Film-Philosophy

ISSN 1466-4615

 


 

Paula Willoquet-Maricondi

Feasting on Allegory

 


 

  

Bridget Elliott and Anthony Purdy

_Peter Greenaway: Architecture and Allegory_

Academy Editions, 1997

ISBN 0-471-97691-1

128 pp.

 

'Cinema documents death at work' (Cocteau)

 

'The demands of representation, the laws of current Western genre of knowing, require an endless list of objects -- human and otherwise -- to acquire as our own. And when we submit to this law, we forfeit a certain claim to the purely ethical' (Peggy Phelan).

 

 

Bridget Elliott and Anthony Purdy's _Peter Greenaway: Architecture and Allegory_ is an impressive book: a feast for the eyes and for the mind. Elliott and Purdy are, of course, not newcomers to Greenaway; they have published extensively on the British artist, and this first full-length study is the *piece de resistence* in their ongoing exploration of the role of the Body and of technologies of recording and representation in Greenaway. The authors revisit some of the material previously explored in their 'Artificial Eye/Artificial You: Getting Greenaway or Mything the Point', and, in doing so, bring out new insights and draw from an impressive bank of theoretical discourse on art history, literature, philosophy, film, and architecture. _Architecture and Allegory_ is the consummation of a most fruitful collaboration between two scholars with different but complementary areas of expertise, and it is conclusive evidence that Greenaway *must* be approached interdisciplinarily. The book is generally very accessible and will be useful to both the novice and the long-time student of Greenaway, although I will offer some suggestions regarding the order in which chapters might preferably be read by those not terribly familiar with Greenaway or with the theoretical discourse deployed here. The book will also be of interest to readers interested in thinking through the implications for philosophy and film -- and life, for that matter! -- of approaching allegory and metaphor as genuinely important sources of knowledge and understanding.

 

_Architecture and Allegory begins with a short introduction that simply and effectively offers an overview of the six chapters to come. While the book does not purport to be an exhaustive study of Greenaway's entire filmic and artistic productions, it does embrace quite a lot, offering close readings of a number of the feature films, including the little-discussed _The Baby of Macon_, and elucidating the correspondences between Greenaway's films and his exhibitions. The book concludes with an interview with Greenaway where the artist explains his attitude toward the museum, the theater, architecture, theory, cinema, and interactive media. In this interview Greenaway also discusses a forthcoming project, _Tulse Luper Suitcase_, which has since been abandoned, or put on the back burner, while he completes another film, _Eight-and-a-Half Women_, to be released at the next Cannes or Venice film festival.

 

I began this review by suggesting that _Architecture and Allegory_ is a feast for the eyes and the mind, which indeed it is. It is, visually, a very appealing book, beautifully and richly illustrated with black & white and color reproductions from films, exhibitions, installations -- including Greenaway's 1996 light and sound extravaganza in Rome, 'Cosmology at the Piazza del Popolo' -- as well as from Greenaway's own drawings and collages. Since the book is published by Academy Editions as part of the Art & Design Monograph series, it adopts the same large, glossy format used for the Art & Design art journals. The reproductions, particularly the full-page ones, ask to be carefully contemplated and studied, and they complement the text very nicely. Since the catalogues for Greenaway's exhibitions are not easily available, it is invaluable that the chapter dealing with such exhibitions, '(Un)Natural Histories. Collecting Cultures, Crossing Limits', does contain numerous illustrative photographs.

 

The authors hope that, for those not very familiar with the artist, the book will be a useful introduction to Greenaway and the debates around him. I feel, however, that a more advanced degree of familiarity with the films, beyond simply having seen and enjoyed them, is necessary in order truly to appreciate what this book has to offer. In this respect, I feel Elliott and Purdy's book is an excellent follow-up to Amy Lawrence's _The Films of Peter Greenaway_, which I take to be a more straightforward introduction to Greenaway as a film director. [1] The great import of Elliott and Purdy's book is that it goes beyond a descriptive account of Greenaway's *oeuvre* to offer interesting, provocative, and stimulating readings. It has a solid theoretical backbone, and I think this was a needed step in Greenaway studies. I also like the way the authors begin to address the philosophical -- ethical may perhaps be a more appropriate way to put it -- implications of Greenaway's exploration of the limits of representation through his films, exhibitions, and installations.

 

The reader little familiar with Greenaway, or with the literature on him, might do well to begin with chapter six, which explores the reasons why Greenaway's films have caused such controversy. For the newcomer, I think this is a far better introduction to Greenaway and to the book itself. For instance, this would be an excellent chapter with which to begin studying Greenaway in the classroom, for it surveys the reception of the filmmaker by film critics, and introduces important considerations regarding spectatorship and the role of art in society. Still speaking to the novice, I would then recommend moving on to chapter five in order to gain a heightened awareness of the fact that what Greenaway may be saying about *representationality* in his film necessitates considering the films in light of his other works. This chapter discusses *collecting* as an ever-present theme in all of Greenaway's works, concluding that Greenaway's deployment and destruction of all kinds of systems of collecting is 'part of a critical exploration of collecting as a crucial aspect of our cultural behavior' (98). This is a profoundly important notion which deserves to be hotly discussed, so I will come back to it later on.

 

The first chapter is the most strictly theoretical of all the chapters and introduces the theme of allegory by revisiting Walter Benjamin's analysis of baroque allegory and discussing Benjamin's notions in relation to Greenaway's deployment of a neo-baroque aesthetics. [2] Chapters two, three and four offer close readings, along allegorical lines, of several of the major feature films. _The Draughtman's Contract_ is read as a film that is about allegory as a way of understanding the world and uses allegory as a structuring mechanism. Allegory and plot are thus inseparable: the plot is to be taken allegorically, and allegory becomes a plotting device. The relationship between the body and architecture is explored in a reading of _The Belly of an Architect_ that posits the film as tracing, in some sense, the 'decline and fall' (53) of the body. The relation between body and architecture in this film is examined in the light of George Bataille's writing on the origin of the museum and its linkage to death.

 

One of the most important contributions this book has made to my own understanding of Greenaway's obsessive treatment of systems of knowledge is to prompt me to ask certain questions, not exclusively or primarily about Greenaway or film, but about life: about the way we, *de facto*, live, act, make decisions; about the way our civilization has operated and continues to operate in relation to both the human and the more-than-human spheres. Elliott and Purdy's treatment of allegory in Greenaway has encouraged me to approach Greenaway's artistic productions as, themselves, allegorical commentaries on the ways civilization has behaved and reproduced itself, and at what expense. I have always taken Greenaway to be more of a philosopher than an artist -- a philosopher-artist, perhaps -- and _Architecture and Allegory_ urges me to continue doing so.

 

Greenaway has tirelessly repeated that his cinema is one of ideas. Although these *ideas* have been exhaustively identified and catalogued by critics, few of them have been extensively explored and debated. Why? Because, I think, such debates would require that each critic adopt a *position* vis-a-vis these ideas. This, however, is something fewer and fewer of us have been willing to do -- at least in public -- given our postmodern celebration of plurality and multiplicity, and our justifiable reluctance to appear masterful, and thus totalitarian. There is a hesitation, in academic circles in particular, to adopt an unambiguous, and therefore subjective position regarding *the meaning* of an artefact -- text, image, etc. -- as if from fear that to argue a particular meaning would be to foreclose all other meanings. In Greenaway studies the focus has tended to be on highlighting the plethora of signification unleashed by his films and other artworks, at the expense of a systematic and in-depth pursuit of particular meanings, or readings.

 

What has been lacking in the recent surge of books on Greenaway is one that explicitly adopts a theoretical or even ideological standpoint from which to read the artist. I think Elliott and Purdy's book signals a change in this practice, toward a more engaged and risk-taking approach to a body of work which, itself, never ceases to take risks. By showing that Greenaway offers 'no grand narrative of progress or self-realisation, whether Christian, Hegelian, Marxist or Freudian' (108) -- or, I might add, technological -- this study also reveals some of the costs and consequences associated with our civilization's continued investment in such narratives of progress and mastery. Postmodernism notwithstanding, for all practical purposes we remain, at the close of this century, as committed to the modernist ethos of Cartesian rationality and mastery as we have ever been. This, I think, is what Greenaway reveals over and over and over again in his films and art projects. Although I agree with the authors' conclusion that, for Greenaway, 'in the end, the only certainty is death and decomposition' (108), and with Vernon Gras' assessment of Greenaway's films as 'agnostic, even nihilistic about any possible cultural improvement' (cited by Elliott and Purdy 109), I do not really think Greenaway subscribes to the notion that *ours* is the only possible or the most desirable version of civilization.

 

Yes, at the end of a Greenaway film, there is not much about our civilization that remains worth salvaging. Nonetheless, with few exceptions, all his films end with victory on the side of biological reproduction -- and not on the side of mechanical reproduction. So, what does this mean? For one thing, it means that biological life does go on. Civilization -- ours or any other -- is shown to be less fundamental than life -- human and non-human life. The question that lingers, unanswered by Greenaway himself, is: 'what kind of a life?' I once asked Greenaway what impact he thought our systems of knowledge were having on the world. His answer -- albeit somewhat elusive -- suggested to me that it would be advisable, periodically, to re-examine the appropriateness, for the time and the place, of our chosen systems of knowledge. Systems are only temporally and locally relevant and useful. Thus, any universalization in space and time should be taken as suspect:

 

'all our systems are very much constructs, even systems which are held very dear -- like religious belief -- and that they are only useful in small pockets, either for individuals and communities, historically and geographically, they fit time and place, they are conveniences; it is extraordinary that a few instructions to a few Jewish shepherds on a hill in Palestine have created the whole mess of Christianity. But it is to do with need and desire for systems, I suppose. And it could be said that some systems fulfill obligations much better than other systems do. Mithras, for example, came into being as a religion exactly at the same time as Christ, and became an extraordinary religious concern for the Roman armies; but it obviously did not satisfy sufficiently because, ultimately, it was religion that Constantine chose, and not the cult of Mithras. So there is an indication that some systems are more applicable, more attractive, fulfill more notions, but ultimately they are still constructs' (unpublished interview, April 97).

 

What are the implications of valuing the *local* over the *universal* for our current investment in globalization? Is a global economy, a global culture, a global virtual space compatible with or inimical to locally defined needs? Is our over-investment in the Global Village a process of further abstraction that poses a real threat to localities and to organic relationships? To connect this question to Greenaway's musings about globalization -- particularly but not exclusively in reference to film production -- one need only remember that, for Greenaway, as Elliott and Purdy put it, 'the globalising tendencies of postmodern culture are also homogenising tendencies, producing a false universality which is little more than a rhetorical smokescreen for American dominance' (91). While, personally, I certainly would not argue with this sentiment, I think it is crucial also to acknowledge that *all* universality is false! We may claim there are no universals, but we still live as if there were. What is our emphasis on globalization but a smokescreen for the continuation of universalization? How is it, in fact, that in our so called postmodern era we can believe simultaneously in multi-culturalism and globalization? Is it perhaps because, really, we all belong to the same culture? Perhaps we still dress differently in different parts of the world; perhaps we perform different ritualistic gestures; but do our rituals and costumes inform our way of living, our ethos, in ways that are truly and fundamentally different and plural?

 

If no redemptive vision is to be found within the universalized systems most familiar to us, and that Greenaway deconstructs in his films, then we must look elsewhere: 'By asking us to think visually and analogically according to patterns which often seem to disrupt the linear flow of the narrative, Greenaway's films consistently undermine our ability and frustrate our desire to read them 'for the story'; we are constantly being asked to look elsewhere to make sense of them' (29). And, as we do look elsewhere, we must also ask ourselves *what* we hope to find and accomplish, and *whom* will it benefit.

 

And where is elsewhere?

 

Elsewhere is, perhaps, outside the compounds of the greatest of master narratives, that is, what we believe to be Civilization with a capital C. Have we sufficiently questioned the assumption that our version of civilization is the only possible or inevitable one? Are we prepared to accommodate the contemporaneous existence of multiple civilizations, the way we proclaim our tolerance for muticulturalism? Could multiculturalism be window-dressing for what in effect is, increasingly, one homogeneous culture -- one global culture in a multiplicity of disguises? Elliott and Purdy's deployment of allegory and metaphor as valuable sources of knowledge, or tools to think with, has led me to ask some of these questions. [3]

 

There are two images or themes, in particular, that the authors explore in this book which have opened this line of questioning for me: the first one is the image of the 'plot' which they take from Peter Brooks' study _Reading for the Plot: Design and Intention in Narrative_; the other is the twin image of the 'museum' and the 'slaughterhouse', which they take from George Bataille's 'Critical Dictionary' articles originally published in 1929. I would like to return to both of these as I survey the remaining chapters in the book.

 

The first chapter, 'For the Sake of the Corpse: Baroque Perspectives', is mostly theoretical. Here the authors discuss Greenaway's relationship to the Baroque aesthetics of excess and his fascination with the 17th century. Perhaps, with the exception of _Drowning by Numbers_ and _The Pillow Book_, all of Greenaway's films are, in one way or another, anchored in the 17th century: _The Draughtman's Contract_, _Prospero's Books_, and _The Baby of Macon_ are set in the 1600s, and _The Belly of an Architect_, _A Zed and Two Noughts_, and _The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover_ incorporate Baroque architecture and paintings. This chapter is useful as a general overview of some of the ways the Baroque has been defined and evaluated by art historians and theorists, but its particular focus is on the work of Heinrich Wolfflin and Walter Benjamin. 'These two critical trajectories', explain the authors, 'seem most likely to shed significant light on Greenaway's own exploration of structural binaries and dialectics, on the one hand, and his use of allegory on the other. As an art student, Greenaway would have encountered the dualisms of an art historical discipline still broadly shaped by its Wolfflinian roots, while as a cultural critic the filmmaker shares many of Benjamin's concerns, including a fascination with the baroque excess characteristic of certain seventeenth and twentieth-century cultural forms' (16). Greenaway thus explores both the morphological traits of the Baroque and its allegorical structures. He uses the latter as a defamiliarization device that shows up the conventions behind meaning formation. In doing so, the filmmaker also implicates his audience by requiring of them greater involvement 'in the elaboration of discursive meanings from more or less enigmatic fragments' (19).

 

It seems to me, then, that *allegory* as a tool with which to think and to know has the added advantage of not falsely confusing knowledge with *truth*. To know allegorically is also to know that meaning is *made* and not found, and that it is local and not universal. Allegory helps preserve the gap which exists between an experienced 'reality' and the discourse about that experience. Allegory does not take this discourse to be the experience itself, or, to put it another way, it does not take the representation to be the Reality. Reality, with a capital R, remains forever inaccessible to discourse, to representation, and to other forms of 'objective' or empirical knowledge. The only 'true' knowledge, this would suggest, is subjective, approximate, scantily tangible, allegorical. What enables us to sustain the notion that empirical knowledge constitutes a higher or more dependable form of knowledge is our own blindness to the fact that all knowledge is allegorical. We *are* the draughtsman in _The Draughtsman's Contract_: we think we know what we see; and we believe that what we think we see is all there is to see. Our representations of the world blind us to the world. What they represent, in fact, is not the world, but our adopted position vis-a-vis the world: they are, in effect, a contract by which we establish our ownership of the world.

 

What effect, then, would an understanding of knowledge as always already allegorical have on our actions in the world, on the kinds of explanatory systems we construct, on the uses we make of these systems, and on whom we select as the masters of such systems?

 

It is interesting that, as the authors point out, Benjamin saw allegorization as potentially dangerous, 'fraught with the guilt that any pursuit of knowledge entails' (21). Benjamin equates allegory not only with knowledge, but with power -- the power to create new meaning by taking something apart and reconstructing it, by breaking up the whole into pieces and collecting these pieces for future use. When we look at knowledge allegorically, we recognize that what we call space and time, geography and history, exist as the result of this mechanism of collecting, 'a strategy of containment, a quest for mastery' (93). Our body of knowledge is a type of collection which defunctionalizes and decontextualizes, robbing the 'object' of its materiality (actually, creating the object as dead matter without life presence) and turning it into 'a mental construct, a cultural signifier defined in relation to a chain of other signifiers within the system' (93); into an abstraction; into a corpse that cannot even be re-absorbed into the organic fertile cycle of life and death.

 

It is also significant that Benjamin and Greenaway seem to share, in relation to allegory, an obsessive fascination with death and decay. If Benjamin's fear that the allegorization process requires the dismemberment of a corpse is well-founded, and if we add to this suspicion the proposition that all knowledge is fundamentally the product of allegorical processes, then what we end up with is the notion that to *know* something, to render it representable, intelligible, is to destroy it -- or, to use Benjamin's term, to rob it of its 'aura'.

 

This notion seems to me uncannily close to Jean Baudrillard's contention that 'for ethnology to live, its object must die' [4] and casts serious doubt on the legitimacy of systems of knowledge predicated on the careful fragmentation, cataloguing, categorizing, understanding, and mastery of life processes for the purpose of manipulating, or rearranging them. This Baconian or Cartesian approach to 'knowing' the world does in fact rob it of its aura by reducing it to simple matter-in-motion, or raw-material for cultural productions. Given that it is in the 17th century that reason, method, and instrumentality -- particularly optical and perspectival instrumentality -- became the dominant modes of gathering data and establishing 'truths', and given Greenaway's insistence on the correspondences between the 17th and the 20th centuries, I agree with Elliott and Purdy that 'it is important for us in the 1990s to think seriously about what exactly it means for a contemporary filmmaker to foreground baroque allegorical structures so systematically and so insistently in his films' (24).

 

Chapters two and three engage in close readings of, respectively, _The Draughtsman's Contract_ and _The Belly of an Architect_. The crux of the arguments in both chapters is best summarized by the following provocative statements offered in conclusion to chapter five: 'The museum is never an innocent place in Greenaway's work and its relationship with the slaughterhouse is ever present'; 'We are never allowed to forget that the museum, like architecture, is an instrument of social control'; and 'Ultimately, Greenaway's museum has only one exhibit: the corpse of culture dismembered and laid out for all to see' (98).

 

One of the implications which I see in the authors' statements is that this aspect of our culture -- and, for that matter, of our civilization as far back as anyone cares to remember -- is, if not always desirable, at least inevitable. Although I wholeheartedly agree with their assessment of Greenaway's denunciation of the collecting mania, I do not accept the implication which I perceive to be there. Not only has collecting, beyond an absolutely minimal level, been nearly lethal to the planet, but I don't think the collecting ethos -- which entails power structures, ownership laws, fragmentation of complex relational webs of life, alienation, accumulation, and the establishment of identity predicated by a separation between subject and object, self and other -- was/is inevitable, and the only possible way of being-in-the-world.

 

Elliott and Purdy's discussion of 'plot' in _The Draughtsman's Contract_ has fascinating implications for, and relevance to their discussion of the culture of collection in chapter five, although I don't believe the authors make the connection explicit. As I mentioned before, they draw here from Peter Brooks' discussion of the multivalent meaning of the word plot: a small piece of ground, a lot, a chart or diagram, a series of events in a narrative, and a secret plan or scheme. As they so aptly demonstrate, all of these meanings are relevant to the film, which is also about allegory as a plotting device. To plot, in whatever sense we mean, is a form of control. But isn't it also a form of collecting -- as in collecting land as private property or as nation? Who are the great real estates magnates or powerful emperors but Great Collectors? (And this collection extends back from the Schang Dynasty of China, to the Persian and Athenian Empires, to the annexing of the New World, to the formation of nation states, to the present corporation-driven globalized economy.) I cannot help but remember Jean-Jacques Rousseau in connection to this, who, well before Marx, saw the implications of fragmenting space and assigning ownership -- in other words, of dismembering the whole and collecting the parts. [5] This, Rousseau clearly saw, was an illegitimate act of theft, one unmistakably, but allegorically, portrayed by Greenaway in _The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover_, a film that makes repeated references to the 18th century.

 

If plotting is an expression of power that requires the dismemberment of an organic whole into parts (which are then made to operate independently of the context in which they originally arose and exist, and to which they are bound symbiotically) then one can also see how the museum -- the locus of collection *par excellence* -- is itself a plotting device in all the senses of the term. Elliott and Purdy's exploration, in chapter three, of the museum -- and by extension of architecture in general -- as a concrete manifestation and expression of power, control, and death, fruitfully draws from Hegel's writings on the subject, as well as from those of George Bataille and his commentators, notably Denis Hollier. To me, the most interesting issue the authors explore here is Hollier's discussion of the museum's relationship to the slaughterhouse: 'the museum finds its 'other' in the slaughterhouse, the two together forming a system within Bataille's anthropology of urban space' (48-9). This suggests a dialectical relationship, where one is simply the dark shadow of the other. Artists such as Greenaway, Andres Serrano, and others, who turn the slaughterhouse into the museum, so to speak, who make art out of death, are thus exposing or denouncing this hidden other.

 

But there is another way in which the museum and the slaughterhouse are related: they are one and the same. This would, in fact, take us closer to Bataille's own denunciation of architecture as a repressive mechanism for social control. I think it is interesting that Bataille compares the great monuments of our civilization -- cathedrals, palaces, etc. -- to dams. Dams literally stop the flow of life by containing it within boundaries, by isolating it from the rest of the river, and by regulating its future course. It is, indeed, telling that empires have immortalized themselves, dramatized their power, and oppressed their subjects by construction monuments (again, from the Great Wall of China, to the Terra Cotta army of Emperor Ch'in, to the Athenian Parthenon, . . . to our own dams). How many flows of life (human and non-human) have been stopped (literally or metaphorically) by these constructions? While architecture and oppression are most overtly linked in _The Belly of an Architect_ through references to the fascist architecture of Rome, the trope of the museum *as* slaughterhouse is present in all of Greenaway's films -- in the guise of a country estate, a restaurant, a zoo, a church, even an island (because it is refashioned by a subjectivity), and even a book (because it is made of dead flesh, human and otherwise).

 

This takes us into chapter four, the final chapter in this discussion, appropriately entitled 'Sultan or Sadist. The Theatre of Power'. This is an important chapter, not only because it discusses _The Baby of Macon_ -- a seldom seen and seldom commented film -- but also because it links under one chapter, three films which I have always taken to be the trilogy which Greenaway claimed he once intended to make but never did: _The Cook_, _Prospero's Books_, and _The Baby of Macon_. The connection which the authors establish among these three films is mostly Brechtian. By this I mean that the authors rightly see Greenaway's use of overt theatricality and defamiliarization as a means of disrupting what Brecht denounced as the empathetic and mimetic (Aristotelian) conventions of bourgeois theater -- and cinema. Although the applicability of Brechtian notions to Greenaway's films has often been alluded to, the authors here go a little further in exploring this aspect of Greenaway's cinema. They thus join Sarah Street, for example, who in a 1997 book on the British national cinema argues that Greenaway's films 'present the viewer with the pleasures and difficulties of the counter-cinematic possibilities offered by pluralist narratives and complex visual structures'. [6] Given that Greenaway's new film, _Eight-and-a Half Women_, currently under production, is an overt homage not only to Frederico Fellini, but also to Jean-Luc Godard, one may expect to see a revival of interest in Brechtian criticism of cinema channeled through Godard's counter-cinematic practices.

 

Elliott and Purdy also explore links between Greenaway's cinema of death and Antonin Artaud's theater of cruelty, noting both the appropriateness and the limitations of such a comparison, and ultimately preferring the Brechtian theater as a 'more adequate theatrical model' (67). I am not convinced that Artaud should be so readily dismissed, but nonetheless the Brechtian analysis is very fruitful and persuasive. While Greenaway himself may not concede that his films are, like Artaud's theater, 'a plague whose object is to purge collectively the disease that is society' (67), I think looking at his films in this way is productive, particularly if one approaches the three films in question as a trilogy.

 

In spite of Greenaway's ample use of high-tech media in _Prospero's Books_, I would say these three films are emphatically theatrical, ritualistic, and preoccupied with issues of community and communion. All three are revenge dramas that can be seen as undertaking a political analysis of the structures of power which have fashioned our civilization: economic, political, and religious structures. They are about empires: economic, political, and ideological. They are linked to each other and feed on each other in a trans-temporal way, but if one desires to read the trilogy historically, than one might start by looking at _The Baby of Macon_ and tracing the movement of culture foreword to our own times in _The Cook_. While _The Baby of Macon_ reveals that religion had been a powerful tool of empire, _The Cook_ shows how empire has asserted itself and propagated its hegemony economically. A direct line can be traced from _The Baby of Macon_ to _The Cook_, and it is thus not surprising that the kitchen in the later has often been compared to a cathedral -- the setting of the former -- and that both have been portrayed as theaters. It is also telling that both spaces are akin to 'theaters of cruelty' where the human body is cannibalized -- metaphorically and literally made into an object of commerce and gluttony.

 

The treatment of cannibalism in these two films resonates not only with contemporary consumerism, but also with the Christian practice of ingesting, allegorically, the body of Christ. It also invites memories of accounts of real cannibalism in the New World -- a practice which the Conquistadores found so offensive as to become the very justification for their own cannibalization of these indigenous cultures. The extermination of the indigenous population of these new-found lands, like the earlier expulsion of the Moors and the Jews from Spain, was sanctioned and justified by the need to spread Christianity, and, along with it, political and economic hegemony. The theme of cannibalism in these two films is picked up in _Prospero's Books_ through the figure of Caliban, whose name is an anagram for cannibal (Shakespeare's own _The Tempest_ is partly inspired by Montaigne's essay _Des Cannibales_).

 

The final element in the creation and sustenance of empire not yet accounted for here is language. _Prospero's Books_ provides this missing link by elucidating the fact that, as the authors of _Architecture and Allegory_ put it, 'the reading of power in the play which, in most post-colonial productions and interpretations of _The Tempest_, has focused almost exclusively on the Prospero-Calliban relationship, is here displaced onto the question of textual control and technical mastery' (74-75). Or, to put it another way, Greenaway underscores a fact already understood in 1452 by Elio Antonio de Nebrija, Queen Isabella's grammarian: that language is the 'companion' of empire. [7]

 

It may be a sign of the extent to which violence and death have become aestheticized in our cultures -- and also the extent to which we must have our faces rubbed in it in order to smell it? -- that the authors note that, surprisingly, '_The Baby of Macon_ does not carry the same weight of terror and disgust as did _The Cook_, thanks largely to the success of the Brechtian distancing devices.' Nonetheless, the authors conclude that, 'as with the earlier films we have discussed, the slaughterhouse is once again present as the shadow 'other' of certain foregrounded social and cultural spaces' (72).

 

Oh . . . But do you mean to say that art is death and beauty is blood? Only allegorically!

Bon appetit!

 

Indiana University, USA

 

 

Footnotes

 

1. _Architecture and Allegory_ provides a good bridge between Lawrence's biographical and critical account and both Alan Woods' and David Pascoe's art historical approaches. The latter two books are more impressionistic, but loaded with information.

 

2. For another treatment of Greenaway's neo-baroque aesthetics, see Cristina Degli-Esposti's 'The Neo-Baroque Scopic Regime of Peter Greenaway's Encyclopedic Cinema'.

 

3. For fascinating discussions on globalization, see Jerry Mander and Edward Goldsmith, eds., _The Case Against the Global Economy, and for a Turn Toward the Local_. See the Bibliography section for other useful material pertaining to imperialism and ecology.

 

4. Jean Baudrillard, _Simulations_, p. 13.

 

5. 'The first person who, having enclosed a plot of land, took it into his head to say *this is mine* and found people simple enough to believe him, was the true founder of civil society. What crimes, wars, murders, what miseries and horrors would the human race have been spared, had someone pulled up the stakes or filled in the ditch and cried out to his fellow men: 'Do not listen to this impostor. You are lost if you forget that the fruits of the earth belong to all and the earth to on one!' But it is quite likely that by then things had already reached the point where they could no longer continue as they were. For this idea of property, depending on many prior ideas which could only have arisen successively, was not formed all at once in the human mind. It was necessary to make great progress, to acquire much industry and enlightenment, and to transmit and augment them from one age to another, before arriving at this final state in the state of nature. (Jean-Jacques Rousseau. _The Basic Political Writings_, p. 60). Rousseau goes on to identify the various developments along the path leading to the establishment of property: language, technology, agriculture, and accumulation of both goods and information/knowledge. For a thought-provoking fictionalization of some of Rousseau's ideas, see Daniel Quinn's _Ishmael_ and his _The Story of B: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit_.

 

6. Sarah Street, _British National Cinema_, pp. 177-78.

 

7. Stephen J. Greenblatt, 'Learning to Curse: Aspects of Linguistic Colonialism in the Sixteenth Century', p. 563

 

 

Bibliography

 

Bataille, George, _Encyclopaedia Acephalica_ (London: Atlas Press, 1995).

 

Baudrillard, Jean, _Simulations_, trans. Paul Foss, Paul Patton, and Philip Beitchman (New York: Semiotext(e), 1983).

 

Brooks, Peter, _Reading For The Plot: Design and Intention in Narrative_ (New York: Vintage Books, 1985).

 

Degli-Esposti, Cristina, 'The Neo-Baroque Scopic Regime of Peter Greenaway's Encyclopedic Cinema', _Cinefocus_, no. 4, 1996, pp. 34-45.

 

Elliott, Bridget and Anthony Purdy, 'Artificial Eye/Artificial You: Getting Greenaway or Mything the Point?', in Anthony Purdy, ed., _Literature And The Body_ (Amsterdam/Atlanta, GA.: Rodopi, 1992), pp. 179-211.

 

Gras, Vernon, 'Dramatizing the Failure to Jump the Culture/Nature Gap: The Films of Peter Greenaway', _New Literary History_, no. 26, 1995, pp. 123-43.

 

Greenblatt, Stephen J., 'Learning to Curse: Aspects of Linguistic Colonialism in the Sixteenth Century', in Fredi Chiappelli, ed., _First Images of America. The Impact of the New World on the Old_, Volume 2 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976), pp. 561-80.

 

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Lawrence, Amy, _The Films of Peter Greenaway_ (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997).

 

Mander, Jerry, and Edward Goldsmith, eds., _The Case Against the Global Economy, and for a Turn Toward the Local_ (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1996).

 

Pascoe, David, _Peter Greenaway: Museums and Moving Images_ (London: Reaktion Books, 1997).

 

Phelan, Peggy, _Unmarked: The Politics of Performance_ (London/New York: Routledge, 1993).

 

Quinn, Daniel, _Ishmael_ (Bantam Books: 1992).

--- _The Story of B: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit_ (Bantam Books: 1996).

 

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques, _The Basic Political Writings_, trans. Donald A. Cress (Indianapolis/Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company, 1987).

 

Sale, Kirkpatrick, _The Conquest of Paradise: Christopher Columbus and the Columbian Legacy_ (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990).

 

Street, Sarah, _British National Cinema_ (London: Routledge, 1997).

 

Woods, Alan, _Being Naked Playing Dead: The Art of Peter Greenaway_ (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1996).

 

 

***

 

Paula Willoquet-Maricondi, 'Feasting on Allegory', _Film-Philosophy_, vol. 2 no. 19, July 1998 <http://www.film-philosophy.com/vol2-1998/n19pw-m>.

 

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