Review of Film As Philosophy
University of Minnesota Press, Minnesota, MN, 2017
384 pp. Paper, $30.00
Bernd Herzogenrath introduces Film As Philosophy with a quote from Nietzsche: “Our writing equipment takes part in the forming of our thoughts.” The question that runs through this collection of essays is what kind of thinking is possible using the equipment of film? The philosophy in question is not the institutionalized academic kind, but the inventive philosophy of Deleuze and Guattari––philosophy as the creation of concepts and assemblages rather than rational propositions. Herzogenrath’s goal is create dialogue between film studies and philosophy “without assigning the role of dominant and all-encompassing referee to one of these disciplines.” Unlike other notable books on the subject of film philosophy, this one is focused on film as a mode of thinking rather than on philosophy around the subject of film. With each essay, a post-cinema scholar explores a 20th century thinker who witnessed and contributed to cinema as an expressive medium. Eisenstein, Epstein, Artaud, Balázs, Bazin, Bergson, Deleuze, Cavell are all presented, along with more contemporary theorists and filmmakers. The essays are accessible, relevant, relatively jargon free, and as a whole they provide a comprehensive overview of some of the most creative thinking about what film is and does.
Film offers a unique set of instruments–camera, microphone, and editing tools–for thinking outside the net of language and mental representations. To point the camera at what is interesting in one’s field of vision is a language-like process of selection, articulation, and juxtaposition. But the light, movement, and sound captured is pre-linguistic and outside human intention. The world harnessed by film technology is, in Deleuze’s terms, a “machinic assemblage.” While the thinkers explored in the various essays offer “multiple logics, approaches and perspectives,” there seems to be a consensus that film generates rather than represents thought. John ó Maoilearca finds in Bergson an understanding that the brain “does not represent (an idea or picture); rather, it performs its images through its own equivalent of an actor’s gestures.” Cinema, like bergsonian thinking, gestures towards intuitions and meaning. Gregory Flaxman explores the philosophical implications of Antonin Artaud’s automaton theory of cinema, a cinema of vibrations and shocks that “displaces the spectators’ natural perception with a machinic perception.” Along with the gestural and machinic nature of film, there is the corporeal aspect to film-thinking. A filmmaker is engaged with the physical world with bodies, movement, matter, gravity, light and atmosphere. Christophe Wall-Romana’s essay examines the complexity behind Jean Epstein’s notion of “photogeny,” a dimension of the film image beyond the simulacra or copy of the real, “a new type of relation between embodied thinking and the machine.” For Epstein this idea of the nonhuman introduced into the human leads to a position of film as anti-philosophy, a technological corrective to human solipsism.
Despite the multiplicity of ideas and positions in the book, many of the essays suggest that film is an instrument that stimulates us out of habitual thinking and that this raises profound questions for philosophy and for film as an expressive medium. Can philosophy help reinvigorate concepts of film art as a process of encounter and discovery? Can film change philosophy as a scholarly practice? Can we teach film as a thinking/writing rather than as a purely representational system? Film As Philosophy offers the reader a productive set of ideas for navigating today’s post-everything landscape.