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Cavell And Film Theory

Uploaded by megatow on Dec 05, 2004

In his opening pages, Cavell tells us that when he was writing The World Viewed he felt he was writing a "metaphysical memoir" of a period of his life, the period in which the experience of going to the movies was a normal part of his week.

…Not the story of a period of my life but an account of the conditions it has satisfied. A book thus philosophically motivated ought to account philosophically for the motive in writing it. What broke my natural relation to movies? What was that relation, that its loss seemed to demand repairing, or commemorating, by taking thought? (The World Viewed, page xix)

From within what Cavell calls the "natural relation to movies," film appears magically to satisfy a wish, a wish we may not even have recognized as our own: the wish for the world re-created in its own image, which is also the wish to be able to view the world unseen, free from responsibility. And by appearing to satisfy this wish, Cavell suggests, film seems to us to confirm something already true of our existence:

In viewing films, the sense of invisibility is an expression of modern privacy or anonymity. It is as though the world's projection explains our forms of unknownness and our inability to know. The explanation is not so much that the world is passing us by, as that we are displaced from our natural habitation within it, placed at a distance from it. The screen…makes displacement appear as our natural condition. (The World Viewed, page 39)

It is the fact that its material basis is photographic that enables film to have the power to make our displacement appear natural, Cavell proposes. A consequence of the fact that film is photographic is that film images are not representations, not signs, as "theory" insists they must be. Their relation to the world is not that of signification or reference: People and things in a photograph are not objects the photograph signifies or to which it refers, they are the photograph's subjects. The subjects of a photograph are not created by the photograph, they are, or at least were, real, really in the world. Nor is their relation to the photograph arbitrary or conventional. They are active participants in the photograph's creation. For Cavell, the fact that photographs are "of" the world does not mean that they assure our presence or...

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Uploaded by:   megatow

Date:   12/05/2004

Category:   Film

Length:   9 pages (1,920 words)

Views:   8337

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