International Symposium
Politics of Form,
Forms of Politics

Session 6: Cinephilia and the Apparatus Francesco Casetti, Vinzenz Hediger

Saturday 1:30-3:30

Vinzenz Hediger (Goethe-Universität Frankfurt,
“The Repentant Cinephile: Film Criticism as Self-Criticism”

In Minima Moralia, published in 1951, Adorno writes that every time he goes to the movies, he comes out “dümmer und schlechter”, a cognitively and morally lessened man. It is a thundering indictment of the deleterious ideological effects of cinema, which draws its force not least from the fact that it also speaks to the critic’s own entanglement: After all, he keeps on going back against his better insights, or else there would be no “every time”. Eighteen years later, the critics of the Cahiers du cinema publish a similar indictment of cinema, or rather of film, as a vessel of ideology, albeit in an editorial rather than a one-sentence aphorism. The Cahiers critics also speak of themselves, but in terms of their roles as writers and publishers of a magazine. Only in an oblique reference to the ambiguous heritage of the magazine’s founder, André Bazin, does a different level of engagement with cinema shine through the cracks of their argument: That of the cinephile, of the lover of cinema, who comes to film not armed with the sophisticated instruments of Althusserian Marxism combined with structuralist semiotics, but driven by passion. In this contribution, I want to read the Cahiers critics critique of ideology as a form of self-criticism of the repentant cinephile. I also want to discuss how the figure of the repentant cinephile relates to other forms of public self-criticism in European culture and politics of the 1970s, which were modelled on the templates of Mao’s cultural revolution, and I briefly want to address how this figure became a model for film criticism and film studies in the following decades.

Vinzenz Hediger is professor of cinema studies at Goethe Universität Frankfurt, where he directs the Graduate Research Training Program “Configurations of film”.

Francesco Casetti (Yale University),
“Apparatus Theory and the Fear of Cinema”

This paper will tackle the two main statements of the Cahiers editorial “Cinema/Ideology/Criticism”: respectively the idea that ideology is pervasive, and nothing can escape it, and the idea that films must perform visible ruptures with respect to the usual system of representation. Both statements have strong cinephobic connotations. In early film theories, cinema was commonly associated with the idea of pervasiveness. Against those who appreciated the unprecedented dissemination of cinema among the most diverse populations and social strata, cinephobic theorists, like the Spanish capuchin Francisco de Barbéns, saw in this dissemination a “plague” that threatened the human civilization. According to these cinephobic theorists, cinema was spreading a way of seeing, of feeling, and of thinking, which ultimately shaped a new kind of man. An adequate answer was to work on the modes of filmic representation (and attendance). Returning to 1969, Comolli-Narboni’s editorial also praises a deep change in the mode of filmic representation. The “discrepancy” or “rupture” that the editorial hails is at once a self-reflexive movement and a form of disfigurement. Once again, the topic brings us back to previous iconophobic or even iconoclastic moments, in which the destruction of the object represented an answer to the excess of fascination (another term used by Comolli-Narboni). The Cahiers editorial justifies destruction with a critical productivity. As was also the case, in other journals and authors. the more such deconstructive practices emerge, the more apparent these phobic aspects would become. The echoes that the paper retraces in the Cahiers editorial do not imply any equivalence: the historical contexts that are mentioned are clearly different. What the paper suggests, instead, is a “deep history” of the fear of media that is worth being explored.

Francesco Casetti is the Thomas E. Donnelley Professor of Humanities and Film and Media Studies at Yale University. Among his books, Eye of the Century: Film, Experience, Modernity (2005) analyses the reasons why cinema became the art of 20th century, and The Lumière Galaxy: Seven Key words for the Cinema to Come (2015) depicts the reconfiguration of cinema in a post-medium epoch. He currently works on fears that cinema raised in the first decades of its life, and on the increasing interdependence of media and environment.