reintroduces a pole of 'presence' and modernity in an otherwise postmodern way of thinking, drawing him back into the 'foundationalist' realms of (negative) dialectics. Wurzer criticises Adorno's Marxism, and Marxism in general, for failing to see postmodernity's divergence between reification and alienation -- the latter not being a valid or even possible diagnosis anymore. 'Relations of behaving, perceiving, and doing are no longer class orientated' (59/101). On the other hand, Wurzer thinks it is exactly this 'play of social presence and aesthetic absence' (49/88) that enables its own transgression.

 

The systematic pivot for this deconstruction is Adorno's notion of the beautiful-in-nature (das Naturschoene). The image of the Naturschoenes is what guides 'Adorno's search for a new social theory', a 'non-repressive image of freedom revealed by the aesthetic power of imagination' (61/104). Art imitates natural beauty, i.e. something which is not an object, neither for human practical activity nor for contemplation, which is, moreover, no particular natural being at all. The Naturschoenes appears in art in a 'surplus of appearance', an 'excess of appearance' transgressing appearance (and images) as such in the 'apparition' (62/105). But whereas Adorno reinscribes this excess in the framework of presence in terms of negation (of society etc.), Wurzer argues that apparition leaves any presence behind because it 'subverts epistemology' (63/107), the precondition of the social signifie. In postmodernity society is 'just as much part of appearance as art' (63/106). Wurzer's new reading of apparition also involves a surprising new aesthetic role for capital: 'The antagonism of subject and object, of art and society, disappears in capital's falling from power, that is to say, in capital's excessive appearing of the beautiful-in-nature.' (63/107) At this crucial point, Wurzer gets back to filming (which he seemed to have lost sight of a little during his exegesis of Adorno) and combines it with his new concept of capital: 'As reason is freed from the 'false necessity' of history, its filmic task will be to free capital from the classic social theory of negative totality.' (65/109) What do we see if we follow this advice? According to Wurzer, 'we see capital as art' (65/109).

 

Wurzer's reflections upon capital in Chapters 7-9, the climax of the exposition of filming, are the most original parts of the book, since Wurzer leaves philosophical exegesis behind, and his post-Marxist notion of capital is surely filming's most speculative aspect. To me, it was also the point at which I could no longer follow Wurzer's path. Either I am overlooking something very obvious about capital, or Wurzer's comments on it go hopelessly astray. In our era, Wurzer argues, capital and power diverge. Capital is no longer to be only associated with capitalism (65/109) and production (88/137). Instead, capital has to be understood as an aesthetic force: 'In the course of imagination's departure from transcendental, epistemic, and technical enframing, capital, regarded as mirroring the power of filming, provides a 'reflexive' opening for imagination' (89/138). Capital is a sublime apparition of a futural beauty, a 'dawning' (88/137), the instance of the transgression of our age's 'radical nihilism'. (86/135) There are immanent problems in this conception: on the one hand, capital is the 'prolepsis of filming' (83/131); on the other hand, the apparition of capital is a mirroring of filming, of which capital is actually supposed to be (only) a prolepsis.

 

Apart from this eschatological disarray, it is quite hard to grasp what Wurzer actually means with this very abstract and yet fully affirmative concept of capital. It seems to be Wurzer's own theoretical mimesis of the signature of late capitalism. In this era, the radically unleashed capital and its characteristics -- the exchange and surplus principles; reification; the ontology of commodity; its uncanny creative-destructive force, etc. -- are detached from their material ground and form relations in the imagined reality that are structurally the same as in art, blurring the boundaries between art and society according to the Postmodernist thesis. But what then is the significance of capital *as* capital? The point here seems to be that art's mimesis is no longer mimetic in the conventional sense if the respective structure does not any longer have a counterpart in reality, as there is not such a thing as reality. Capital then is just a powerful image, a work of imagination, without denoting anything 'real'. Or it is the mode of pictorial production, as Vogt puts it (_Filmisches Denken_, p. 14). But why then assume that it points towards a future beyond the post-metaphysical confusion? And why then call it capital in the first place, if there is no more relation to social practice? It remains unclear how exactly capital and power actually diverge in our times, and how art and capital converge. Instead of clarifying this, Wurzer keeps on abstractly attributing to capital qualities already developed earlier in the book, sometimes in a rather repetitive and redundant way: 'Breaking out of its former metaphysical appearance, capital emerges as apparition, a sublime epistemic explosion of discontinuous images that shatters any ideological critique of capital.' (88/137) To me, the appearance of capital at the end of the book is rather a disappointing implosion of its terminological tension. Wurzer continues by populating his terminology with more neologisms like dis-course (the running-apart) or surflectants ('surfacereflectagents'!) which unfortunately lead the reader only further astray.

 

What adds significantly to this disappointment is the fact that Wurzer fails to show how these supposed apparitions of capital as art, or vice versa, actually happen in concrete (non-subjective, to be sure) experience. With increasing frustration, the reader hopes that Wurzer's discussion of Fassbinder, Herzog, Riefenstahl, and Hitchcock in the annex of the book will shed some light on what capital's apparition and, more importantly, filming on the whole, could 'look' like in, say, something like a film. One hopes in vain. For Wurzer's readings of films do not go beyond woolly attributions of the already-known theoretical figures to the films discussed.

 

Wurzer begins this last section by explaining how films display the new mode of judgment called filming. The cinematic structures of representation are subverted by sudden gaps of imagery:

 

'At times, a discursive modality bursts the imaginal filament of a film so that judgment can fill the filmic gap. Cutting deeply into images of the film, the gap tears the veil of representational illusion . . . The film films the gap of judgment (Ur-teil), a singular imaginal cut, a new way of seeing, a nonimaginal phainestai derived in part from words and images of primary representation' (105/159).

 

Herzog's 'aphasic sensitivity' (105/159) in _The Mystery of Kaspar Hauser_ serves as an example for this: 'For Herzog, discourse frequently challenges the fleeting presence of images inside the frame, and turns against this order in a new vision of judgment illuminated on the screen.' (110/165) Verbal language undermines pictorial representation. But how exactly? Wurzer adds that: 'What shines forth in the tracking shots of Herzog's film is the Zerrissenheit of subjectivity, the strife of mimesis resonating in Kaspar Hauser's phrase: 'I am withdrawn from all things'.' (110/165) But what these shots actually show seems to be unimportant, and Wurzer's analysis hardly gets more detailed than this. He claims that such motifs are an 'entree into capital, a site of judgment that unravels the beautiful-in-nature' (110/165). Wurzer sees another apparition of capital in Kaspar's dream of the mountain of death -- obviously a work of imagination (and perhaps filming). Again, Wurzer gives no detailed account of it. For example, he does not mention the important fact that the anonymous people climbing that mountain of death actually wander erraneously in all directions, and not straight to the top, i.e. to death. Again, Wurzer does not explain what capital has to do with the sequence. Something with the beautiful-in-nature, the reader might add. But only to be surprised soon by Wurzer when he all of a sudden recognises the beautiful-in-nature in 'Herzog's prolonged static shots of fields of grass' (110/165) -- i.e. in images of plain nature -- even though earlier the beautiful-in-nature was supposed to be something beyond the natural objects of contemplation. One can roughly discern the point Wurzer is making: Kaspar Hauser is 'exiled' in a world of social images that he does not fit; he is a displaced subject without roots, and his imagination is not dominated by traditional teleology. In that sense, one could describe the film as exploring the area beyond received images, and as introducing, if one likes, a new sense of natural beauty, based on the symbolism of nature in the film. But I do not see why one should need Wurzer's terminology for the description of these quite obvious facts. Also, from a philological point of view, it seems rather naive that Wurzer takes literal sequences of imagination as examples of filming. One would have thought that filming is already relevant on the level of the diegetic or the film as a whole, and not only in especially marked parts. This approach to cinema reminds of the limitations of psychoanalytical literary theory in its early days.

 

The other films readings in the annex do little to alter the impression that Wurzer's bold claims lack substantiation. In Fassbinder's _Despair_, reflexive strategies open imagination up for capital's apparition. In Riefenstahl's _Triumph of the Will_, 'filming is limited to the intoxicating presence of a concrete national symbol' (111/167). In Hitchcock's _Vertigo_, Madeleine, the supposed revenant of Carlotta Valdes (whom Wurzer stubbornly calls 'Corlotta', a mistake that survives in the German translation [7]), 'appears/disappears in a filmic form of apparition' (113/170). Madeleine 'appears exceedingly disruptive in every moment of the film, because she exhibits what cannot be seen' (114/171). Of course, Hitchcock's often-analysed film deconstructs subjectivity and the desire for identity. But why are we supposed to call this an apparition of capital? Wurzer is interested in a similar figure of Doppelganger in Bunuel's _That Obscure Object of Desire_, which he discusses briefly in the Kant chapter. For Wurzer, Bunuel's 1977 film 'elides the subject, particularly reason in its opulence and hybris, while 'nature in subject', that is, Conchita's free play of difference, blooms in silent purposiveness' (71/116). Apparently, Wurzer is alluding to the fact that Conchita is played by two different actresses. Perhaps he wants to say that such effects of blurring identity are only possible in the visual media. He does not say so explicitly, though. It is a pity that Wurzer has so little to say about the formal features of the films he discusses -- especially since the concept of filming seems to aim especially at the formal side. Instead, he sticks to a superficial allegoric style of reading. In _That Obscure Object of Desire_, for example, the character of Mathieu signifies the desire of reason to objectify Conchita, whereas Conchita in her evasive movements represents a judgment beyond interestedness. It is clear that such an approach to cinema, imposing Theory in a top-down style, invites criticism a la Bordwell.

 

The difficulty with showing the connection between filming and cinema is not just a marginal problem of Wurzer's theory. It is obviously due to his mainly philosophy-historical approach to filming, which largely neglects concrete aesthetic experience while developing the central concepts on the mediated level of aesthetic theory. Heidegger develops his concepts in patient readings of poetry. Adorno writes in a constant dialogue with works of arts, as does Deleuze. Wurzer, on the other hand, extracts his concepts from philosophical texts, only to apply them ex cathedra to films in a way similar to the conventional philological reification that Heidegger and Adorno confront. Wurzer declares to read films as philosophical texts, but in fact uses them as sources of illustrations. Filming hovers above the filmic so remotely that one wonders why it is called filming in the first place. Wurzer's rather tenuous etymologisms -- coating, felling -- do not help much in this respect.

 

What is also missing in the film annex is a more detailed analysis of 'filming' in films, i.e. of their metaphysical coating of reality. Wurzer connects it to 'Hollywood film-ontology' (106/160) without giving any examples. Of course, the word 'example' is actually wrong here, since examples are exactly what filmable/filming/filmic texts should not be seen as being when founding a whole theory on a concept of filming. [8] If one is to follow Heidegger in tearing down the walls between theory and practice, filming in films cannot be only a practical token of a theoretical idea, but must be its instance, in the very way Kant's Third Critique is to Wurzer. The Heideggerian way beyond the theory-practice distinction has some unpleasant consequences of its own of course. The reader has to accept that thinking actually is the most active activity. And the author has a self-validating structure ready at hand which immunises one's thinking against non-immanent criticism, since one can easily claim that one is already on that hyperactive path of thinking, just as Wurzer suggests to be filming -- Kant, for example. I think he should have filmed more films and paid more attention to this focus. [9]

 

Other question marks remain at the end of the book. Wurzer claims that filming overcomes metaphysics, that it breaks free from the framing of Ge-stell. But this futural enthusiasm remains a mere article of faith, as Imre Szeman has already noted. [10] Wurzer also claims that filming overcomes postmodernism, lumping together philosophers like Derrida and Baudrillard under this crude label, which was perhaps thought more relevant at the time of the book's original publication. In Chapter 9, he acknowledges similarities to Derrida's project, but insists that Derrida remains negative and thus dialectical: 'Even in its withdrawal from dialectic, deconstruction cannot break out of the process of critique. So long as its mirror of reflection is unbreakable, it merely deflects from metaphysics. Filming, on the other hand, is the very shattering of this mirror' (99/151) In the play of ecriture, 'the want of a signified is transposed in the 'presence' of a disseminative nonpresence, a mere folding back upon the dialectical eros' (100/153). This criticism actually seems more appropriate for Wurzer's own wants: his certainty of transgression towards filming and the 'presence' of his positivity about it sometimes feel almost like a heretic regression from negative theology to New Mythology. Derrida, on the other hand, never claims to have done away with metaphysics, but suggests we work against it from within, because we do not have any other option anyway.

 

To be sure, I find Wurzer's basic idea very exciting: to give Heidegger's notion of Ge-stell a more contemporary shape and to bring his eschatology into a constellation with Adorno's utopism, with a focus on film as the medial reality of our era. Wurzer's philosophical readings are interesting deconstructions that open up new perspectives for the thinking of film-as-theory, even though Wurzer unfortunately does not explore them himself. The idea that films can transgress the realm of the image seems especially promising for a productive reading of cinematic literature. In the Preface, Wurzer says that the 'delight' films give possibly consists in their 'de-lighting' of images (xiv/22). Perhaps it is up to someone else to analyse those de-lighted and de-lighting images in closer film readings, and to refine the filmic in filming in a way that really interweaves the practice and theory of thinking.

 

Since the occasion for this review is the German edition of the book, I would like to add some remarks regarding the translation. In principle, it should be an important step for Wurzer's book because he mainly draws on German philosophers and German etymologisms play a central role in his terminology. Also, Wurzer's re-reading of Heidegger and Adorno might become one more instance of the irony of foreign-language reception bringing back unfashionable philosophers into the German-speaking philosophical communities' awareness by bold, non-orthodox, and productive readings -- an instance that so far has been lacking in respect to Adorno. Unfortunately, this translation will not much help in having that desirable effect. Erik Michael Vogt renders the text often in clumsy syntactical constructions, which makes the already very abstract matter all the harder to digest. Also, Vogt has an odd liking for Latinisms, which he claims are characteristic for Wurzer's style. I could not verify that in the English original. Many of these (to signify, to assert, to necessitate, to inform) belong to an educated standard register of English, whereas their German counterparts as used in Vogt's translation are very technical, artificial, obsolete, or misleading ('informieren' for 'to inform', where the meaning is to give shape). This gives them a terminological weight which they do not have in the original. Moreover, the translation is exceptionally poorly edited. There is hardly a page without spelling errors, and crude grammatical mistakes sometimes mutilate the text beyond comprehensibility. Vogt manages to put the reader even further off with misleading book abbreviations and flawed quotations. However, his 'translator's introduction' is very helpful. It highlights Wurzer's post-Marxism in comparison with Slavoj Zizek, and gives a philosophical context for his theory of filming.

 

London, England

 

 

Notes

 

1. When quoting Wurzer, I shall refer both to the original book and to the translation, following the pattern: English page/German page.

 

2. For an exception see Ulrich Wergin's very dense and illuminating article about Heidegger's poetics and their correspondences with Adorno's -- _Die Wahrheit des Gemachten. Zum poetologischen Aspekt von Heideggers Holderlin-Deutung_, in Wolfgang Wirth and Jorn Wegner, eds, _Literarische Trans-Rationalitat. Fur Gunter Martens_ (Wurzburg: Konigshausen & Neumann, 2003), pp. 99-121.

 

3. Unfortunately Wurzer comments on the aspects of this etymology only at the beginning of the third part of the book (82/129). I am not entirely sure whether the word film really is etymologically connected with 'to fell'. Neither the OED nor the German Kluge dictionary support this view explicitly. Perhaps it would not make much difference anyway, since etymology has to be seen rather as an inspiration, a hint, not as hard evidence in the scientific sense.

 

4. Overall, Wurzer follows implicitly Heidegger's Nietzsche interpretation, while his readings of the early texts remind of Paul de Man. Concerning the _Zarathustra_, I think Wurzer underestimates the performative radicality of this text. Wurzer acknowledges the deconstructive power of the 'lion's laughter' at the end of Part IV, but falls short of noticing that 'ground' qua the rule of the will to power (dramatised in Zarathustra's struggle for the Ubermensch) is actually undermined by the performative collapse of the doctrine of the eternal recurrence. This doctrine, which originally was meant to be the means towards the end of engendering the *Ubermensch*, is in fact the doctrine about the impossibility of this project: the doctrine about the impossibility of doctrines.

 

5. Different from the German Idealism, the motive of Wurzer's unleashing of imagination is not the hypertrophic expansion of the reign of reason, but freeing imagination from teleology. This step reminds rather of the German Early Romanticism. It would be interesting to compare filming with Novalis' romanticising ('Romantisieren'). Another remark as to etymology: it is neither a new insight nor a decisive objection, but still might be noteworthy in this context, that the mentioned etymology of German 'Urteil' as used by Hegel is linguistically incorrect, 'Ur-' being a morphological derivative of the prefix 'er-' in 'erteilen'.

 

6. See Adorno, _Aesthetische Theorie_ (Frankfurt a. M.: Suhrkamp, 1995), p. 147.

 

7. Since the occasion for this review is the German edition of the book, I would like to add some remarks regarding the translation. In principle, it should be an important step for Wurzer's book because he mainly draws on German philosophers and German etymologisms play a central role in his terminology. Also, Wurzer's re-reading of Heidegger and Adorno might become one more instance of the irony of foreign-language reception bringing back unfashionable philosophers into the German-speaking philosophical communities' awareness by bold, non-orthodox, and productive readings -- an instance that so far has been lacking in respect to Adorno. Unfortunately, this translation will not much help in having that desirable effect. Erik Michael Vogt renders the text often in clumsy syntactical constructions, which makes the already very abstract matter all the harder to digest. Also, Vogt has an odd liking for Latinisms, which he claims are characteristic for Wurzer's style. I could not verify that in the English original. Many of these (to signify, to assert, to necessitate, to inform) belong to an educated standard register of English, whereas their German counterparts as used in Vogt's translation are very technical, artificial, obsolete, or misleading ('informieren' for 'to inform', where the meaning is to give shape). This gives them a terminological weight which they do not have in the original. Moreover, the translation is exceptionally poorly edited. There is hardly a page without spelling errors, and crude grammatical mistakes sometimes mutilate the text beyond comprehensibility. Vogt manages to put the reader even further off with misleading book abbreviations and flawed quotations. However, his 'translator's introduction' is very helpful. It highlights Wurzer's post-Marxism in comparison with Slavoj Zizek, and gives a philosophical context for his theory of filming.

 

8. For Adorno's thoughts on the relation of theory and example, compare with the Prologue to his _Negative Dialektik_ (Frankfurt a. M.: Suhrkamp, 1997).

 

9. In a cheeky methodical move Wurzer calls the film annex of his book an 'exergue', French for motto. I was not prepared to find this funny. It places at the end what in my view should have stood at the beginning, and even admits doing so. But it is not *that* simple to walk the margins of philosophy.

 

10. 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>.

 

 

Copyright Film-Philosophy 2005

 

 

Jakob Hesler, 'Filming Without Film: On Wurzer's _Filmisches Denken_', _Film-Philosophy_, vol. 9 no. 10, February 2005 <http://www.film-philosophy.com/vol9-2005/n10hesler>.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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