8 (2005), Nr.3/September





Ludwig Nagl/Eva Waniek/Brigitte Mayr (eds.), film denken/thinking film. Film & Philosophy, Wien: Synema 2004 (, 259 pages, € 25,-. – Peter Kubelka, Film als Ereignis, Film als Sprache, Denken als Film. Ein Vortrag mit Beispielen, gehalten im Österreichischen Filmmuseum am 10. November 2002 im Rahmen des Symposiums Film/Denken, Wien: Zone 2003 (, PAL, colour, 4:3, mono, 173', DVD 9, German), € 28,-. With thanks to Dr. Barbara-Amina Gereben-Krenn. Revised on April 23, 2019. 38989 characters.





This is a fascinating and rewarding book for people with interest and patience. Interest is presupposed in the philosophy of film or philosophical aesthetics as a philosophy of the arts including film, that is, to find a general level on which is possible a theoretically satisfying occupation with film theory and film studies as well as a resumption of the interconnections to intraphilosophical disciplines like epistemology or ethics. Patience is required because, according to philosophical/theoretical traditions, there is a variety of different if not divergent approaches that only partially show up in a distinct way clearly positioned. And this book is recommended to be read with the documentary movie of Peter Kubelka’s lecture at the symposium of which the book itself is a document.

Ludwig Nagl has been the driving force behind the symposium. (The symposium had the title Film/Denken - der Beitrag der Philosophie zu aktuellen Debatten in den film studies and was produced by the Department of Philosophy at the University of Vienna, the Institute for Science and Art/Vienna and Synema - Gesellschaft für Film und Medien. It took place on November 8 to 10, 2002. The schedule of the symposium is reprinted at the final pages of the volume, on pages 258-259.) For several years now, Nagl is one of the few philosophers in and beyond German speaking countries who writes about and organizes activities in the philosophy of film. He has written numerous articles and edited books on the philosophy of film in recent years constantly keeping an eye on a philosophical scene that does not care much about a pervasive picture of the field and an integrated methodology that copes with phenomenological, analytical, semiotic and other philosophical traditions:Stanley Cavells Versuch, die Tiefengrammatik des Films zu entschlüsseln”, in: Zeitschrift für Didaktik der Philosophie, Heft 2, 1982; (co-ed.) Stanley Cavell: Nach der Philosophie. Essays. Zweite, erweiterte und überarbeitete Auflage. Mit einer neuen Einleitung herausgegeben von Ludwig Nagl und Kurt R. Fischer, = Deutsche Zeitschrift für Philosophie. Zweimonatsschrift der internationalen philosophischen Forschung, Sonderband 1, Akademie Verlag: Berlin, 2001 (first edition 1987); Ansätze zu einer (noch ausstehenden) Philosophie des Films: Benjamin, Cavell, Deleuze, in: Die Zukunft des Wissens. XVIII. Deutscher Kongreß für Philosophie Konstanz 1999. Workshop-Beiträge, hg. v. Jürgen Mittelstraß/Allgemeine Gesellschaft für Philosophie in Deutschland e. V. in Verbindung mit der Universität Konstanz, Konstanz: UVK Universitätsverlag Konstanz 1999, pp.1231-1238; (ed.) Filmästhetik, = Wiener Reihe. Themen der Philosophie, Bd. 10, Wien/München/Berlin: Oldenbourg/Akademie-Verlag: 1999; Stanley Cavells Philosophie des Films, in: Deutsche Zeitschrift für Philosophie 2002, Heft 1, pp.163-174; Wenn Philosophie ins Kino geht. Neue angloamerikanische Literatur zur Filmphilosophie (Cavell, Deleuze), in: Deutsche Zeitschrift für Philosophie 2004, Heft 5, pp.793-810; Über Film philosophieren. Stanley Cavells Komödien- und Melodramenanalyse, in: Die Reflexivität des Bildes. Texte für Evelin Klein (herausgegeben von Hans-Dieter Klein und Wolfgang Schild), Peter Lang: Frankfurt a.M., 2004, pp.63-86. For the future we may hope to get a book from his hand on the field. Also, one should mention that Nagl can add to some tradition in Vienna which is open to film theory and philosophy: formalist movie makers of the 1950/60es, Hans Scheugl’s endeavours (with Ernst Schmidt Jr. (ed.), Eine Subgeschichte des Films, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp 1974), a promising dissertation by Peter Tscherkassky (Film und Kunst - zu einer kritischen Ästhetik der Kinematografie, Wien: phil. Diss. 1986), and most importantly: the Österreichischen Filmmuseum. Over the last forty years it made incessantly acquainted with, by way of comprehensive retrospectives not only the complete history of significant narrative film but also regularly with early film, experimental film, and in more recent times with documentary film.


In his contribution to the book in review Nagl (‘Film and self-knowledge’: Philosophische Reflexionen im Anschluss an Stanley Cavell and Stephen Mulhall, pp.31-46) seeks to prevent the philosophy of film from being dissolved into or even abused from what is called post-theory and from an instrumentalization of philosophy by journals like Screen or the Cahiers de cinéma. He rather calls on philosophical traditions of the knowledge of the self as analyzed by Kant, Lyotard and Wittgenstein. Especially Wittgenstein’s private language argument, says Nagl, had explained that „we“ is the content (Gehalt) of the reference of „I“. This is, as Nagl points out, important already for Cavell’s first book on aesthetics Must We Mean What We Say?. There, Cavell included the observation that modernism fades with an increasing distance to popular needs leaving the artistic function of rescue irrelevant. Moreover, cinema, as Nagl says with Cavell’s books on cinema, shows to entertain a strong continuity with a wide audience as well as to a multiplicity of serious or non-serious genres. Most importantly, cinema delivers hopes not in risk. But the reflective break with this by means of a post-traditional „time image“, as Nagl elucidates with Deleuze (Cinema 2, first chapter, last pages), offers the chance of cinematic self questioning. With the new facts that the post-world-war-II camera may be not in, but (shown!) outside the world and that the screen suggests for the spectator’s I in a coherent world comes a narcissist theatricalization of pictures rather than a way of enabling the viewer to self recognition. How to incite and preserve the latter? This is the main concern of Nagl with Cavell: an acknowledgement of the self as an „Existenzial“ in cinema, a knowledge of the self in everyday life relative to actions with respect to the modes of reflections packed in emotions. This self recognition at last is for instance about an individual bodily integrity that includes and allows bodily penetration and sexual reproduction, as Nagl tells with Stephen Mulhall’s reading of the Alien series.


This book, when in my hands the first time, would, I presumed, enclose a more detailed analysis of Deleuze’s approach as outlined in Nagl’s Ansätze zu einer (noch ausstehenden) Philosophie des Films: Benjamin, Cavell, Deleuze (see above) beyond a mere connection to Cavell (the post-traditional „time image“). Therefore I was particularly disappointed that Deleuze’s Cinema 1 + Cinema 2 did not arouse any attention in Slavoj Zizek (Film as the continuation with other means - the case of Gilles Deleuze, pp.13-30). (There may be some more passages pertinent to the philosophy of film in the book on Lacan and Deleuze that Zizek wrote at the time when he gave the Vienna paper, now published as: Organs Without Bodies: On Deleuze and Consequences, London: Verso 2003; in German Körperlose Organe. Bausteine für eine Begegnung zwischen Deleuze und Lacan, Frankfurst am Main: Suhrkamp 2005). There are two minor exceptions, two sentence-long remarks concerning the new of new realism and the bodiless organ as found in the Time-Image (where in Cinema 2?). Zizek is brilliant in using movies for his theory but leaves us puzzled over the question what kind of film theory or philosophy of film he advocates. It is obvious that Deleuze is his point of reference. But instead of developing a clear stance on Deleuze’s two volume book on cinema he rather copes with Deleuze’s „excess in the emergence of the New“ (15) realism as an Event whereby cause itself is the excess and cannot be reduced to the historical circumstances, moreover turns out, for Zizek, as the „meta-cause of the very excess of the effect over its corporeal causes“ (16). Here, at last, Lacan enters the picture who always already lends his basic outlines. As for instance Hitchcock’s shock maneuvres show, the real is phantasmatic and becomes virtual by means of a misperception. Zizek endlessly gives examples with referring to „Hannibal“, Leone, Haneke/Jelinek, Kubrick, Fincher, to composers like Wagner and Monteverdi and writers like the Grimms, Brecht, Shakespeare or Diderot. He does not shy at analyzing the „talking vagina“ and graphically making a case of „bodiless“ organs in porno movies. His thesis receives some evidence: As already the psychoanalysis of dreams has shown, the virtual is the place of the actual only within the oedipal matrix of the masochist logic of sense and the schizoist logic of becoming. Here the symbolic castration or negation of the phallus which characterizes a sort of organless body corresponds to Deleuzian bodiless organs, to be found as an extracted OwB <organ without body> ... in the Time-Image <where?>, in the guise of the GAZE itself as such an autonomous organ no longer <is?> attached to a body. (25)


Any reader of this book will further notice that Deleuze remains implicit in several ways with other contributors. Birgit Recki insists on the cinematic significance of Nietzsche’s Apollonian to a degree that it is hard to imagine that this insistance has not been at least a bit informed by what Deleuze wrote in section 2 of chapter 9 in Cinema 2 about the „visual image“ (!) as of Apollonian origin and mediated by drama whereas the ‘immediate’ musical Dionysian image is nearer to will than movement and yet unable to occupy the center of total work - Deleuze opts for music as a grain of dust in the eye and, with Eisler, against Eisenstein’s common movement of the visual and the acoustic (Adorno/Eisler, Komposition für den Film). Compare Recki’s interest in the Frankfurt School in: Am Anfang ist das Licht. Elemente einer Ästhetik des Kinos, in: Ludwig Nagl (Hg.), Filmästhetik, = Wiener Reihe. Themen der Philosophie 10, Wien/Berlin: Oldenbourg/Akademie-Verlag, 35-60). David Rodowick’s reflections so easily seem to manage without reference to his book of 1997 (Gilles Deleuze’s Time Machine) that we may suspect that a closer interpretative reading of his contribution - which I am unable to give here - yields interesting underpinnings hidden here, except the allusion by means of the Dionysian (see below). And although Raymond Bellour (Wie man mit Daniel Stern das Kino besser fühlen/denken kann, pp.213-235) does not admit, he impossibly can have been independent of Deleuze in working out his stance on the hypnotic in the way he suggests (Cinema 2, end of fourth chapter) - despite the fact that he explicitly has got to do next to nothing with philosophy.


Deleuze is the big absent figure. Like Cavell, Deleuze with his two volumes on cinema was a passionate cinéphile, one of those admirable persons who saw a lot of movies, had a comprehensive memory of them and the ability to draw profit theoretically. I imagine Deleuze watching the discussion of film theory for some time that had, in the 1960es, arisen with film semiologist Christian Metz and early on relied on an application of psychoanalysis which was a theory Deleuze and Anti-Ödipus co-author/psychiatrist Félix Guattari had difficulties with. (See: Janine Chasseguet-Smirgel (ed.), Wege des Anti-Ödipus. Mit einem Nachwort von Caroline Neubaur, = Ullstein Buch 3401, Frankfurt am Main/Berlin/Wien: Ullstein 1978). Secondly, when it comes to dream theoretician Freud and sémiologie Deleuze in his two volumes preferred contemporaries Bergson and Peirce who, together with Nietzsche, are by far the most often cited philosophers in his work. Given that Deleuze’s philosophy is aesthetic empiricism we may see his work spanning from Difference and Repetition and The Logic of Sense to A Thousand Plateaus in the context of doing phenomenology post-structurally without phenomenology the  stream of thought of which was so dominant in the formative years of Deleuze (* 1925). Deleuze’s development as seen from today and in terms of Cinema 1 and Cinema 2 represents a splitting up of phenomenology into vitalist (Nietzsche!) Bergson and semiological (Saussurean) Peirce which seems to have been inevitable (see Frédéric Worms (ed.), Bergson, Deleuze, la phénoménologie, = Annales Bergsoniennes II, 2004) in order to elaborate a théorie-en-film that corresponds to the philosophical basis Deleuze had finally reached by 1980. The connections of movements to movements by film’s own stream of consciousness being like pictures responding/reacting to pictures and thereby construeing centers of consciousness in movement-images and causing reality effects; the invasion of time into these movement-images effacing „virtual“ reality and giving free flow to illusions without origin - what else should it be than advanced phenomenology, a phenomenological ontology that in its Bazinian/Heideggerian/Greenbergian/Fried/Merleau-Pontyan way inspired and encouraged Cavell to do his decisive steps out of the realm of analytic philosophy?


Gertrud Koch (Motion picture - Bausteine zu einer Ästhetik des Films, pp.51-65) insists on the independence of the film world from observation by way an of artistically autonomous construction of the world, a construction usually taken not aesthetical and not as a work of art. It is only with a specific performances of the invisible object film that lets us fall into illusion. According to Koch, this illusion felt as aesthetic - including subversion by aesthetic wit - may be reached with an artistic work on details as well as with effects and experiments. Here Koch holds up a tradition to be found in art theory from Diderot until late 19th century. Strictly speaking, it is the projectionists who play with modes of film proper as will have done in consequence experimental film makers like those of expanded cinema. Koch reminds us of the projection of an early movie showing a wall destroyed and then „re-erected“ with film running backwards. She extends her theory of film - the ontology of reality projected by means of photographic world performances (Cavell) and film as a sign - to the capacity of physical affordance. She does so with an analysis of scenes in Chaplin’s „Gold Rush“ and Hitchcock’s „Marnie“. The cooked shoe-laces and -sole as pasta and meat when being caught in a cold hut without food during winter time on the way to California and Hitchcock’s design and presentation of Marnie’s yellow bag. Both of them are visual metaphors delivered with a certain feeling experienced as valuable and, supervenient to it, beautiful. This allows to confirm and emphasize illusion as an aesthetic category. Koch cites Peirce’s firstness with the quale being an object of feeling or of mood as an a priori sign. In other words, firstness here is an anchor for the movie breaking stream of consciousness aesthetically. And it is black film and the black tradition from Tourneur to Lynch that gives the materia of signs: thought!


Birgit Recki (Überwältigung und Reflexion - der Film als Mythos und als Kunst, pp.71-91), following her Am Anfang ist das Licht. Elemente einer Ästhetik des Kinos (in: Nagl (Hg.), Filmästhetik, op.cit., 35-60), delineates a hermeneutic aesthetics of film as a theory of aesthetic experience. She wants to unify semiotic, logical and analytic approaches and above all to apply to film Cassirer’s Philosophy of Symbolic Forms (1923-29). With Cassirer of whom Recki edits Gesammelte Werke at Meiner Verlag (1998ff.) she identifies the pictoriality of pictures as schemes. Schemes, already with Kant not linguistic, are nonetheless rational. Or, seeing is a theoretical sense also belonging to aesthetic theory. Pictures may be Apollonian dream-like, yet they are akin to language, says Recki with reference to Cassirer’s epistemology. For pictures are a sensualization of sense by means of symbolization. Or, sense is embodied/expressed in a sensual medium by means of a symbol or symbolic form. Depending on the degree of concrete sensuality or abstract spiritualization there are different ways of symbolization or formation of reality. Like linguistic expressions, pictures have a surplus of meaning. They are „meaningful“ (bedeutsam) as Recki underlines. That converts them into aesthetic ornaments. They are not just artificial but artistic from the outset. In mental terms, pictures/images as perceptual experiences are sense/meaning (Sinn) in itself confirmed by an activity like seeing-as. Recki considers film in continuity with other kinds of arts, so that cinema appears to offer pregnant „sentences“ within works of film. Like other symbolic forms, film needs to be situated between myth and art, between expression and representation, pure seductive pictorial power and reflection. Pictures are objects and thus have purely immanent meaning, freedom, autonomy, and at the same time pure expression of artistic spirit. That they are obsessive is due to mythical consciousness (fn. 25, p.90, Goodman: pictures decipher cognitively although not sufficiently). Hence what is called dream factory is also producing laughter and weeping. Art reflects images produced spontaneously, authentically discovered and so intensifies reality together with controlling the gaze. Myth serves a desire of seeing that may border to being overwhelmed by ecstasy, or absent-mindedness or contemplation. (p.85, half) It is Cavell to whom Recki finally resorts. Film for both, like Cassirer’s correlation of the I and language, is a form of self-consciousness achieving a bridge for obsession and reflection by means of intuition. Recki makes another step though. In film, humans become the support of expression and object of representation at once - with the face (Balázs) when body-soul interprets itself.


Gloria Withalm in her contribution replying to Recki (Film als Semiose - der Beitrag semiotischer Theorien zu den film studies, pp.93-97) recalls the necessity of the discipline to transgress the paradigm of film semiotics. In order to synthesize philosophy, semiotics and socio-cultural processes we need, with particular attention to Ferrucio Rossi-Landi, to focus theoretically on analytical practice and pragmatics. The former imposes a re-reading of Peirce and Cassirer in terms of a semiophilosophy. The latter should allow to invoke again concrete work of signs, the homology of language and production and the dichotomy of film and ideology.


Wolfgang Pircher (Hollywoods Gespenster - Martin Arnolds filmische Dekonstruktionsarbeit, pp.149-157) explains provocatively some more recent attempts with found footage to cope with ghosts, for instance fading of areas in the pictures of film, the making disappear or silencing of actors on found footage etc. He does so with situating that practice in the tradition of Hollywood-on-Hollywood movies. On the other hand he relates to Didi-Huberman’s distinction between visible and visual. Against the visible as usually used in our culture a (medievo-religious) visible can be traced back to an Aristotelian consideration of the surface. The background is surface, but used as a collection of spatial potencies according to which pictorial planes may be differentiated and objects appear or disappear. So it is with this genre of film. The 'focused' objects on a picture/scene may become an interface for other things, for instance a face, and rush may replace the original soundtrack.


Cynthia Freeland (Empricism and the philosophy of film, pp.187-202) thinks to step beyond film semiotics, a discipline that seems to be a strong paradigm in US film studies. Her confession is a combination of ontology, hermeneutics and theory of value. At stake is an understanding and assessing of emotions, like Recki, from a quasi-Kantian point of view: empirical knowledge in conscious experience is rational (W. Sellars). At the same time and in order to draw sense from experience, empirical research of psychology or perceptual aspects as examined by cognitive science should be mediated to film theory, for instance a theory of cinematic metaphors. Freeland contributes to this kind of exchange. She makes a case with Peckinpah’s western „The Wild Bunch“. The first example is a verbal-and-visual metaphor as is the killing of scorpions by ants whereby, neurologically understood, the metaphorical meaning may be grasped more rapidly than the literal/literary one. The second example is one of the bunch being shot at in slow motion which may have an experiential basis in neurology as Freeland tells with reference to Peckinpah’s and her own experiences of being violently attacked: that photographically normal images may neurophenomenologically differ from manifest conscious ones. Again, Goodman’s conventional scheme of representation is considered by Freeland in its need for completion by implications of direct experience. The final example refers to masterfully non-determined facial expression by the lead actor that allows for ambiguous interpretation with making the audience’s relate to what happened before and what may happen as the movie’s finale - without comparably long cognitive processes or additional knowledge on the side of spectators.


The volume reviewed here concerns the relations of philosophy to film and film theory, not film studies as announced in the program! The exception is Cynthia Freeland. Encouraged by Sellars’s attack on a dogmatic self-understanding of logical positivism in his „Empricism and the philosophy of mind“ Freeland mentions in passing that a vertical, hierarchical relationship of philosophy (of film) to empirical research (on film) should be replaced by organizing a free exchange between philosophy and the sciences. The aim is „to combine a rejection of positivism and foundationalism with an endorsement of naturalism and empiricism.“ (187) Surprisingly, she does not take over Sellars’s programmatic emphasis on the philosophy of mind although her explanations are exclusively directed at developing a philosophy of film in mental terms of psychology and neurology. But I concede that it is another matter to additionally bridge the gap to cultural film studies where there may be only very little research or few publications so far.


That carries me to a question. What are the mental conditions for having such an extraordinary memory of movies as Cavell and Deleuze do? Shouldn’t we put effort in working out detailed commentaries on the books of Cavell and Deleuze? It certainly would help to give short descriptions of the phenomena in question that are used to build an argument. I can well understand: for Cavell and Deleuze there may not have been the time during the actual writing process to take care for giving more detailed references. Also, with giving a detailed reference to (the scene of) the movie there may be the danger that the power of movie (memory) might take possession of an author who tries to correspond with his or her philosophical aims. In most cases I suppose that the lack of such a memory explains the philosophers’ reluctance or even incapability to cope with film on the same philosophical level as given by the authors just mentioned and by books already of a certain age - The World Viewed was published in 1971, Cinema 1 and Cinema 2 in 1983 and 1985 respectively. In other words, the magnificent knowledge of a huge amount of important movies and with it of a lot of singular visual particularities that the reader often doesn’t know either intimidates or causes further specializing where more integrative thinking is wanted. One thing is for sure: Giving no illustrations as done here is good philosophical tradition worth to be preserved.


Mike Sandbothe (Filmphilosophie als Medienphilosophie - pragmatische Überlegungen zu 'The Matrix' and 'Minority Report', pp.101-113) reviews a book documenting the current state of German philosophy of the media in the first half of his contribution and gives an application of Nagl’s Ansätze zu einer (noch ausstehenden) Philosophie des Films: Benjamin, Cavell, Deleuze to a reading of two recent block-busters. According to Nagl, Sandbothe considers the two movies with Deleuze’s stance of the cinematic as a Vorschein of divinity and Cavell’s stance of the cinema as a medium of moral perfectionism. In Sandbothe’s view, both stances purportedly are, in the tradition of Aristotle, part of the theoretical philosophy and the practical philosophy respectively. However, as Herbert Hrachovec says in his comment on Sandbothe correctly (Dasgute Leben’ und die Medienphilosophie, pp.115-118), a philosophy of media loses its sharpness when it does not take account of the differences of an artificial photo-mechanical product, radio technology mass media or a data network organized according to TCP/IP protocols (ein photo-mechanisches Kunstprodukt, ein funktechnisches Massenmedium oder ein nach TCP/IP-Protokollen eingerichtetes Daten-Netzwerk, p.116). Moreover, says Hrachovec who confesses to have become an apostate of film theory - why? - (compare his book Drehorte. Arbeiten zu Filmen, Wien: Synema 1997) with respect to the internet one needs to remain skeptical concerning the aesthetics of web sites. Indeed it is much more interesting to focus on the internet’s possibilities of communicative resistance with for instance free software than to read movies just as narratives about (imagined) effects of digitality on ficitious contents without paying attention to digital aspects of the medium itself - film - , as Sandbothe does.


Of all the contributors, David Rodowick is the only one in the book to directly address the digitization of film (The Virtual life of film, pp.119-129). Rodowick recognizes the replacement of celluloid correctly as a challenge for the photographic process which rests on the unaltered intaglio and that we have become capable of replacing by a numeric manipulation of the luminous „given“. The analogy of this substance and indexicality is negated. In consequence, computational notation is rigorous whereas notation of celluloid (moving) pictures was not. The concept of the picture remains the same though, for Rodowick. But aesthetic innovation of the digital entails a reset of photographic realism throughout. Film is no more media specific as it used to be for 20th century film and (one might add philosophically) its film theory. Rodowick says that film used to be a challenge for philosophical aesthetics as conceived since Lessing up to more recent times and for an ontological/an-aesthetic philosophy of film as Goodman would have conceived it if only he had had the guts to do it. Rodowick has them. For his purposes, he sets out to reproduce the autographic/allographic distinction. Because of lack of tactile substance, temporal film is allographic and has a Dionysian craze like music - here Deleuze’s Nietzscheanism is even surpassed - that strictly depends on performance and works, like photography, like a print disposing of signature but not notationality. This leads Rodowick to a definition of celluloid film along the lines of Goodman's „Languages of Art“ (LA 114). But what now? What is the ontology and aestheticity of film today? Today, film is autographic, open, not a final product and can, most importantly, be translated into more than one medium - into screen pictures, but also into sound or language how „irrational“ the result may be. What follows is a discussion of mostly Metzean film theory. For semiological reasons Metz had denied himself an aesthetic ontology as well as filmic self resemblance. Moreover, cinematographic specifics rest on a set of all the possible films/figures, messages and cinematographic codes. This is significant for today’s discussion, as Rodowick notes. Without material specifics of the signifier - Metz counted five expressive materiae - theoretical aesthetics has become unable to explain any kind of media by photographical criteria of ontological self identification and substantial self reference. For Rodowick, the cinematic has turned out to pervasively be culturally constructed. He concludes that film has become a conceptual virtuality in terms of the Metzean imaginary signifier - sensorically modal and psychically structured - whose absent object calls for „escaping“ pictures and hallucinatory projection.


In terms of digital virtuality Rodowick comes as close to contemporary film and film theory as possible. Recent developments escape him because the topic is film with the burden of a material medium specific as we can learn from his contribution. What lacks first in a general theory of film is taking appropriately account of the arts of the „digital“ screen - the difference of projected pictures and pictures on monitors (both of them increasingly sizeless) has become less essential. Screen art replaces film in an additional form than TV does since decades (monitors from mobile phone to big stadium screens, projected movies from blue tooth technology to big size wall projections). I also wonder what kind of impact the visual arts might have had on expanding and changing the concept of film and movie since the 1960es, thinking of closed-circuit-installations, video art, video clips, digital painting like Bill Viola's, video and movie installations rising in the 1990es, the additional exhibition value of film in film exhibitions as well as the increasingly important film festivals, finally the whole fields of computer games and website „moving pictures“ reaching from automatically high-lighted words when moving the mouse on them, over those little thumb nail size activate gifs to website banners. I further suspect that digitality causes an accelerated life of film/movie culture (ever more rapid cuts etc.) that does not leave untouched traditional genres like documentary, experimental, narrative and advertisement film. I can agree with the attitude that in terms of great philosophers of art we need to keep in mind great narrative cinema tradition. But a general culture of movies has emerged by now. This is one more challenge for a geisteswissenschaftlich philosophy of art that does not give in to mere empirical cultural studies.




Kubelka started his lecture - after precisely arranging necessary demonstration objects and the filling of the movie theatre - at minute 31 and finished 125 minutes later with giving another 18 minutes recording the emptying of seats and projection room. This includes plenty of time to show the blackness of the Invisible Cinema, the so called projection room of the Österreichisches Filmmuseum at Vienna as it was conceived by Kubelka in 1970 when living in New York and later realized as the museum’s long time co-director in 1989. From the beginning to the end the camera was installed behind the last row of seats to record the 174 minutes in one Warholesque single take with turning and zooming (there will have been a few cuts). Before Kubelka started we could see him give a few orders arranging the objects and people enter the room and take their seats. After the end of the lecture we saw Kubelka greet people and exchange a few words with them with finally leaving the room.


After the screening of his „Arnulf Rainer“ - sequences of black frames and white frames with rush or silence respectively - Kubelka set in to elucidate the relationship of film to language - spoken, written or thought. We live, he says, with language as a native tongue. We think with it and other languages. Kubelka says he loves language, but does not like to be commanded by it. Who else would not agree? Kubelka says he is fed up with believing in notions like „now“, „I go, I live, I love, I do <now>“. For nobody ever has encountered the „now“. Those mythical notions give way to an archaic life. To quit this life, all forms of avant-garde from the aborigines to our times stand up. So we only hear cutting wood after it happened. A trace of the cut inscribes into the air and then we hear sound. Concerning the senses we live in the past. Hence we only master traces. Film therefore is a work with traces, something already at work at the historical origins of language. This allows to leave myths and reflect ourselves anew. Film is anthropomorphic, a picture of the possibilities of man, as is a spoon a picture of the forearm with the hand. Since a long time we use it with virtuosity. Today computers exteriorate parts of the brain, for instance memory, and they will do so as long as man cannot live without them. A little pumpkin, Kubelka shows one, looks like a forearm with a hand, so we need not apply the form to it besides cutting it into halves. China at around Christ’s birth imitated it with clay. Or, a canine tooth „grew“ out of the human body and became a pestle allowing for the humans’ shortest gut of all animals and the invention of beef tartar with capers and pepper as metaphors. („Schwechater“, a film about a young club crowd drinking beer from champagne glasses, is felt by film maker Kubelka to have been produced as something that grew out from him under poor technological circumstances. In general, film was and is not object of subjection or, as he puts it, is not as subservient as digital media.) And following his „natural anthropologyKubelka shows two Turkish breads. The oval one has a cut lengthwise, the form anthropologically standing for woman. The other flat round bread with a grid sign on it signifies, for Kubelka, an acre, agriculture. Hence rhythm, verse. In any case, cognition stems from this neolithic age. So with film. All these phenomena testify to the fact that we want to change the world, and the artist is part of this endeavour.


„Cinema is absolutely anthropomorphic“. We „sit“ in the head - Kubelka points at the movie theatre around - , look through the eyes and listen through the ears of the film maker, he says. (However, as there is no contemporaneity there is only time with time passing: the time of pace. With walking, in this moment Kubelka goes up and down in front of the audience, or the pace of the heart or breath we begin to encounter time as a stream.) Until its replacement with the digital medium, film should be understood historically like the arts of painting, sculpture and cooking which originated 40.000, 100.000, 3 million years ago. Like those arts, film was on the way from the 16th through the 18th centuries and completed at the end of 19th century (!) even though it may be practiced today, like painting, with bodily contact and performed. Such a body intelligence is not preserved with the digital, Kubelka complains. It is a problem because the medium - film - is the real teacher for practitioners. This kind of filmic thinking has become universal and does not anymore belong to a few experts. However with thought including touch, taste and other body functions we should speak of a bundle of various forms of thinking embodied in an organism, bundles of sense impressions (Mach !). It is like language trying to tell me „I am“: that is not true (Kubelka with his typical mixture of standard German and Viennese dialect inimitably: „Und jetzt kommt die Sprache und sagtich bin’ - aber, des is ned woa!“). Because of the vicinity of the eye and the ear, says Kubelka with pointing at the eyes and ears of a bust of Greta Garbo, we believe in reality or certainty. Yet in order to synchronize the now and here, movies can go with the „ear“ elsewhere than to what the eye looks at. The same goes with the microphone and the camera (at another occasion Kubelka complained we cannot switch off sound anymore on digicams). These devices yield an artificial head technologically sourced out. Also, there are different distances, the most remote being the visual, followed by the auditory, olfactory and gustatory senses. What is between the event/object and the senses does not concern us. Film is capable of constructing an artificial life of the synchronous, as Kubelka puts it. Yet this is a reality on its own, sitting in the artificial head. This has, however, got nothing to do with new media, it is valid for all media in terms of „I am in medias res“ which means „I am between what my senses give me.“ In an ambiguous move Kubelka says that in the case of Greta Garbo it is not us who are in medias res - and yet we are in the midst of things: interest, inter sumus. The between or the in-medias-res reveals to be the microphone-head-camera. (At this point Kubelka utters a harsh critique of conventional movie pictures. They only offer imitations of 19th and earlier centuries. Sound is used here to explain what is shown. Contrary to this abuse of sound the two Klappenhengste demonstrate the packing of image and sound within the single frame. Example: When Kubelka assembles, in his film „Afrikareise“, the sound of the gun shot at the zebra followed by the home movie spectator’s „So?“ one knows how that montage is meant.)


Kubelka switches from talking about filmic language to spoken language immediately written, a different kind of visual language. He writes the old Greek 'lambda' on the flip-chart meaning man. Crossed with a vertical mark on the upper section the sign means „free“ and with marks „sky“. It seems that film, in the opposite, produces a machinic, objective picture of reality, not a sign as does spoken and written language. Kubelka thinks this filmic illusion enabled us to step out of spoken and written language. It is this immense quality of the appearance of film that promises a completely new beginning.


After the projection of Kubelka’s film „Schwechater“, this very copy of film is given to the audience. The celluloid wanders through the hands and theatre tiers in order to prove that there are only static pictures screened one after another. Film itself is a sculpture band (Rodowick’s intaglio!) that we can branch off: 27,5 meters, 1 minute, 1440 pictures, 24 pictures („days“) a yard. Like a tailor or a shoemaker we may have an appropriate bodily feeling of the object. Put ironically by Kubelka, we can read the movie more easily than a Beethoven score. For such an experience the Invisible Cinema was a concept radicalized in New York where Kubelka experienced the back of seats that reached above the heads of spectators and allowed them to touch neighbours in more ways than usual. He tells that the experience seemed to put oneself into an uterus where brother and sister sit together and a better world is shown allowing to say (like a child) „I am not here“. It is a situation different from 19th century theatres, he says, when audiences often were more important than what was played on stage.


Here Kubelka reaches his topic „thinking as film“. The artificiality of sound and the synchronous visual event prompt us to interpret and have a specific „inter est“ in taking the event as fact. For Kubelka this phenomenon is the basis of film language. The multiple relation of image to sound - what I see now and now, what I see now and I hear now, what I hear now and now - , presented with the produced comparison of sense impressions is deliberately played out by film being a „spoon“ for the hand of the audience. We need to study the media - that which has grown out of us. We need to take media as models for understanding our own structure.


With film „Adebar“ shown at the end of the lecture, like „Schwechater“ another short movie of a bar, Kubelka emphasizes that film does not begin with movement, but with a situation. Also, the eye is supported by thinking to some degree it would see nothing without thinking. Just looking into the Narrenkastl - the fools’ box, the Austrian expression for TV - is impossible. Compared to language the eye is the noun, the ear the verb (in German: Zeitwort, Tätigkeitswort) - as Kubelka says, the ear is open for movement and so as near to thinking as is the eye which only examines the event afterwards. In any case „Adebar“ deals with dance as a precursor of synchronous experience and in consequence a precursor of film language. Early on, dancers felt that every movement should produce its own sound.

who has preserved from himself the outlook and character of a baby a little
bit, despite his seventy years of age, shakes a dried husk like humans two million years ago producing sound by shaking a rattle: „Nobody of us grew up without Scheppern (German word for 'to rattle'.“




Despite Kubelka's positioning of film against and beyond myth, he certainly himself plays with myth thereby affirming it. He is too much an artist than not do so, as he used to be professor at the Art University of Frankfurt am Main lecturing on cooking, playing the flute, and analysing film. His distrust to the written word and even to microphones for lecturing went hand in hand with a long time rejection of transforming his activities into other media. He always has been an avant-garde hard liner, including strong reservations against modernist Nouvelle Vague as expressed in 2003 at the Österreichisches Filmmuseum on the occasion of a discussion that followed his public recollections of his friend Stan Brakhage who had died just a short time ago.


Ontology. It is true and Rodowick is right, Goodman’s ontology requires a natural medium that is not given as a specific medium anymore in the digital era of virtuality - we can understand Kubelka very well that he wants to save celluloid film as a bodily medium. We can even understand his attitude agaist any post-Socratic philosophy (as advocated in a lecture for instance at the Art University at Linz/Austria back in 1990) But that is a matter of the (maternal) body I am afraid to loose or shocked to have lost, while film being the last chance of an ersatz umbilical cord and the single individual itself just an extension of mater material. And yet any ontology of film has got to deal with world pictures, with worlds viewed - totalities of sequences and narratives so immersive that illusion is inevitable - the only way to cope with being art (Koch)! Also, in comparison to trance rituals or Dionysian cults that are usually structured and organized by annual, local and social settings - cinema lacks these settings. So the world needs to be grasped by a theoretical conceptualisation individually approached as do all the other modern arts. Given with Rodowick that film is autographic, open, not a final product and capable of being translated into multiple media, film needs to be characterized as conceptually virtual, conventional and culturally constructed means. It may occur that Cavell’s position may be put on collision course. If the material basis of film media is a succession of automatic photographic projections of the world whereby the projection is linked with the camera as a means of incorporation of that world (The World Viewed, chapter 11) and that mater material is not reliable - virtual film! - then automatism may be in need for different specifics. Isn’t that the point when the nature of the sign enters the picture with inevitable force? Doesn’t Kubelka’s difficulty, for instance, of distinguishing filmic and “verbal” language rest on a misunderstanding of medium as something pre-lingual? And wouldn’t the Rodowick/Metzean cinematographic specifics of a (imaginary) signifier be an anchor for rescue? Of course, besides a special materia of signs as thought (Koch), this re-opens the possibility of symbol/sign in all its scope today. Here Rodowick should be confronted with Recki’s take of philosophical tradition from Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche to Cassirer - mediating moving pictures as schemes between obsessive myth due to mythical consciousness and an Apollonian dream-like art, between the rational (spent by a surplus meaning) and the sensual, between expression and representation (face). It shows that even the symbolic of a Peirce cannot be stripped off of poetic or mythical contents carried by signs - Goodman or Metz may approve of or not.


Philosophy of mind. It comes as a surprise to me that mind figures prominently in many contributions. Cynthia Freeland’s title has it suggesting a broad examination of the implications of the equivocation of film and mind in the phrase “empiricism and the philosophy of film”. Raymond Bellour so heavily discusses hypnosis that a philosophical reflection would seem appropriate of conceptual framework for an application to film. As with Deleuze’s dependence of Bergson already the title of another contribution says it all: “The film thinks” which again replaces Freud’s famous claim “The dream thinks”, a sentence that already prompted some philosophical interpretation and may be further applied to the philosophy of film with profit. Very obvious is the leitmotif of emotions, discussed at length in the contributions of Koch, Recki and Freeland including  metaphor as an important feature. And it is the psychological concept of affordance (Gibson/Gombrich) that is given a new turn by Koch with showing a prevalent quality of firstness in objects as aesthetic illusion - not unlike found footage ghosts emerging visibly from the picture plane (Pircher) - , a quality that adds to a more formal ontology as erected when seeing film/movies/cinema from the outside. The core message of a philosophy of mind is that the spectator’s experience is indispensable and may even be taken as point of departure for approaching the objective machinery which film has become as an industry. Finally, what has been developed as the culture of the self with reference to Cavell (Nagl, Sandbothe) may be rooted in a philosophy of society of culture but will not do without fundamental reflection in the philosophy of mind. I leave it to future considerations whether a re-existentialising of the I not only as beholder but agent becomes necessary (Nagl), keeping film producing processes as secondary to audience perception processes.


Aesthetics. Necessarily, the emphasis on experience brings forward again or for the first time an enhanced awareness of the aesthetic in film perception. Koch and Recki explicitly discussed classics of philosophical aesthetics: Diderot’s theory of painting, Nietzsche’s treatise on tragedy. They encourage us to put film again into the continuity of arts in a general theory of the (aesthetic) art. And, maybe, even the aesthetic of an ontology of the languages/symbols of art can be reactualized - and need not be opposed as for instance semiotics to Cassirer (Withalm) - and thereby contribute to a philosophy of film that connects to the multiple traditions of aesthetics and the philosophy of art and prevents from dissolution of film theory into the post-theory of film studies (Nagl).

Peter Mahr © 2005

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