ISSN 1466-4615



Patrick McGee

Forget Aporia




David Sorfa

'N/M: Misreading the Womand'


vol. 2 no. 23, August 1998


I want to apologize at the outset for not offering a detailed and rigorous response to David Sorfa's review of my book, _Cinema, Theory, and Political Responsibility in Contemporary Culture_. It would take up too much of my time and probably wouldn't accomplish much. The truth is that I appreciated the intelligence and engagement that went into this review; and though, as the reviewer notes, it often reduces my work to caricature, it makes some good points as well. I just want to respond to a few things that bothered me.


First, the review begins with a question as to why I don't make references to the work of my colleague, David Wills, on deconstruction and film theory. I have nothing but respect for David Wills and certainly read his co-authored book while I was composing mine. The truth is that I didn't find much in that book that helped me to think about the problems I wanted to address; and frankly, I don't find anything in the review that justifies bringing so much attention to this gap.


Second, Sorfa says that I somehow imagine that _The Crying Game_ is a Hollywood film. I'm really not quite that stupid, and a careful grammatical reading of that sentence on page 80 would clear this matter up. However, there is some ambivalence because I am using the term 'Hollywood film' in a generic way to refer to films that are clearly products of the culture industry, which I believe _The Crying Game_ to be. Independent films, whether made in the US or the UK, are no longer exempt from the problematics of the culture industry, if they ever were.


Third, I have to admit that I don't fully explain my use of the word 'hope' but rather leave it up to the reader to derive a sense of its meaning from my use of it in various contexts. It is closely related to the Lacanian concept of desire, but desire understood as operating in a dialectical relation to demand. I've tried to explain this logic more clearly in a recent unpublished essay on James Cameron's _Titanic_. At the risk of falling into allegory, I will try to encapsulate. Both desire and demand arise out of and respond to the drive toward closure, meaning, death, and so forth. Demand answers the drive with a fantasy of fulfillment that prohibits hope. Desire suspends the drive and articulates the contradictions in any object that tries to contain it. Demand affirms and defends the social system, for example. Desire criticizes it in the quest for something else that is always just out of reach. Hope, in my view, is never hopeless; but it is negative. In my book, I argue, after Adorno, that suffering arises from determinate negation. I should also have said that hope is determinate negation, a desire that arises out of the social system, out of its own internal contradictions. Hope takes the form of suffering because it cannot predict the future but insists on the possibility of social change in the midst of painful contradictions. I'll have to leave it at that. I realize that these are very vague generalizations, but all the work I am currently engaged in is an effort to make them more concrete.


Fourth, the reviewer makes an ambivalent statement that I want to clear up: 'perhaps the central aporia (although I am loathe to use this word as McGee never does) of the film revolves around the figure of misogyny'. Although Sorfa surely means that he loathes to use the word to describe something in my book because I never do use it, he sounds as if he is saying that I never loathe to use it. The fact is that I do not use it, not even once. I do use the adjective 'aporetic' once, only to reject its value for my discussion. This is significant because so many deconstructive critics use it so frequently, although Derrida uses it very rarely. There is a place for this term in my thought, but it is not the word I use for the significance of misogyny in Jordan's film. The term I use for that is contradiction. It articulates a historical boundary or limit, something left unresolved that points to the historicity of the film.


Finally, I'll just say this. Originally, I wanted to call this book by a different title: _Redeeming Contradictions: Theory, Film, and Political Responsibility in Contemporary Culture_. Cambridge University Press had other ideas, and they chose the final title. I never saw this work as strictly a film book. The decision to focus on a few movies arose out of my conviction that Adorno's _Aesthetic Theory_ (pace his aesthetic elitism) suggested a theory of the relation between art and mass culture that was contrary, in many ways, to Adorno's own aesthetic ideology. Everything in the book hinges on my reading of Adorno (which is complicated because Adorno is complicated) and not on my desire to make contributions to film theory per se. When I use the term 'true art', I follow Adorno's usage which is nuanced and dialectical and certainly does not refer to an aesthetic essence. It is not a judgment of value but refers to a social relation. I don't think it is possible to say categorically what is or is not art; but that doesn't mean that the term 'art' is meaningless. Art is true when it has exposed its own contradictory status in capitalist culture. That truth is not intrinsic or essential, though it can only emerge from an intrinsic or immanent analysis that is also a contextual analysis. Obviously, some works, whether they are products of mass culture or of a more narrowly defined aesthetic culture, invite the kind of analysis I speak of; but that doesn't mean that they are the only works of art that are true. Art as a social institution generates its contrary, or anti-art, but not without the mediation of critique.


Louisiana State University, USA




Patrick McGee, 'Forget Aporia',  _Film-Philosophy_, vol. 2 no. 24, August 1998 <>.


Copyright © _Film-Philosophy_ 1998




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