International Symposium
Politics of Form,
Forms of Politics

Session 1: Cinema and Spectacle
Jean-Louis Comolli
Thomas Elsaesser

Jean-Louis Comolli,
“‘Cinema/Ideology/Criticism’: Yesterday and Today”

In this special video presentation, one of the original co-authors of the text “Cinema/Ideology/Criticism,” Jean-Louis Comolli, looks back at his time as an editor at Cahiers du cinéma during the politicized atmosphere of the 1960s and 1970s, and discusses the relevance of this article for his later development as a filmmaker and film theorist.

Jean-Louis Comolli is French writer, editor and film director. He was editor of Cahiers du cinéma from 1965 to 1973.

Thomas Elsaesser (Columbia University),
“Spectacle: Making the Visible Invisible”

What, we often ask ourselves, is the status of the visible in the contemporary context, when so much of what determines our lives is either too fast, or too slow, too big, too small, or too counter-intuitive for the human eye to perceive, for the human mind to grasp and for the human sensorium to process? This creates a special dilemma for the cinema, where the visible has often stood for seeing as knowing and for knowing as understanding, and for understanding as enabling action. But as Guy Debord already sensed, and as Jean Louis Comolli acknowledges: the visible increasingly stands for not knowing, for ignorance, in which case, the spectacle stands for not wanting to know. In response to this dilemma, a new branch of philosophy is being developed, in order to complement that part of philosophy we call epistemology: which is concerned with how we know what we know, and what grounds we have for believing this knowledge to be true or reliable. Analogous to epistemology, this new branch has been called agnotology: the philosophical study of ignorance, or if you like, the arts and sciences of making ignorant.

Thomas Elsaesser is Professor Emeritus at the Department of Media and Culture, University of Amsterdam, and since 2013 teaches part-time at Columbia University, New York.

Among his most recent books are Film Theory – An Introduction through the Senses (with Malte Hagener, Routledge, 2015), Film History as Media Archaeology (Amsterdam University Press, 2016) and European Cinema and Continental Philosophy: Film as Thought Experiment (Bloomsbury, 2018).