Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Better not pout about a horizon

by Ryland Walker Knight

—Pascale can't lose though we lost her

Among so many dream projects, I've been meaning to get to know Rohmer's movies for some time now. Funny how news like yesterday's can make you want to jump so much quicker into such an endeavor. But, as it stands, I'm going to stick to my guns and, despite my love of words and pretty ladies, keep M. Schérer on the shelf for now. For now, among the standard rep-house coverage and viewing logs you've come to expect from me, I'm going to begin two other overdue re-acquaintance projects.

First off, thanks to Danny I've got now those two Eclipse box sets of Ozu (silent + late) as well as Early Summer at my disposal, not to mention my own copy of Tokyo Story, and I plan on making a biweekly habit of watching one of these films and writing about it. What's more, I'll get a bonus on Feb. 19th, when PFA screens That Night’s Wife, a 1930 silent crime melodrama. So, stay tuned for a newly christened series I hope to expand beyond just these discs as the year carries on, via Netflix and other, um, subterranean means: I'm going to start crafting An Ozu Zone. I think I'll get cracking at it as soon as next week, or as soon as I get a few other writing assignments completed. (Gotta have priorities, even in the blog life.)

Next month I'd like to start a participatory series. As I proposed on the new Facebook page for VINYL IS HEAVY (become a fan why don't you!), I was thinking it might be fun to set up a little reading and watching group structured by one of my favorite Stanley Cavell books, Cities of Words. There are a lot of things motivating this idea. First, as I said, I think it'd be fun. Second, this book (along with Pursuits of Happiness) kind of changed my life when I met it and read it for the first time three years ago in my first seminar back at Berkeley. Third, I love the movies and texts that Cavell converses with and highlights for us. Fourth, the book is structured like a semester, as Cavell writes in his preface, which will provide a good structure for our eventual discussions—as I envision the comments section exploding with thoughtful parries and volleys—about such topics as Freud and The Lady Eve (to say snakes and sharks and moms and dads and sex) or Aristotle and The Awful Truth (to say questions of audience and appeal and sameness and difference) or—get this—Shakespeare and Rohmer and their respective winter tales, which I, no doubt, will try my best to link to Desplechin's, which, clearly, tells me I may well wind up jumping into some Rohmer before long after all.

I say "next month" above because that kind of lag time not only allows me a head start but also gives you enough time to go out and buy the Cavell book, or borrow it from a local library, and maybe even get cracking on some of the films, too—though I would by all means stress the fun of watching the films strictly in tandem with the chapters written about them. In any case, here you have it: I'm giving you two full weeks to get ready to play your part. Now, don't get me wrong, I can't presume that many of my readers out there will actually follow me on this silly little autodidact trip but, believe me, I think it'd be worth everybody's time. And we all might learn a few extra things along the way with a lively comments conversation. Even if you don't read and watch along with me and wind up just reading the write-ups here, I do hope you join me for some fun filosofy lip flappin below the fold/s.

And if all that fails to generate some talk, I'll tell you right now: I'm also planning on recapping/analyzing Lost every week of its final season. That I don't have to worry about people joining in on, do I?


  1. I dig this proposed Cities of Words project, so consider this comment a sort-of commital. We'll see if I stick to it. No lib luck, so first task: buy the book, I guess.

  2. Well, I do hope you join me since you're the only one who's said anything about the idea. But if I wind up going solo through the book and the flicks, that's okay. Just means you all are poorer for not participating! Ooooh, burnnnnnnnnn!!!!!!!

  3. I'm seriously thinking about doing it, but I'm afraid that Cavell might be a little over my head. From what I've read about it, the book seems to require a more than passing familiarity with a lot of things and concepts I, as a lowly undergrad, have only a passing familiarity with. As for the rest, I'll try to chime in semi-regularly on the LOST and Ozu stuff, esp. the latter, since I plan to see more Ozu soon myself.

  4. JF: Cavell's style can seem daunting at first blush, but, don't ever call yourself "a lowly undergrad." You seem pretty sharp, so just say, "YES!" and give yourself some credit. That said, if you have a ton of schoolwork, I wouldn't want to suggest you ignore the courses you're paying money for in order to play along with some silly blogger's autodidact whims made public. And with _that said_, I do hope you join me/us! I appreciate your comments. And if you don't take on the Cavell now, don't let him sit there intimidating you forever. If anything, don't let _The World Viewed_ pass you by while the academy keeps pushing those Deleuze cinema books. However great Gilles' readings are, they shouldn't be the end all the way they often are treated. Especially if we're talking ontology and justice. And besides, those GD _Cinema_ books were written on speed and it shows: they're the worst-written volumes he produced. His book _Bergsonism_ is a delight, a bon-bon by comparisson. iBut more on all that later.

  5. I haven't had to read any Deleuze. I have an AA in Film Studies from a community college (albeit a really good community college with a really good, basic film program), so most of the film theory and film-centric philosophy I know I've absorbed by osmosis from spending more time perusing the film blogosphere than is probably healthy. My schoolwork (which I'd get into the details of, but this doesn't seem to be the place) likely won't conflict much with The Project. If anything conflicts with that, it'll be the fact that I've buried myself under a bunch of long, difficult tomes, as I am wont to do.

    Oh, and I said "lowly" w/tongue, if not in cheek, then at least in the vicinity of cheek.

  6. If I could, let me recommend D.N. Rodowick's essay An Elegy for Theory in October #122 in which he looks at the place "theory" has held in the cinema studies world of the last 20 years (and today), its critiques (in Bordwell, Carrol, Richard Allen, et al...and there is a response essay by Allen's boy Malcolm Turvey), its merits, etc. He comes to a position, and discusses, that in this early 21st century we can have a productive "film philosophy" (which can be related to/be "theory") and the two figures who show us what this can potentially be are Deleuze and Cavell. It is quite worth reading in the context of the ideas and issues being discussed here.

    And yes, let me echo that Cities of Words is a brilliant book, like nearly all of Cavell's work, one of the finest works of philosophy, and somewhat a summation of a life's work, the last hundred years have seen. And Cavell is also wonderful in coming from an analytic world, and school, and proving that this does not mean neglecting continental philosophers and the importance of writing beautifully and with style.

  7. I've placed my order on Amazon and will be watching this space. Having become lodged in some of the more telegraphic chapters of The World Viewed, I'm looking forward to having a companion film per two chapters of Cavell. And I expect on-the-fly annotations and a weekly peer-pressure deadline won't hurt either.

  8. JF: Ahh. Gotcha.

    Mr Gibbs: Thanks, I'll look for that essay.

    umbralucernau: Glad to have another participant!