Critical Inquiry / Spring 2006 471
Avoidanceof Love:A Readingof
Must We Mean WhatWe Say?
The Claim of Reason:Wittgenstein,Skepticism,Morality,and Tragedy
Art and Objecthood
(Chicago,1998),pp. 78,88. It isa runningsubtextof thissectionthat the termsof modernistcriticism,includingthose that came out of the writingsof Clement Greenberg,can be of helpinexplainingthe workof an ostensiblerealistlike Bazin.Anotherdirectionthisessaycouldtakewouldbe to show how Bazino
ersus a morenuancedand compellingpictureof suchcentralmodernistideasasmediumspeciﬁcityand reﬂexivity.
Friedglosses“deepconvention”asthat aspectof a paintingwithoutwhich“the enterpriseof paintingwouldhave to changeso drasticallythat nothingmore than the name wouldremain”(MichaelFried,“Art and Objecthood,”
Art and Objecthood
,p. 169n. 6).
open, a troubling feature for a concept that is supposed to be foundationalfor ethical practice (sadism, for example, could be seen as relying on a per-verse acknowledgement of another’s pain). But what makes it problematicfor ethics is exactly what is of value for aesthetics. The open-endedness of acknowledgment means that it avoids being deﬁned as a particular set of terms, emphasizing instead the process by which a relation between styleand reality is generated. It doesn’t specify the content of the relation somuch as the speciﬁc mechanism that produces it.Michael Fried has provided the most extensive application of acknowl-edgment to aesthetics, using it to describe how certain modernist artistsconstructworksinresponsetowhattheytaketobethefeatures“thatcannotbe escaped” of their medium. Fried notes that, for artists such as KennethNoland and Jules Olitski, “the continuing problem of
to acknowledgethe literal character of the support—of
as that acknowledg-ment—hasbeenatleastascrucialtothedevelopmentofmodernistpaintingas the fact of its literalness.”
The nature of the medium becomesthebasisfor the artwork; the work of the artist is to ﬁgure out the appropriate way,given the particular situation of the artwork (in a tradition, inasociety),of acknowledging it.Acknowledgment gives us a conceptual framework for conceiving howﬁlm can be oriented by its medium and at the same time produce a stylethatisnot,strictlyspeaking,faithfultoit.RecallBazin’sclaimthatanobjectin a photograph is ontologically identical to the object in the world (how-ever murky this idea may be). This is the basic featureofphotographicme-dia, their “deep convention.”
A ﬁlm, if it is to be realist, must constructastyle that counts as an acknowledgment of the reality conveyed throughitsphotographic base; it must do something, in some way or other, with thisknowledge of its medium. But what it does is left open for individualﬁlmstoachieve.Intheacknowledgment,aﬁlmproducesaparticularreading(anarticulation or interpretation) of the reality in the photograph, thereby generating what Bazin, in his discussion of neorealism, calls a fact (a socialfact, a political or moral fact, a spiritual fact, an existential fact, andsoon).