Film theory as a form of procrastination

I’m presently chilling in one of my favorite State St. coffeehouses, “working” on a take-home final exam—I use scare-quotes on “working” because right now my mind is, as always, elsewhere. Earlier today I read these two extremely worthwhile posts by bloggin’ philosopher extraordinaire Levi Bryant, and I encourage y’all to do the same. If I think these posts are especially worth sharing with you, dear reader, it’s because they’re salient examples of Object-Oriented Ontology, a philosophical movement that’s working itself out in the totally open space of the blogosphere.

As I’ve mentioned here before, I think the recent work of Bryant and Graham Harman contains the seeds for a conceptual framework capable of engaging with the non-human aspects of cinema, something that I think film theory will have to address sooner rather than later. So check the posts out (Bryant is an excellent and very lucid writer, so they’re hardly tough-sledding); they inspired me to scribble the following in my notebook after a brief bout of meditation on my fire escape:

“All of the elements of a shot’s mise en scène, all of the non-relational objects within the film frame, are figures of a sort. The figure is the likeness of a material object, whether that likeness is by-design or purely accidental. A shot is a cluster of cinematic figures, an entanglement. Actors and props are by no means the only kinds of cinematic figures—the space that they occupy and navigate is itself a figure. The cinematic figure isn’t just an image of the human body, a translation of the body’s form from spatio-temporal materiality to the ambiguous cinematic mode of being: the cinematic figure is, in Bryant’s terms, a local manifestation of an object situated among other local manifestations of other objects within the film frame. The relations between the figures situated in the frame are also objects in their own right, but these objects aren’t themselves figures. The figure—cinematic or otherwise—is nothing uniquely human; a breast framed in close-up is no less figurative than a cherry red Alfa Romeo Spider framed in long shot. Furthermore, no representation is necessary for figuration—a process that always precedes the presentation of a shot—to take place.”

As you can probably tell, I’ve got a lot of work to do before I can present this very rough complex of ideas with a straight face. In the meantime, it’s worth pointing out how cool it is that theorizing/philosophizing may now be conducted in such an accessible and public space.


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3 Responses to “Film theory as a form of procrastination”

  1. Cinema and Object-Oriented Ontology « Larval Subjects . Says:

    […] Object-Oriented Philosophy Leave a Comment  Over at CineMadeson Dan Sullivan has a brief yet INTERESTING POST up on the significance of Object-Oriented Ontology for film theory. Dan writes: As I’ve mentioned […]

  2. eldritch00 Says:

    That’s a really fascinating approach to film theory. Would this fit such a system, or would it lead to different implications?

    • Dan Sullivan Says:

      Thanks for the link! I haven’t read the Brenez essay yet but Martin’s introduction makes it out to seem extremely interesting. As for whether Brenez’s approach to looking at cinematic images as assemblages of curious figures fits into the system that I haphazardly sketched with the theoretical fragment above, I’m not quite sure, but I do very much like her deployment of the concept of plasticity in describing what takes place within the film frame. Catherine Malabou gave a talk here in Madison a couple months ago, and she defined the event as “a change in form”; I see a connection here but as of now I’m unsure what it is exactly.

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