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Irony and the Limits of Political Satire

I always thought Jon Stewart’s Daily Show is at its worst when it tries to be serious. The „Rally to Restore Sanity“ was probably the most striking example for this. But in the last days a new facet of this devastating seriousness has popped up: the case of Toronto mayor Rob Ford. Drinking, smoking crack and talking dirty the guy is certainly an easy target. And suddenly the Daily Show plays the role of the concerned and reasonable citizen who can’t tolerate such a yahoo in public office (here is their latest coverage).

It is no secret that Jon Stewart is a prototypical liberal and in itself that’s no big problem. What is problematic is the fact that he takes this position out of the equation far too often. In other terms: he lacks irony. Just as he tried to develop a „neutral“ position of „reason“ above all the dirty political antagonisms with his „Rally to Restore Sanity“ he now takes a similar stance when it comes to Rob Ford. Politics is regarded as a serious business for reasonable, clean, fit (?) and polite experts that work hard on the public behalf. And since this (Stewart’s) position is so obvious and seems so true no need to make fun of it, right?

Wrong. It’s an immensly stupid and simplistic position. Politics becomes a matter of character and attitudes. If politicians would just be sane and sober everything would turn out fine. Granted, it probably wouldn’t do no harm if they were but probably wouldn’t change a lot for the better too.

But the real trouble with this understanding is that it is just another brick in the comfortable platform of „reason“ and liberal middle-ground that the Daily Show has come to rest upon. It is a platform that seems to be beyond critique and satire. In the sea of cable chatter, endless gridlock and conservative madness it is the safe island on which the anxious liberal-urban youth begins to live a happy and self-confident life.

With such a behavior political satire begins to undermines its own foundations. Kurt Tucholsky famously answered the question „What may satire do?“ with a simple „Everything“. As it turns out the question to this correct answer has been posed wrong. It has to be: „What should satire do?“ In other words: Political satire that „cleans the blood“ and eventually has the potential to become transformative must show some sense of irony and start to saw off the branch it has been resting on. It just can’t stop at its own beliefs and positions.

This probably asks too much from a mainstream comedy show. But that even such a limited format allows at least for a bigger chunk of self-irony has been proved by Daily Show alumni Stephen Colbert.

Zwei Jahre danach: Was bleibt von Occupy Wall Street?

Am 17. September 2011 versammelten sich einige hundert Menschen im kleinen Zuccotti Park in New York City unter einem verwegenen Motto: Occupy Wall Street. Der Protest, der von Bewegungen in Spanien und Nordafrika inspiriert wurde, breitete sich rasch über die gesamten Vereinigten Staaten aus. In allen größeren Städten wie Los Angeles, Chicago und Washington, aber auch in vielen kleineren Orten, entstanden Occupy-Camps. Im Laufe des Herbstes wurden die Besetzungen allerdings vor zunehmende Probleme gestellt und verloren in der Folge an Zulauf.1 Die Besetzungscamps, so auch jenes im New Yorker Zuccotti Park, wurden schließlich im November 2011 in einer großangelegten Polizeiaktion geräumt oder lösten sich selbstständig auf.

Seitdem ist es ruhig geworden um Occupy Wall Street. Zwei Jahre nach dem Beginn der Besetzungen ist daher ein guter Zeitpunkt um die Frage zu stellen: Was bleibt von Occupy Wall Street?

Bewegung und Alltagsinitiativen

Wie Sebastian Dörfler in der Juni-Ausgabe der Blätter für deutsche und internationale Politik überzeugend dargelegt hat, sind es insbesondere die von Occupy ausgehenden Initiativen im Reproduktionsbereich, die nach dem Ende der Besetzungen die Aufmerksamkeit auf sich gezogen haben.2 So unter anderem das Schuldenstreikprojekt Rolling Jubilee oder die Katastrophenhilfe von Occupy Sandy. Diese Entwicklung darf allerdings nicht als Abkehr vom Politischen und Hinwendung an lediglich praktische Alltagsprobleme missverstanden werden. Vielmehr unterstreicht sie einen Anspruch, den Occupy von Beginn an zu verkörpern versuchte: die angestrebten Veränderungen in der Form und den Strukturen der Bewegung bereits vorwegzunehmen und dadurch schlussendlich alle gesellschaftlichen Beziehungen zu umfassen und zu verändern. Den Kernpunkt bildet dabei die Tatsache, dass dieser Anspruch nicht auf dem Reißbrett oder durch das Verfassen glühender Manifeste umgesetzt wurde, sondern mittels praktischer Versuche. Den Prinzipien von Fallibilismus, Experimentalismus und Deliberation verpflichtet, gelang es Occupy in seinen besten Momenten, den alten Widerspruch von Theorie und Praxis in den Griff zu bekommen und praktisch aufzulösen. Es ist daher kein Zufall, dass mehrere Autoren auf die Verwandtschaft der Occupy-Bewegung mit dem amerikanischen Pragmatismus hingewiesen haben.3

Die Alltagsinitiativen die aus den Besetzungen hervorgegangen sind, gehen damit auch über den reinen Reproduktionsbereich hinaus. Sie versuchen vielmehr, die grundlegenden Erfahrungen die während der Besetzungen gemacht wurden, in weitere Gesellschaftsbereiche hinauszutragen. Einheitliche Forderungen oder Ideologien waren der Bewegung daher ebenso fremd wie Anführer oder Sprecherinnen. Diese Eigenschaft, die Occupy von vielen als Schwäche ausgelegt wurde, war vielmehr der Spiegel eines neuen demokratischen Verständnisses, dessen Tragfähigkeit in der Bewegung selbst getestet und erfahren wurde und auch über das Ende der Besetzungen hinaus noch immer nachwirkt.

Erfahrungen von Demokratie

Wenn es um die konkreten Erfahrungen geht die Occupy geschaffen hat, dann ist insbesondere dieses Demokratieverständnis von größter Bedeutung. Demokratie ist dabei zu verstehen als alltägliche Praxis und Erfahrung, getragen von einem Geist des do-it-yourself. Enttäuscht von den bestehenden politischen Institutionen, ging es Occupy von Anfang an darum mit neuen Formen von Institutionen zu experimentieren. Die Vollversammlungen (general assemblies) an den Orten der Besetzungen, die unzähligen Arbeitsgruppen sowie die Entwicklung eigener Kommunikationswege, sei es die Nutzung sozialer Medien oder die beeindruckenden human microphones, sind Zeugen dieses Versuches zu neuen Formen der demokratischen Verständigung und Entscheidungsfindung zu gelangen. Auch wenn der demografische Charakter der Proteste die amerikanische Gesellschaft keineswegs repräsentativ abbildete, sondern vor Ort tendenziell von weißen, besser gebildeten Bevölkerungsschichten getragen wurde,4 so reichten diese neue demokratischen Erfahrungen doch in weite Teile der Bevölkerung hinein.

Es darf in diesem Zusammenhang nicht vergessen werden, dass die Besetzungen zu einem Zeitpunkt auftraten, als die Desillusionierung über die Obama-Regierung neue Höhepunkte erreichte. Angesichts des Weiterbestehens des Gefangenenlagers in Guantanamo, der Kompromisse um die Gesundheitsreform und der Verschärfung des Drohnenkrieges wandten sich viele junge und liberale Amerikaner von jenem Präsidenten ab, dessen Wahlkampf sie drei Jahre zuvor noch enthusiastisch unterstützt hatten. Zieht man in Betracht, dass die Gründe für diese Desillusionierung in Obamas zweiter Amtszeit bislang eher zugenommen haben (Überwachungsmaßnahmen, keine Reform der Waffengesetze, schleppende Immigrationsreform) und praktisch alle bestehenden politischen Institutionen der USA betreffen, könnten diese Erfahrungen von eigenen politischen Institutionen, wie sie im Zuge von Occupy eingesetzt und bekannt gemacht wurden, in naher Zukunft also wieder an Bedeutung gewinnen.

Die demokratischen Erfahrungen von Occupy Wall Street bleiben also erhalten und haben sich auf die Suche nach neuen Betätigungsfelder begeben. Entscheidend wird dabei aber sein, inwiefern diese Erfahrungen auf breitere Teile der Bevölkerung übertragen und emanzipatorisch gewendet werden können, damit die Unzufriedenheit mit bestehenden politischen Institutionen nicht im Modus der Tea Party verpufft.

Soziale Ungleichheit und Öffentlichkeit

Wenn es um diese notwendige Überzeugung der Öffentlichkeit geht, ist es besonders die Debatte um die steigende gesellschaftliche Ungleichheit, die die Occupy-Bewegung bisher als Steigbügel in die Mainstream-Medien nutzen konnte. Viel von der Beständigkeit von Occupy wird daher davon abhängen, ob diese Debatte in den USA nachhaltig weitergeführt wird oder bei den ersten Anzeichen eines Wirtschaftsaufschwungs wieder verebbt. Diesbezüglich fällt die aktuelle Bilanz ambivalent aus.

Hatte die Besetzungen in den ersten zwei Monaten zu einer Verfünffachung der medialen Berichterstattung über Einkommensungleichheit geführt5 und damit einen eindeutigen Erfolg verbuchen können, so ist das Thema mittlerweile wieder in den Hintergrund gerückt. So ergab eine Analyse der wichtigsten US-amerikanischen TV-Nachrichtensendungen im April 2013, dass in Beiträgen zur ökonomischen Lage nur in 9% der Fälle ökonomische Ungleichheit zur Sprache kam.6 Gleichzeitig wurde innerhalb der Occupy-Bewegung die Entwicklung von Initiativen wie Occupy Sandy als Abkehr von der ursprünglichen Kernbotschaft, also der Kritik sozialer Ungleichheit und des Finanzkapitalismus, beklagt.

Die große Unbekannte in diesem Zusammenhang bleibt dabei weiterhin die US-amerikansiche Bevölkerung. Denn inwiefern sich diese überhaupt für die stark gestiegene ökonomische Ungleichheit interessiert und daraus ein stärkeres Mandat für Umverteilungspolitik ableitet, bleibt weiterhin Gegenstand hitziger akademischer Debatten.7 In diesem Zusammenhang scheint es nicht die schlechteste Strategie von Occupy zu sein, nun verstärkt dorthin zu gehen, wo die Menschen in ihrem Alltag unmittelbar mit den Auswirkungen gesellschaftlicher Ungleichheit konfrontiert sind: bei ihren Schulden, ihrer Wohnsituation, der Gewalt auf den Straßen und dem Justizsystem. Ob Occupy es dabei schafft, eine substantielle Verbindung zur allgemeinen Kritik gesellschaftlicher Ungleichheit weiterhin aufrechtzuerhalten, oder die Einzelinitiativen diese aus den Augen verlieren, bleibt die große Herausforderung vor der die Bewegung aktuell steht.

Zukunftsperspektiven

Es wäre ein Fehler den Erfolg von Occupy lediglich anhand konkreter politischer Erfolge zu messen. Legt man diesen eingeschränkten Maßstab an, so würde die Bilanz von Occupy in der Tat bescheiden ausfallen. Begreift man Occupy jedoch als eine Bewegung für „wirkliche Demokratie“,8 die die Umgestaltung der sozialen Verhältnisse auch experimentell vorzuleben versucht, so ist es um ihre Nachhaltigkeit besser bestellt. Zum Einen leben die Ideen und Strukturen von Occupy zumindest teilweise in zahlreichen Einzelinitiativen wie Rolling Jubilee oder Occupy Sandy weiter. Andererseits sind die Erfahrungen, die im Zuge der Bewegung in den gesamten Vereinigten Staaten gemacht wurden, weiter präsent und werden in Anbetracht der politischen Vertrauenskrise weiterhin ein wichtiger Bezugspunkt bleiben. Und auch wenn die Debatte über soziale und ökonomische Ungleichheit spätestens seit den Präsidentschaftswahlen 2012 wieder etwas eingeschlafen ist, so gibt es für die Zukunft zahlreiche weitere Betätigungsfelder in die aus Occupy-Perspektive interveniert werden kann. Ein prominentes Beispiel ist dabei die Diskussion um die rassistische Schlagseite des US-amerikanischen Justizsystems, wie sie z.B. im Stop-and-Frisk Programm der New Yorker Polizei exekutiert wird.9 Occupy war von Beginn an an den Protesten gegen dieses Programm beteiligt und hat sich über Initiativen wie Occupy the NRA auch in die Debatte um strengere Waffengesetze eingeschaltet.

Man mag nun einwenden, dass sich Occupy mittlerweile zu einem reinen Franchise-Unternehmen gewandelt hat, dass den unterschiedlichsten Proteste lediglich ein bekanntes Label bietet. Wie die hier gezogene Bilanz aber zeigt, wäre dieser Schluss zu vorschnell. Durch seine dezentrale Organisierung und do-it-yourself Mentalität, war die Occupy-Bewegung von Anfang an darauf ausgelegt, Experimentierräume zu schaffen und in unterschiedlichste Gesellschaftsfelder zu diffundieren. Zwei Jahre nach dem September 2011 gilt daher: Das Potential und die Erfahrungen von Occupy bleiben in den USA bestehen. Ob und wann sie aber wieder an die Oberfläche dringen bleibt vorerst hinter dem Schleier sozialer Kontingenz verborgen.

 

1 Zu dem ständigen Druck von staatlicher Seite, der im teils äußerst brutalen Vorgehen der Polizei seinen Höhepunkt fand, kamen interne Probleme der Camps selbst. So berichtet Todd Gitlin, Professor für Journalismus an der Columbia University, auch von der Erleichterung die nach dem Ende der Besetzungen vorhanden war. Vgl. Todd Gitlin, Occupy Nation. The Roots, the Spirit, and the Promise of Occupy Wall Street, New York 2012, S. 92.

2 Sebastian Dörfler, Occupy: Von den Plätzen in den Alltag, in: „Blätter für deutsche und internationale Politik“ 6/2013, S.13-16.

3 Vgl. Michael C. Dorf, Could the Occupy Movement Become the Realization of Democratic Experimentalism’s Aspiration for Pragmatic Politics?, www.ssrn.com und Albert R. Spencer und Tyler G. Olson, Occupy Pragmatism: A Reconstruction of America’s Political Economy, www.webpages.uidaho.edu.

4 Der zuverlässigsten Studie zufolge waren etwa zwei Drittel der in New York City Involvierten weiß (white, non-Hispanic) während über drei Viertel einen College-Abschluss besaßen. Vgl. Ruth Milkman u.a., Changing the Subject: A Bottom-Up Account of Occupy Wall Street in New York City, New York 2012.

5 Dylan Byers, Occupy Wall Street is Winning, http://www.politico.com, 11.11.2011.

6 Albert Kleine, Media Push Economic Inequality To The Backseat, www.mediamatters.org, 14.5.2013.

7 Vgl. für aktuelle Beispiele Ilyana Kuziemko und Stefanie Stantcheva, Our Feelings About Inequality: It’s Complicated, www.nyt.com, 21.4.2013 sowie Scott Winship, How Much Do Americans Care About Income Inequality?, www.brookings.edu, 30.4.2013.

8 Michael Hardt und Antonio Negri, The Fight for ‚Real Democracy‘ at the Heart of Occupy Wall Street, www.foreignaffairs.com, 11.10.2011.

9 Beim stop-question-and-frisk Programm handelt es sich um eine Initiative des New York City Police Departments im Zuge dessen 532 911 Personen allein im Jahr 2012 angehalten wurden, 55% davon Afroamerikaner und 32% Latinos. Vgl. New York Civil Liberties Union, Stop-and-Frisk Data, www.nyclu.org.

The Emancipatory Potential of Disasters?

I’m currently reading the book „A Paradise Built in Hell. The Extraordinary Communities that Arise in Disaster“ by Rebecca Solnit. The main thesis of the author, a journalist and writer based in California is simple but surprising. Contrary to what disaster movies teach us the reaction of people who face disasters and catastrophes is mainly pro-social. To prove this claim Solnit draws on various examples from the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 to such recent events as 9/11 or Hurricane Katrina.

The stories she tells us about the men and women living through these disasters and catastrophe share a common trait of altruism and solidarity. People help each other, rescue and support injured family members but also total strangers, build up basic infrastructure such as soup kitchens and share their left belongings which fellow survivors. In doing so they do not rely on official structures such as police, military or firefighters but are capable to improvise and build their own adhoc structures and institutions.

What’s most interesting about the book then is the fact that it has an explicit political agenda. Put in its most simple form Solnit basically states that Hobbes got it wrong and anarchists (her main example is Kropotkin but interestingly enough pragmatist founding father William James also plays a prominent role – although Solnit doesn’t consider him to be an anarchist) are right. If even under the circumstances of total catastrophe the thin vail of civilization doesn’t break to reveal the underlying mayhem of the state of nature then the „poor worm“ from England obviously erred.

If that’s the case then maybe anarchists such as David Graeber (who mentions Solnit’s findings in his book on democracy) are right after all. People are social beings and help and support each other without any need for a government, army or police to interfere.

Ok, so far this sounds just like another silly utopia made up by yet another Berkeley-educated commie? Well, the interesting fact is that this Berkeley-educated commie has science on her side.

Enter EnricoQuarantelli and his colleagues from the Disaster Research Centre at the University of Delaware. They are among the leading scholars in the field of disaster research (Quarantelli basically founded the field) and their findings support Solnit’s claims.

For Hurricane Katrina they have found for example that contrary to the view in the media the behavior people showed was essential pro-social:

„[..] emergent activities in the impacted region showed a different and opposite pattern to those suggested by the imagery employed by the media outlets mentioned above. Throughout this article we argue, and provide data to show, that a great variety of new, nontraditional or emergent behavior surfaced in this catastrophic occasion. Not being able to act in traditional ways, most ofthe citizens and groups in New Orleans as well as the rest of Louisiana rose to the challenge by engaging in primarily new but relevant coping behavior.“ (p. 84)

Of course this doesn’t mean that there was no looting or anti-social behavior after all (a fact Solnit of course takes into account too). But the point Solnit and the disaster researchers stress is that this is only a small part of the human reactions, whereas the vast amount of them is fueled by a sense of altruism, solidarity and community.

The political thesis Solnit derives from these scientific findings is bold but it definitively should be considered when we think about a better society.

Martin Bartenberger, University of Vienna

An Account of Pragmatist Politics and Science

In my last entry I tried to show how philosophical pragmatism might translate to the realm of politics in the form of „political experimentalism“. I developed this experimental mode of politics in contrast to a rational understanding of politics.

POLITICS

Following the rational paradigm there exists something like a „best solution“ in politics. But it is not this claim of an optimal solution that is striking about the rational understanding of politics but its notion that this perfect answer to political problems can be found in a pure intellectual and abstract way. In other words, political solutions can and have to be planned in the offices and corridors of public agencies (or nowadays in the offices of think tanks, law firms and consulting companies) and later be carefully implemented and executed.

An experimental understanding of politics on the other hand, as it has been influenced by philosophical pragmatism, highlights how solutions to problems can only be found in practice. According to pragmatism we develop our understanding of the world by engaging it, by testing and constantly re-evaluating our concepts of it and by exploring the consequences of our actions. For politics this means that solutions to political problems have to be developed in the context of social practice. Progress can not be fully planned at an office desk. Instead we must proceed in an experimental way.

More concretely this implies that politics shouldn’t be afraid to try out new measures and policies in a limited scope first and improve and refine them once their consequences have become fully visible.

SCIENCE

This experimental approach is not only true for politics but can be found in the realm of science too. (Disclaimer: While the drawing of the sketchy graphics below is a crime solely committed by the author the main inspiration for them was provided in a class by Gary Herrigel).

Mainstream rational science follows an approach similar to the rational understanding of politics. It develops abstract models of reality that lead to certain results and recommendations. These scientific results are then taken „across the border“ to society and simply applied. If this treatment fails the model has to be refined or some equation adjusted. Then the procedure starts again.

Rational Science

 

An experimental approach towards science which is inspired by philosophical pragmatism rejects the dichotomy between science and society (as indicated by the solid line in the figure above) in the first place. As an philosophy which is characterised by a broad anti-dualism pragmatism sees science and society closely connected. Again we meet a deep appreciation for an experimental approach.

Pragmatist Science

Similar to the experimental understanding of politics pragmatist science proposes to develop scientific knowledge by engaging with human practice. Scientific insights ought not be developed in a different realm of society but can only foster human progress if they are linked to society and its practices in the first place.

To conclude with a prominent example: Education and how to improve it (especially its democratic character) was one of the prime topics of the writings of the pragmatist philosopher John Dewey. Still he didn’t stop there but founded the Laboraty School at the University of Chicago where the theoretical insights could be confronted with the idiosyncracies of social practice. It is this emphasis on practice and the rejection of a strict duality of science and society that defines pragmatist science.

Experimentelles Politikverständnis am Beispiel der Mariahilfer Straße

Im Interview mit dem STANDARD wurde Wiens Vizebürgermeisterin Maria Vassilakou letztens gefragt: „Nach nicht einmal einer Woche werden monatelang erarbeitete Konzepte über Bord geworfen und es muss nachgebessert werden. Was ist bei der Planung schiefgelaufen?“ Gemeint war dabei die neue Fußgänger- und Begegnungszone in der Mariahilfer Straße die in den letzten Wochen für einige Aufregung gesorgt hat.

Insbesondere die Tatsache dass teils improvisiert wirkende Lösungen umgesetzt wurden und es relativ rasch zu weiteren Adaptierungen kam, löste Kritik an dem vornehmlichen „Chaos“ aus.

Von diesem parteipolitischen Hickhack und der Sommerlochdynamik abgesehen, ist es interessant sich anzusehen welches Politikverständnis hier zum Vorschein kommt. Politik wird verstanden als das Behandeln von Problemen über deren Lösung man im stillen Kämmerlein brütet, anschließend eine optimale Entscheidung trifft und diese dann in die „Realität“ überträgt und umsetzt.

In diesem rationalen Politikverständnis gibt es nicht nur eine eindeutig beste Lösung, sondern diese kann auch abstrakt-gedanklich gewonnen werden. Funktioniert deren Umsetzung in der Praxis nicht geht es zurück an den Planungstisch und es wird nachjustiert.

Diesem geläufigen Politikverständnis, wie es im STANDARD-Interview und der parteipolitischen Kritik durchschimmert, kann ein experimentelles Politikverständnis gegenübergestellt werden. Es verwirft den simplen Gegensatz aus Planung – Umsetzung und verweist auf die Tatsache, dass Lösungen immer in der Praxis entstehen. Sie können nicht theoretisch durchkonstruiert und dann in die „Realität“ implementiert werden.

Vielmehr muss von Anfang an ein experimenteller Weg gesucht werden der bereit ist Sachen auszuprobieren, Meinungen zu revidieren und ursprüngliche Maßnahmen zu adaptieren oder gar zurückzunehmen.

Klingt dieses experimentelle Politikverständnis der Sache nach gut und vernünftig, so hat es auch seine Schwachpunkte und Gefahren. Ein Beispiel aus dem Elfenbeinturm: Während eines Rational Choice Workshops an der University of Chicago ging es im Mai 2012 um die Frage ob die Auswahl von Organtransplantationen über Marktmechanismen geregelt werden sollte. Debra Satz argumentierte dagegen während sich die Chicago Boys des Ökonomie-Departments vehement dafür aussprachen. Ein grantiger Richard Posner schlug schließlich vor es doch einfach in einem Bundesstaat auszuprobieren und einen Markt für Organe zu schaffen.

Zweifellos ein experimentelles Politikverständnis. Das aber auch bereit ist mit Menschenleben zu spielen und grundsätzliche ethische Einwände vom Tisch wischen kann.

Es ist dabei kein Zufall, dass Posner einer der bekanntesten Vertreter des juristischen Pragmatismus ist. Immerhin ist es auch der amerikanische Pragmatismus in dessen Umfeld dieses experimentelle Politikverständnis entwickelt wurde. Mit John Dewey als Urahnen und z.B. Michael Dorf und Charles Sabel als aktuellen Vertretern.

Auf jeden Fall ist dieses experimentelle Politikverständnis ein Konzept das ernstzunehmen ist. Es besitzt das Potential undogmatische und demokratische Entscheidungsfindung zu ermöglichen, (männliches) Expertentum zu untergraben und das TINA-Prinzip auszuhebeln. Das Beispiel Mariahilfer Straße zeigt das zumindest in Ansätzen.

Realism in the Film Theory of Sergei Eisenstein and André Bazin

At first glance the film theories of Sergei Eisenstein and André Bazin seem to be fundamentally different. Eisenstein puts at the center of his theory a sophisticated concept of montage while Bazin favors the long deep focus shot of Orson Welles and Italian Neorealism. In this paper I try to show that despite all these differences the two theories still share common ground, insofar as they are both interested in the question of realism, i.e. if and how film can show us the essence of something. It is Bazin who in the most explicit way point out the importance of essence for film: “I have never been to a bullfight, and it would be ridiculous of me to claim that the film¹ lets me feel the same emotions, but I do claim that it gives me its essential quality, its metaphysical kernel: death” (Bazin 2003, 29 – my emphasis). The argument I develop here is that both theories share this function of film as a common goal but favor different ways to reach it. I’ll start by discussing how the concept of essence can be found in both theories and then point out the differences and similarities.

 

Essence in Eisenstein’s Theory

At the center of Eisenstein’s idea of essence stands the idea of dialectic. He draws heavily on marxist ideas, for example when he begins his text “A Dialectic Approach to Film Form” with the following quote: “According to Marx and Engels the dialectic system is only the conscious reproduction of the dialectic course (substance) of the external events of the world”² (Eisenstein 1977a, 45 – my emphasis). The second part of the sentence seems to be the crucial one. The concept of dialectic that Eisenstein has in mind is not only a way of thinking but instead it resembles or even reproduces the way the world really works. In other words: for Eisenstein the reality is dialectical. A way of thinking that tries to grasp this reality therefore has itself to be dialectical too. That is the reason why at the center of Eisenstein’s theory of montage stands explicitly the dialectical motif of conflict: “So, montage is conflict. As the basis of every art is conflict (an ‚imagist‘ transformation of the dialectical principle)” (Eisenstein 1977b, 38). The reason for Eisenstein why art has to be dialectical is that its object is dialectical too: “It is art’s task to make manifest the contradictions of Being” (ibid., 46).

It is important to note that Eisenstein with this conception not only breaks with Pudovkin’s idea of montage but also with Griffith. For Eisenstein Griffith’s parallel montage “appears to be a copy of his dualistic picture of the world” while on the other hand the Russian “concept of montage had to be born from an entirely different ‚image‘ of an understanding of phenomena, which was opened to us by a worldview both monistic and dialectic” (Eisenstein 1977c, 235). The reasons Eisenstein gives us why the Russian theory of montage for him is more advanced than the American once again show how closely he links his film theory with a general materialistic philosophy: “The question of montage imagery is based on a definite structure and system of thinking; it derives and has been derived only through collective consciousness, appearing as a reflection of a new (socialist) stage of human society and as a thinking result of ideal and philosophic education, inseparably connected with the social structure of that society” (ibid., 245).

The reason why I dealt with Eisenstein’s conception of dialectic in such great length is that in it we can find the answer to the question how Eisenstein thinks about realism and essence. Montage following Eisenstein is realist because it follows the same principles as reality itself. It should be no surprise than that montage in this view becomes a method that is privileged to show us the essence of reality. This essence of reality is what in montage is meaning.

Following Eisenstein meaning doesn’t simply reveal itself, instead we need montage to show what something means, i.e. what its essence is. When Eisenstein for example in October (1928) intercuts Kerenski with pictures of a mechanical peacock he tries to point us to the essence of Kerenski. Similar when in Strike (1925) in the famous montage of soldiers shooting at a demonstration with pictures from a slaughterhouse where “’butchering‘ is the associative link” (Eisenstein 1977a, 57), it is also this “butchering” that is the essence of what’s happening. Or in Bazin’s words: with the means of montage Eisenstein tries to lay bare the scene’s “essential quality, its metaphysical kernel” (Bazin 2003, 29).

 

Essence in Bazin’s Theory

Bazin labels Eisenstein’s approach as one that puts its “faith in the image” (Bazin 2005a, 24) which by the use of montage creates “a sense or meaning not objectively contained in the images themselves but derived exclusively from their juxtaposition” (ibid., 25). Instead of this Bazin favors a second approach which he characterizes through its “faith in reality” (ibid., 24). While writing about Murnau as an example for this approach he defines it as follows: “It adds nothing to the reality, it does not deform it, it forces it to reveal its structural depth, to bring out the preexisting relations […]” (ibid., 27). We already see here that this approach also deals with the essence of reality but in a completely other way then Eisenstein. Instead Bazin suggests that its possible to show the essence – to which he is here refering as “structural depth” and “preexisting relations” – by showing reality itself without adding anything.

It are Italian neorealist directors that for Bazin exemplify this approach in the most complete form and on which he develops his position of realism. “They never forget that the world is, quite simply, before it is something to be condemned” (Bazin 2005b, 21 – original emphasis). A prime example for this kind of film is for Bazin Rossellini’s Paisà (1946). “The unit of cinematic narrative in Paisà is not the ’shot‘, an abstract view of reality which is being analyzed, but the ‚fact’” (ibid., 37). This facts are not a means to an end but have a value on their own. That’s also why there is no need to explicitly connect or interpret them, instead its a characteristic of films like Paisà that they have “great holes” (ibid., 35). Bazin uses the following methaphor to elude this point: “The mind has to leap from one event to the other as one leaps from stone to stone in crossing a river” (ibid., 35). In doing so one might miss a stone or slip, but that lies in the essence of the stones. “Actually it is not of the essence of a stone to allow people to cross rivers without wetting their feet […]. Facts are facts, our imagination makes use of them, but they do not exist inherently for this purpose” (ibid., 35). Film then has to respect this essence of the facts and present them according to their nature. That in no way suggests that films like Paisà have no meaning or moral. It just has a different source there: “For Rossellini, facts take on a meaning, but not like a tool whose functioning has predetermined its form. The facts follow one another, and the mind is forced to observe their resemblance; and thus, by recalling one another, they end by meaning something which was inherent in each and which is, so to speak, the moral of the story – a moral the mind cannot fail to grasp since it was drawn from reality itself” (ibid., 36). According to Bazin it then is unnecessary and can only do harm to add something to this factual character. It wouldn’t help to bring out the essence of something but instead would obfuscate it. Films like Paisà or Le Ballon Rouge (1956) – to which the following quote refers to – therefore don’t “owe anything to montage” (Bazin 2005c, 45).

Bazin’s position in this regard can easily be misunderstood. Hence it is important to point out that he doesn’t think of “realist” films in the way of an objective documentary that – like a fly on the wall – is only observing and recording what’s happening. Instead he reminds us that it’s essential for film – as for any form of art – to select what it shows. “Every form of aesthetic must necessarily choose between what is worth preserving and what should be discarded, and what should not even be considered” (Bazin 2005b, 26). Yet what is important for Bazin is that the whole, the entity of what is shown is preserved and not broken apart. “[N]eorealism by definiton rejects analysis, whether political, moral, psychological, logical, or social, of the characters and their actions. It looks on reality as a whole, not incomprehensible, certainly, but inseparably one” (Bazin 2005d, 97). For Bazin only this way does justice to reality.

 

Different Approaches – Common Ground?

After introducing the different ideas that Eisenstein and Bazin hold of reality and essence this part will explore the question if – considering the different approaches that both favor – there is still common ground that can be found in both theories.

In this search for common ground it is important that one doesn’t miss the differences of the two approaches. What seems to separate the two conceptions most fundamentally is a difference that Bazin described as an a priori vs. and a posteriori approach. “[…] the neorealist film has a meaning, but it is a posteriori, to the extent that it permits our awareness to move from one fact to another, from one fragment of reality to the next, whereas in the classical artistic composition the meaning is established a priori: the house is already there in the brick” (Bazin 2005d, 99). Examples of Eisenstein’s montage in this sense are clear examples where the “house is already in the brick”, i.e. the scenes of a montage only makes sense in the whole setting. In the scene of Kerenski and the mechanic peacock which was mentioned above, the image of the peacock can’t stand for itself, it is meant to be a part of a montage. In other words, as the essence of the brick is to be part of the house the essence of this scene is not found in itself but only in the context of the intercutting with Kerenski.

As we’ve seen, Bazin follows this metaphor further when he contrasts the bricks of the house with rocks in a river. Their essence doesn’t lie in the fact that we can use them to cross the river, unless we use them to build a bridge out of them (ibid., 99). For Eisenstein quite contrary the scenes of a montage – although he rejects the brick metaphor – are like cells of an organism. “The shot is a montage cell” (Eisenstein 1977b, 37). In his view the function of montage is to bring these elements in a dialectical relationship of conflict. “By what, then, is montage characterized and, consequently, its cell – the shot? By collision. By the conflict of two pieces in opposition to each other. By conflict. By collison” (ibid., 37). Here Eisenstein openly admits that the characteristic role of the shot doesn’t lie in itself, but in the relationship to another shot.

Following this one could argue that Eisenstein’s usage of a slaughterhouse scene in his famous montage in Strike is instrumental, because it used solely to signify something else. It doesn’t stand for itself but its main function is to show us the meaning of another scene, namely the massacring of demonstrating workers. Le Sang des bêtes (1949) on the other hand could be seen as a film that tries to preserves the essence of a slaughterhouse.

From this point of view the gap between Eisenstein’s and Bazin’s position seems to be irreconcilable. That this is a too simplistic view is indicated by the high opinion that Bazin holds of Eisenstein and his work. Instead Bazin seems to sense that there is common ground between his ideas and Eisenstein’s. “Was it not from the outset their search for realism that characterized the Russian films of Eisenstein, Pudovin, and Dovjenko as revolutionary both in arts and politics, in contrast to the expressionist aestheticism of the German films and Hollywood’s mawkish star worship? Paisà, Sciuscà, and Roma Città Apperta, like Potemkin, mark a new stage in the long-standing opposition between realism and aestheticism on the screen” (Bazin 2005b, 16). Here Bazin puts Italian neorealism in the tradition of Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin (1925), in fact he suggests that Italian neorealism provides us with “new solutions” (ibid., 16) for the same problem that Eisenstein dealt with. This common problem, I would argue, is to find a way how cinema can show us the essence of things.

We see that it should be undisputed that the approaches Eisenstein and Bazin suggest are different. For Eisenstein the best way to bring out the essence is montage, because it allows us to show the meaning of something by contrasting it with other shots. This is grounded – as was shown above – by a dialectic understanding of the world that makes such an approach necessary. Bazin on the other hand favors the long deep focus shot used in Orson Welles‘ Citizen Kane (1941) or the fragmentaric character of Rossellinis Paisà. But they share the common ground that the goal of each approach should be to show us the meaning, the essence of something.

Bazin seemed to have had more trust that the essence of reality reveals itself if film doesn’t give us an interpretation a priori. But for Eisenstein too the purpose of montage isn’t to force a special meaning that can’t be found in reality itself on the spectator. Instead the spectator plays an active role in Eisenstein’s conception: “In fact, every spectator, in correspondence with his individuality, and in his own way and out of his own experience […] creates an image in accordance with the representational guidance suggested by the author, leading him to understanding and experience of the author’s theme. This is the same image that was planned and created by the author, but this image is at the same time created also by the spectator himself” (Eisenstein 1977d, 33).

In a way one could therefore say both montage and long deep focus shot leave it to us to make something out of them. For example in Paisà when we follow a woman looking for her boyfriend, “leaving us to the task of being alone with her, of understanding her, and of sharing her suffering” (Bazin 2005b, 37). Of course there are example of montage where the meaning that Eisenstein wants to show us is obvious and easy to follow, especially in his first long film Strike³. But in Potemkin or October (1928), by making use of the different “methods of montage” (Eisenstein 1977e), the examples become more sophisticated and open for interpretation.

Both also share the notion that in the end film should show something “whole”. For Eisenstein this can be reached indirectly through montage: “The juxtaposition of these partial details in a given montage construction calls to life and forces into the light that general quality in which each detail has participated and which bins together all the details into a whole, namely, into that generalized image, wherein the creator, followed by the spectator, experiences the theme” (Eisenstein 1977d, 11 – original emphasis). The function of montage then is to “evoke in the consciousness and feelings of the spectator, reader, or auditor, that same initial general image which originally hovered before the creative artist” (ibid., 31). Bazin shares the goal of showing reality as a whole. But the way he proposes to reach this goal differs from Eisenstein’s. As was mentioned before he doesn’t deny that the film director must select what he shows in his films, that he “filters reality” (Bazin 2005d, 98 – original emphasis). “[B]ut the selection that does occur is neither logical nor is it psychological; it is ontological, in the sense that the image of reality it restores to us is still a whole – just as a black-and-white photograph is […] a true imprint of reality, a kind of luminous mold in which color simply does not figure. There is ontological identity between the object and its photographic image” (ibid., 98).

I would argue that Eisenstein – just as Bazin does – also aims at this ontological level with his montages. But what seems to divide them are different conceptions of ontology. Eisenstein in this regard can be seen as transcendental realist. The essence of things for him is hidden and must be discovered and exemplified by a dialectical method of montage. When he shows us in October a soldier that is shooting with a machinegun at a demonstration and – in a fine example of metric montage – intercuts the face of the soldier with a close-up of the firing gun, he uses this technique to point us to the essence of what’s happening: the coalition of man and machine, the ambiguity of who’s controlling whom, the tact in which both interact together. Bazin on the other hand believes that the essential quality has to be found in the empirical events themselves. His position therefore can be described as empirical realism. A good example for this approach can be found in De Sica’s film Umberto D (1952), where we see a girl that slowly wakes up in the morning and follow her all the way from bed to the kitchen where she starts preparing breakfast. The scene is quite long with only a few cuts showing us this daily routine in its continuity. For Bazin this continuity of time is an important feature of cinema that was introduced by Welles. “Orson Welles restored to cinematographic illusion a fundamental quality of reality – its continuity” (Bazin 2005b, 28). It is also this continuous flow of time that for Bazin is an essential feature of reality. Combined with long deep focus shots as used in Citizen Kane it is the core of Bazin’s concept of a posteriori. “It is no longer the editing that selects what we see, thus giving it an a priori significance, it is the mind of the spectator which is forced to discern […]” (ibid., 28).

Eisenstein on the other hand doesn’t seem to be interested too much in this dimension of time. When for example the sailors await the final attack in Battleship Potemkin the scene is heavily cut, showing us the single persons only for short periods of time. Instead of depicting this period of waiting, where time seems to be running slowly, through long and continuous shots Eisenstein decides to give us an overview what is going on on board. In other words we see not how the individual reacts but instead the collective, the ship as a whole. From this collective perspective the time period isn’t seen as a long and continuous stream but as a meaningful series of events, condensing the length of the waiting period.

 

Conclusion

I have tried to show that despite all the differences between Eisenstein and Bazin their theories have in common a fundamental similiarity: their attempt to answer the question how film can show the essence of reality. Both agree that this can’t be accomplished by simply showing reality as “authentic” as possible, as the usage of non-professional actors both in Eisenstein’s movies and in Italian neorealism could for example suggest. Instead they honor the fact that film is a form of art and therefore must select and decide which facets of reality to show. Both Eisenstein and Bazin also emphasize the point that the result of the image in the end should be a whole. While for Eisenstein this whole must be built by using montage and juxtaposition Bazin claims that the whole can’t be broken into pieces but that a fact of reality has to be valued as an end in itself.

It is this difference that seems to be the most serious between the theories of Eisenstein and Bazin. I have tried to explain it as a difference of the concept of ontology that both hold. While Eisenstein’s realism is transcendental and aims to find the essential quality of something beyond the empirical level Bazin’s position seems to be more an empirical realism, looking for the essence in real events and facts.

But after taking into account all the differences both Eisenstein and Bazin have in common that in their film theory they search for the essence of reality, “its metaphysical kernel” (Bazin 2003, 29).

 

Martin Bartenberger, 2012

 

Notes

1. Bazin here is writing about the film The Bullfight (1951) by Pierre Braunberger.

2. The quote is taken from Razumovsky’s Theory of Historical Materialism. I want to note that here I can’t deal with the question if this quote or Eisenstein gets the theory of Marx and Engels right. Instead I will here understand and analyze dialectic in the way Eisenstein does.

3. Again the scene with the slaughterhouse is notorious in this regard, but also his depiction of the “capitalists” or the usage of the lemon squeezer while workers are attacked by soldiers.

 

Bibliography

Bazin, André. 2003. “Death Every Afternoon” In Rites of Realism: Essays on Corporeal Cinema, ed. Ivone Margulies. Durham/London: Duke University Press. 27-31.

Bazin, André. 2005a. “The Evolution of the Language of Cinema” In What Is Cinema? Volume 1, André Bazin. Berkeley/Los Angeles: University of California Press. 23-40.

Bazin, André. 2005b. “An Aesthetic of Reality: Cinematic Realism and the Italian School of Liberation” In What Is Cinema? Volume 2, André Bazin. Berkeley/Los Angeles: University of California Press. 16-40.

Bazin, André. 2005c. “The Virtues and Limitations of Montage” In What Is Cinema? Volume 1, André Bazin. Berkeley/Los Angeles: University of California Press. 41-52.

Bazin, André. 2005d. “In Defense of Rossellini” In What Is Cinema? Volume 2, André Bazin. Berkeley/Los Angeles: University of California Press. 93-101.

Eisenstein, Sergei. 1977a. “A Dialectic Approach to Film Form” In Film Form, ed. Jay Leda. New York: Harcourt. 45-63.

Eisenstein, Sergei. 1977b. “The Cinematographic Principle and the Ideogram” In Film Form, ed. Jay Leda. New York: Harcourt. 28-44.

Eisenstein, Sergei. 1977c. “Dickens, Griffith, and the Film Today” In Film Form, ed. Jay Leda. New York: Harcourt. 195-255.

Eisenstein, Sergei. 1977d. “Word and Image” In Film Sense, ed. Jay Leda. New York: Harcourt. 1-65.

Eisenstein, Sergei. 1977e. “Methods of Montage” In Film Form, ed. Jay Leda. New York: Harcourt. 72-83.

 

What are "facts" for André Bazin?

In this text I want to discuss the question of what André Bazin means when he is writing about “facts”. I start with the abstract meaning of the term in Bazin’s work and conclude with his arguments on deep focus shot and Italian neorealism, where his ideas are present in a more concrete form.

 

At the core of Bazin’s characterization of Rossellin’s Paisà (1946) stands the following argument: “The unit of cinematic narrative in Paisà is not the ’shot‘, an abstract view of a reality which is being analyzed, but the ‚fact‘. A fragment of concrete reality in itself multiple and full of ambiguity, whose meaning emerges only after the fact, thanks to other imposed facts between which the mind establishes certain realtionships“ (Bazin 2005a, 37).

This statement and especially its usage of the term “fact” can be easily misunderstood. One could get the impression that Bazin reduces filmmaking to solely capturing the world that is out there. Obviously such a thing is impossible even for documentary films as for example the early discussion on Flaherty’s Nanook of the North has shown, not to mention fictional films like Paisà. If we would follow this understanding of the term “fact” no serious interpretation or critique of the film would be possible, instead it would just present us some undeniable “facts“. In other words it would reduce films to an epistemological dimension, i.e. at their center would stand the question: how can we get knowledge of this facts?

Instead Bazin seems to be interested in the ontological dimension, i.e. the question: What are these facts, what is their nature? For it is clear to him that these “facts” are not given by reality, leaving the director with the simple task to just record them. Bazin respects the work of film directors too much that he could overlook that there is always a process of selection. “Unquestionably, the director chose these ‚facts‘ carefully while at the same time respecting their factual integrity” (ibid., 37). So when Bazin is talking about facts it doesn’t mean that he denies that there is a creative process of configuration and arrangement by the director.

This leads us to an interesting question: Are the “facts”, because they are selected and arranged by the director, therefore subjective? Obviously if this was true the term “fact” would be inappropriate in this case because it always refers to an objective dimension. On the contrary it leads us to an important part of Bazin’s theory, namely his conception of the relationship between image and object. When Bazin states that “the photographic image is the object itself” (Bazin 2005b, 14) or speaks of the “ontological identity between the object and its photographic image” (Bazin 2005c, 98) it is exactly this idea that allow him to speak of “facts” in neorealist films.

At first this statement seems obscure if not even contradictory. It would be difficult to deal with it in such a general and abstract way. Luckily we find the same idea elaborated in Bazin’s writings about long deep focus shots and Italian neorealism.

 

When he talks about long deep focus shots he points out two of its main features: (1) “depth of focus brings the spectator into a relation with the image closer to that which he enjoys in reality” and (2) that “it implies, consequently, both a more active mental attitude on the part of the spectator and a more positive contribution on his part to the action in progess. While analytical montage only calls for him to follow his guide […], here he is called upon to exercise at least a minimum of personal choice” (Bazin 2005d, 36). To summarize, one could say that the long deep focus shot requires less work by the director (at least in terms of editing) but more by the spectator. The task of creating sense in a way is transferred from the process of production to the one of consumtion and reception.

This has the consequence that we as audience are to a greater degree “left alone” in a double sense. On the one hand it means that we are not bothered by the guidance or – as one could even say – manipulation of the director. On the other hand we may experience the feeling that we don’t understand every aspect of the film or that we’ve missed something.

Bazin suggests that what makes this presentation of “facts” special is that it is no means to an end. That doesn’t mean that we can’t make any sense out of the “facts” that are presented to us. But the main purpose of these facts is not to show us anything, instead they have a value in themselves. “Facts are facts, our imagination makes use of them, but they do not exist inherently for this purpose” (Bazin 2005a, 35).

 

It’s mainly the Italian neorealists – besides Orson Welles – that Bazin admires for their use of this approach. For him they take the value of the reality and the acting individuals so seriously that he sees in it a “fundamental humanism” (ibid., 21). Besides that he makes two strong assumptions: for him one of the characteristics of Italian neorealism is that it does not analyze reality and its parts but instead it presents us a whole. Secondly the meaning we derive from neorealist films is established a posteriori.

In Paisà this approach is realized in a double sense. The stories it consists of are itself “facts” in Bazin’s sense, that means they are presented to us without any obvious pattern or purpose. No storyline is developed that could cumulate in a special message or conclusion in the end. Of course the stories stand in a special relationship to one another and it’s obvious that their arrangment is far from being coincidental. But the point here is that each sequence has a value in itself and the same is true for the scenes of every story. To exemplify this we can contrast it with a different example: Eisenstein’s famous montage of soldiers shooting at protesting workers with a slaughterhouse scene in Strike (1925). There the scene of the slaugtherhouse has no value in itself. Its use is instrumental because it is only the context of the montage that justifies it. The case is totally different in Paisà. The sequence in the monastery f.e. stands totally for itself. Its setting – Christian conservative and resigned – is in no way directly linked to the episodes of the active – and as we can assume at least partly communist – resistance of the partisans. As Bazin said, it is only afterwards that we may think about such connections whereas we easily could think of a montage that would link these two aspects a priori for us in the film.

 

To conclude, one must keep in mind that Bazin valued montage and the work of Eisenstein. As he stated explictly: “It would obviously be absurd to deny that montage has added considerably to the progress of film language, but this has happened at the cost of other values, no less definitely cinematic” (Bazin 2005d, 35). Instead he thought of the usage of long deep-focus shots by the Italian neorealists and Welles as “a dialectic step forward in the history of film language” (ibid., 35). But it seems unclear what this concept of a dialectical progress means in practice. Are films outdated that follow Eisenstein and heavily use montage? Or are they limited to certain genres and purposes?

Maybe the answer for Bazin lies in the historical approach he sketches out when he writes: “At the moment the Italian cinema is more sociological than political. By that I mean that such concrete social realities as poverty, the black market, the administration, prostitution and unemployment do not seem to have given place in the public conscience to the a priori values of politics” (Bazin 2005a, 21f). So when Bazin here shows us the importance of the relationship between cinema and society maybe we can rephrase the question: What were the social and political circumstances that produced and legitimated montage and did they disappear?

 

Martin Bartenberger, 2012

 

 

Bibliography

Bazin, André. 2005a. “An Aesthetic of Reality: Cinematic Realism and the Italian School of the Liberation” In What Is Cinema? Volume 2, André Bazin. Berkeley/Los Angeles: University of California Press. 16-40.

Bazin, André. 2005b. “The Ontology of the Photographic Image” In What Is Cinema? Volume 1, André Bazin. Berkeley/Los Angeles: University of California Press. 9-16.

Bazin, André. 2005c. “In Defense of Rossellini” In What Is Cinema? Volume 2, André Bazin. Berkeley/Los Angeles: University of California Press. 93-101.

Bazin, André. 2005d. “The Evolution of the Language of Cinema” In What Is Cinema? Volume 1, André Bazin. Berkeley/Los Angeles: University of California Press. 23-40.

Defending Pathos In Film

Pathos in Film. We think of Hollywood movies, patriotic speeches, sappy music, Michael
Moore. And we shrink back. A good film is without pathos we say. „Then name a film that is
free of pathos“, somebody asks. Ha! This question doesn‘t bother us since we can take refuge with Italian neorealism. „Haven‘t you seen Paisà or Rome Open City?“, we snap back. Rough, hard, clean films. „I have“, the skeptic answers, „but I‘ve also seen Battleship Potemkin and Casablanca. And the question I want to pose is more general: What‘s to say against pathos in film? But before you try to answer it please allow me to invite a friend of mine to our discussion. Let him for a second defend pathos in film.“

So the skeptic goes on: „First what do we mean when we talk about pathos in film? The following definition is taken from this friend of mine, and I would propose we use it for our small dispute: Pathos shows its affect – when the spectator is compelled to jump from his seat. When he is compelled to collapse where he stands. When he is compelled to applaud, to cry out. When his eyes are compelled to shine with delight, before gushing tears of delight… In brief – when the spectator is forced to go out of himself.“

„Pathos, he continues, consists of whatever ‚sends‘ the spectator into ecstasy… ex-stasis
literally, ‚standing out of oneself‘. But the crucial point that my friend makes, and maybe by
now you already noticed that my dear friend is nobody less than Sergei Eisenstein, is the following: to go out of oneself is not to go into nothing. To go out of oneself inevitably implies a transition to something else, to something different in quality, to something opposite to what was.“

Here we have to interrupt the skeptic and his Russian friend: „That is exactly why I don‘t
want to see pathos in film. Pathos means loosing control, manipulation and propaganda. Your
Russian friend is a communist, no wonder he is defending pathos in such flowery language.“

„You miss the point“, the skeptic replies. „Pathos isn‘t about manipulation or propaganda.
Instead it highlights a central function of art. We read a poem, we see a painting, we hear a
song, and something changes. We make a new experience, we leave the state we were in
before, we go out of ourself. We see the world differently than we saw it before. That is what
pathos is all about.“

„Now you may counter“, the skeptic continues, „that this is a far too broad concept of pathos.
That not every new experience has to do with pathos, that changes of our opinion and worldview are not always triggered by pathos. And you‘re right. Instead we should understand pathos as tendency, as the most extreme form of a mechanism of which at least small particles can be found in every process of reception.
That‘s why in the end I just don‘t see a reason to reject pathos in film. To be frankly, I like
them both, Paisà and Potemkin.“

And we shrug.

Martin Bartenberger, 2012

 

 

* Eisenstein‘s quotes were taken from „The Structure Of The Film“, in Film Form (ed. Jay Leyda), p.166f. For better readability the exact quotes aren‘t highlighted and a few quotation marks were removed.

Links: Critical Realism

Useful links on Critical Realism. If you don’t know what Critical Realism is all about maybe you want to start here:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roy_Bhaskar#Critical_realism

 

The Web Site for Critical Realism
Many papers, interviews and old issues of the Journal of Critical Realism are online here. Plus a Critical Realism Glossary (unfortunately the server sometimes isn’t working, if so try again after a couple of minutes)
http://www.raggedclaws.com/criticalrealism/

Critical Realism Wiki
Up-to-date wiki with many links and resources.
http://criticalrealism.wikispaces.com/

The Critical Realism in Action Group
The Critical Realism in Action Group (CRAG) tries to re-assess the value of Critical Realism to social science inquiry, with particular reference to how it can inform concrete empirical study.
http://sites.google.com/site/criticalrealisminaction/home

International Association for Critical Realism
Blog of the International Association for Critical Realism (IACR) with the latest news about Critical Realism.
http://criticalrealismblog.blogspot.com/

The Critical Realism Network
A blog aggregator collecting the posts of various critical realists.
http://www.criticalrealism.net/Default.aspx

The Journal of Critical Realism
The main journal on Critical Realism.
http://www.equinoxjournals.com/ojs/index.php/JCR/index