New Review of Film and Television Studies Vol. 8, No.

1, March 2010, 57–72

RESEARCH ARTICLE ` re and the fictional capacity of documentary Jacques Rancie
Nico Baumbach*
Film Division, Columbia University, 513 Dodge Hall, 2960 Broadway, New York, NY 10027, USA This paper works through the implications of French philosopher Jacques ` re’s conception of documentary cinema. For Rancie ` re, documentary Rancie and fiction are not opposed, but this does not mean that documentary films are no different from films normally termed fiction. Rather, documentary can be seen as a type of fiction film that, by taking the real as a point of contestation rather than an effect to be produced, opens up new possibilities ` re reframes questions of for fictional invention. This paper shows how Rancie documentary cinema in relation to political equality in a way that challenges dominant conceptions of the difference between documentary and fiction film within the history of film studies. ` re; documentary cinema; film studies; the politics Keywords: Jacques Rancie of aesthetics

The new art of narrative, film . . . brought to its highest potential the double resource of the silent imprint that speaks and the montage that calculates the values of truth and the potential for producing meaning. Documentary film, film devoted to the ‘real’, is in this sense capable of greater fictional invention that than ‘fiction’ film, readily devoted to a certain stereotype of actions and characters. ` re, 2006c, 38) (Jacques Rancie

` re, I would If, as Bergson maintained, all philosophers have only one idea, for Rancie suggest that it is contained in the following axiom: equality without conditions. His writing on cinema can be grasped as part of the intractable pursuit of this impossible idea. It is what has led him to propose what I take to be a profound claim about the political importance of documentary cinema as an arena for aesthetic experimentation. The claim that documentary is a politically important medium is, of course, as old as the concept of documentary itself. John Grierson, who is often said to have coined the term but more likely only played a large role in codifying it, saw documentary film as the most important modern vehicle for educating and informing the public in a democratic civil society. Subsequent champions of documentary have tended to follow Grierson’s lead by assuming that documentary

ISSN 1740-0309 print/ISSN 1740-7923 online q 2010 Taylor & Francis DOI: 10.1080/17400300903529356

Rancie analyzing conservative critics who denounce equality outright because it is a threat to a well ordered society. an equality without conditions.3 Rancie conception of political equality is as a situated. localized intervention. rather. that both exists and does ` re’s terms. visual art and cinema. that is. rooted in the concrete material world of political struggle? We could clarify by suggesting that equality without conditions. The purpose of this paper is to trace the logic behind this claim and to show how clarifying the potential of documentary ` re’s aesthetics may be part of the project of thinking political equality. But what is the precise relationship between political equality and the experience of art or film? ` re’s method is to understand that this question cannot be One of the keys to Rancie answered with a simple formula because. constructing a new mise-en-sce ` re calls ‘la partage du sensible’. but also in critics and theorists who take up progressive or radical banners to delimit what counts as the common at the cost of the anonymous capacity of anyone to upset the logic that determines the limits of the seeable. a site of struggle and disagreement. can be understood in the context of Rancie larger project by first appreciating the paradox posed by thinking equality. reframing. 250). ‘the part of those who have no part’ not exist. But how is it possible that equality can be without conditions and situated. Baumbach ‘was not basically a film idea at all’ but a tool or vehicle for ‘civic education’ because of its capacity to make socially significant information accessible to the masses ` re’s intervention lies in locating documentary’s (1971. The novelty of Rancie political significance in a ‘film idea’ or rather more broadly in its capacity for exploiting the aesthetic potential of modern art. This anonymous capacity of anyone. for him. Equality without conditions annuls itself if it remains a mere regulative principle. ` re’s equality acquires meaning when it is instantiated or inscribed. is in fact conditioned.58 N. an equality that grounds politics and is not an ostensible end that is dispensed with in the political process. and montage4 as an intervention into what Rancie . ‘democracy’ or ‘emancipation’ are again and again conditioned by a framework of consensus and inclusion that attempts to neutralize the radical dimension of political equality. in Rancie (1999. 77). making fictions. as it is for many ` re then is not only interested in liberal theorists and even many ‘radicals’. The politics of axiomatic equality is a question of aesthetics because it always ` ne involves staging. ` re’s writings on Marxism. sayable and doable. always means inscribing something that cannot be accounted for.2 We are familiar with this insistence on the ‘radical’ to ensure the theorist’s political capital. positions that promote what goes by the names ‘equality’. This logic of the immanent break can only be thought or imagined through a paradoxical or paratactical logic.1 As he demonstrates. but only by the very conditions it breaks from.Rancie vigilance regarding ‘equality without conditions’ means always questioning the conditions of possibility of discourses on politics. cinema and ` re’s documentary film in particular. but it has a precise meaning here as a root equality. The encounter with art. it should remain a question – or rather. pedagogy and This pursuit extends from Rancie democratic theory to his work on literature. It is in this sense that it is an impossible idea that is not thinkable without some recourse to the question of aesthetics.

without the intervention of some legible form of framing. should not be identified as a political act in itself. Since the automatic recording machine is itself passive. Rather than countering representational logic by surrendering to the pure play of light and color that comprises the optical impression of water lilies floating on the surface of a pond. but in effect. the artistic gesture of becoming passive in the face of the world is no longer readily ` re brothers’ earliest films. it is found in this new function for the logic of representation. And once the novelty of the apparatus wore off.. ` re calls ‘the aesthetic regime of art’ in which Cinema emerges within what Rancie art is no longer subject to the logic of representation but rather is grasped as merging two contrary conceptions of art: (1) art’s pure power lies on the surface of the external world especially at its most ordinary and indifferent. what was once known ` re to investigate as ‘the symbolic order’ or ‘ideology’. as Mary Ann Doane aptly puts it. A painting. what is it? Its fascination is tied to the nineteenth-century dream of art’s self-effacement to yield to the expressive power of nature. the cinematic apparatus realizes the first pole of the aesthetic regime of Rancie art. novel or film. but it returns to the representational logic of the conventional dramatic story or myth to thwart the ` re’s words: aesthetic power of the pure becoming of movement-images. historically. Anonymous automatic speech is intrinsic to the technical apparatus of cinema. legible (op. it constructs ways of thinking what politics might mean through new arrangements of common images and ideas. 178). but like a theoretical essay or philosophical treatise. to many of his interlocutors’ disappointment. cit. but this does not ensure an ontological grounding for its artistic possibilities. In Rancie . cinema tends to reverse the operation of thwarting representation shared by so-called romantic. 9). it does it too well. This project has led him to claim a special privilege for documentary cinema as a locus for experimenting with and creating contestation over the common. It does not use the aesthetic gesture to undermine the logic of active form on passive material. of the Lumie At the time few people viewed them as art. but it is the new apparatus itself and not any single artist that makes this image visible. textual and artistic production as arenas where equality gets inscribed and thwarted. For Rancie something new about the art of cinema as it developed in the twentieth century. for example. its very identification as art or entertainment precludes just that. but they can be defended as art by citing ` re’s method of framing or even the choice of subject matter.5 This is what has led Rancie regimes of images. he has made clear. According to ` re. This may explain why. (2) art is grasped only in the pure autonomous creative act or formal gesture (2006a.New Review of Film and Television Studies 59 the sharing and dividing of sensory and sensible experience. 8). modernist and avant-garde aesthetics. so many filmmakers have turned to the ` re. an image such as this would remain. But the Louis Lumie wind in the trees in the background of ‘Baby’s Meal’ (1896) that fascinated so many early viewers: is it art? And if not. if there is representative regime to thwart cinema’s powers. ‘semiotically insufficient’ (2002. Think. or inverting and signing a urinal and hanging it on a gallery wall.

But.60 N. If one of the interventions of his essays on cinema is to show the inconsistency of a logic that imagines that cinema can become a pure writing of sensations and affects indistinguishable from ideas. common sense and experience tells us otherwise. But as the parenthetical insertion of Deleuze indicates. Aristotelian ‘separation of the idea of fictions and that of lies’ (Rancie ¨l 2006c. . in an essay on the ‘madness’ of Eisenstein’s The General Line (1929). as an arena of contestation. to offer reality and the very relation between cinema and reality. In other words. Vertov and Eisenstein). Using an ‘intention-response model of communication’. 35). 31). to counter art’s aesthetic autonomy with its old submission to the representative regime. of Malevich and Schoneberg. In the age of Joyce and Virginia Woolf. Carroll defines the documentary as ‘the film of presumptive assertion’. we are told even today by film theorists such Noe Carroll. 10) Or. It can take the automatic silent speech of the recording device as the grounds for aesthetic operations that calculate.. it is not to insist on the classical Hollywood model of the scripted feature film with its three act structure and typically happy ending as the inevitable destiny of cinematic production. not least to the illustration of old-fashioned stories of heartbreak and death. The dream of cinema as the realization of the aesthetic regime of art is found not only in polemicists and critics from the heyday of aesthetic modernity (such as ` re’s relative Benjamin. ‘what century we ourselves live in derives so much pleasure – our Deleuzes in our pockets – from the love affair upon a sinking ship between a young woman in first class and a young man in third’ (op. (2006a. As Rancie and the thought of images have always been nourished by all that thwarts them’ (op. cit. one might object.e. The inconsistencies revealed by the great theorists and practitioners of so-called pure cinema do not limit cinema’s ` re states most succinctly. bodies and voices. ‘postmodern’ figures like Gilles Deleuze and Jean-Luc Godard. .6 . the type of film we call a documentary is one that we presume is intended to be ‘assertoric’ (i. this is not the end of the story. 19). fiction and fact. cannot be conceived of as fiction.. Documentary cinema The documentary cinema brings the ‘aesthetic regime’ to its ‘highest potential’ because of its capacity for mobilizing this thwarting logic for ‘fictional invention’. he asks rhetorically. . but also in Rancie contemporaries. Epstein. . cit. Baumbach the mechanic eye lends itself . withhold or construct meanings by playing with combinations of text and image. . Documentary. ‘The art potential but are the very basis for it. cinema arrives as if expressly designed to thwart a simple teleology of artistic modernity. Documentary is the very pinnacle of the aesthetic regime of art not because it resolves the paradoxes of the aesthetic regime but because it is capable of exploiting the resources of these paradoxes without restoring the old hierarchies of the representative regime. asserting something to be the case). Isn’t documentary cinema generally excluded from the category of art through the ` re.

If the politics of cinema are often sought in documentary because of its link to the real and its typically explicit social and pedagogical goals. it is fair to say that Carroll’s definition does seem to correspond with the conventions of what is normally associated with documentary in relation to fiction film. it becomes language. that is. documentary is taken to be a genre that even at its most shocking or spectacular tends to owe its pleasures to its ‘content’. film theory and film art have historically retreated from documentary for the same reasons. images serve the function of illustration providing the visible evidence for what we are told. we identify a film to be fiction if we are watching ‘the film of presumptive imagination’ or a film in which the propositional content is not taken to be asserted. Isn’t documentary then. (1999. the real is taken to be asserted or self-evident rather than a problem or question. no doubt. And as a poem it is organized. not the images. 113). 59) ` re’s reflections on documentary were occasioned by Chris Marker’s Rancie Le Tombeau d’Alexandre (1993. Secondly. Indeed. that lumps together films as diverse as those as Land Without Bread (Bunuel. that is. Man With a Movie Camera (Vertov. 1933). documentary might be included among ‘the discourses of sobriety’ such as science. be proposed that the ‘documentary fiction’ he is celebrating is an interesting anomaly. it also becomes a ‘poem’. As Bill Nichols has suggested. immediate and transparent’ (1991. something other than art. economics and other discourses that ‘regard their relation to the real as direct. 1929) and Sans Soleil (Marker. ` re’s definition. subservient to the ` re. known in English as The Last Bolshevik) and it will. the ‘poetic documentary’. since hierarchies of the Aristotelian logic of representation described by Rancie its subject matter dictates the appropriate form and the visible is dependent on speech for its legibility? (2007. If there is a ‘signifier’ here. . dialectically composed. An example of this position can be found in Jean Mitry’s pioneering semiotics of cinema: The teaching film and didactic documentary (which has no other purpose than to present a reality whose power derives from itself. then it is in the text. religion. it would seem that in typical In contrast to Rancie documentaries. a commentary linked to the images takes on the task of explaining them. as much or even more so than so-called fiction film. And thirdly. when documentary presents an original and personal vision of the world and its objects. everybody knows7 that for ordinary viewers these two types of film are mutually exclusive. Many of the major figures in film theory have had little to say about documentary except to repeat one or more of these limitations concerning its artistic potential. According to Carroll.New Review of Film and Television Studies 61 On the other hand. Conversely. not a synonym for documentary tout court but part of a hybrid genre that might better be conceived of as a particular category of the ‘experimental’ film. 1983). when it becomes an eye. in other words. attempting meanwhile to present that reality as objectively as possible) cannot be described as language or work of art – even though certain craft skills are required to conceive and produce them. 3– 4). When what is represented is incapable by itself of conveying sufficient information.

In these examples.12 the same logic persists. Cinema.10 but the aesthetic realism he prescribed always meant transcending the conventions of verisimilitude. 1946) and The Mystery of Picasso (Clouzot. this is why Bazin latched on to the sequence shot in Welles and Renoir and especially the ‘fact-images’ of the Italian Neo-realists. should be ` res’ actualite ´ s but defined by its own history starting with its ur-form in the Lumie only emerging properly in 1922 with Robert Flaherty’s Nanook of the North. and while documentary would seem like the natural mode for . Andre criticism was always guided by the idea that film has an ontological link to the real. which first needed to be evoked to be subverted.9 With the exception of certain documentarists themselves.8 The aesthetics of documentary are conceived extrinsically as the methods of either serving and yielding to – or obscuring – the real. no canonical figure in the history of film theory has aligned documentary ´ Bazin’s cinema with the potential of the medium itself. the other great film theorist of ‘an aesthetic of reality’. critical writing on documentary gets structured around questions of veracity and the legitimation of truth claims. To take but one example. the ‘documentary condition’ (1999. evoking Marivaux and Shakespeare in the process. Despite his many sensitive articles on documentaries such as Letter from Siberia (Marker. Baumbach Documentary. 1958). We might say that for Bazin. a dialectic is at work: the documentary condition of cinema could be wrested from the residual traces of melodramatic narrative or a story of universal importance could emerge from an investigation of a specific time and place. all film falls within ` re might argue. is defined by its capacity to reveal and finally redeem ‘physical reality’. the most ruthless indictment of Italian rural poverty in 1951. Ferrabique (Rouquier. 36). 1956).11 but this is why. ‘Art aims to go beyond reality. not to reproduce it. 181). for him. expanding on a term he first used in 1926 in his review of Flaherty’s Moana. while at the same time he gives is the most exact account. writing about the largely forgotten neo-realist film Two Cents Worth of Hope (Castellani. most significantly Vertov. among others. most pure love stories in the history of film. as Rancie he needs the logic of representation to thwart that condition and make art visible. What follows in standard accounts of documentary are the particular modes and codes and conventions that can be delineated through a taxonomy of typical examples. Following from this. Bazin says that: it perfectly realizes the paradox giving us one of the most beautiful. unless we are talking about certain ‘poetic’ documentaries that are closer to the avant-garde than to the documentary proper. And this is even truer of film because of its technical realism. in which the real provides the very essence of film but the story is needed if only to be effaced in operations that make the real visible.62 N. not documentary itself as the essential examples of the aesthetic he endorsed. 183) For Siegfried Kracauer. 1952). As Bazin argues. As is well known. as Jean-Louis Comolli has put it. its ability to reproduce reality so easily’ (1997. we are told by its historians and theorists alike. (1997. tends to be taken as the point of departure in attempts to conceptualize the form. Grierson’s definition of the documentary as ‘the creative treatment of actuality’.

factual films do not explore all aspects of physical reality. the film is also expressive of an outspoken. These assets. he argues that the pure realism of ‘the film of fact’ will in turn undermine the intrigue. . 255) . Kracauer prizes the ‘loose composition’ in Renoir and the ‘street world’ in Italian Neo-realism because films should be permeable to ‘camera-reality’ or the ‘flow of life’. they omit for instance. (1997. The true film artist may be imagined as a man who sets out to tell a story but. 1997. . . According to Kracauer. (Kracauer. cinema’s inherent affinity with the unstaged. the lack of structure that results is at variance with and weakens the film’s emotional intensity. in shooting it is so overwhelmed by his innate desire to cover all of physical reality – and also the feeling that he must cover it in order to tell the story. is what makes it modern and this leads to an interest in the ‘found story’ such as ‘certain patterns in the water produced by the breeze or some eddy’ (246). Despite his insistence that the narrative film borrowing from the tradition of the novel and theater will always compromise the materialist dimension of film. (203) Too much ‘susceptibility’ to ‘nature in the raw’. chance and the endlessness of the heterogeneous flow-of-life as opposed to the closed structure of a finite ordered cosmos. As a notebook like assemblage of onthe-spot observations. those contingent on ‘private passions’. Newsreels as well as documentaries feature not so much an individual and his inner conflicts as the world he lives in.13 He explains that facts are not enough: Yet in the case of the film of fact it opens on only part of the world. surprisingly limited. Kracauer says that it is nothing but reportage pure and simple. despite the definition of cinema as a medium whose role is to ‘redeem physical reality’. in cinematic terms – that he ventures ever deeper into the jungle of material phenomena in which he risks becoming irretrievably lost if he does not by great efforts. . very cinematic susceptibility to street incidents. Howard. get back to the highway he has left. however. but some tie to the literary or theatrical mode of narrative is needed to give this permeability its legibility even if only through contrast. Unlike conventional narrative cinema. the documentary is too dependent on physical reality and therefore unable to capture ‘the internal life of individuals’. . 194) According to Kracauer.’ Describing the documentary In The Street (Agee. Levitt.New Review of Film and Television Studies 63 this. it cannot possibly develop into a self contained whole. ‘The film of fact’ takes up only a small section of his Theory of Film. any story. it is. So the documentary is rendered as problematic as conventional cinema in the theatrical tradition for the opposite reason. . ‘Since the found story is part and parcel of the raw material in which it lies dormant. 1948). which for Kracauer is precisely the cinematic itself. Like Bazin. which abandons physical reality. means a loss of structure and emotion. for him. are not without a drawback. But the very things that make the found story cinematic are also its limitations for art. as related by an intrigue.

documentary tended to be folded into the critique of realism and faced no serious reconsideration. he does it with reference to reality (1989. aligning documentary with films in which the ‘signifier’. they write: ‘Reality holds within it no kernel of self-understanding. rather. the documentary condition of cinema that Comolli would define years later. When film theory turned against realist aesthetics with the emergence of structuralist. as Mitry put it. is not in ` res’ films. the images themselves. – have become marginal provinces. Deleuze breaks from the focus on representation and language in Mitry. like Bazin. According to Metz. 3). in the Lumie for example. the creative production of new signs composed of movement and time. 1). They correctly point out that the discourse of ‘direct cinema’ that champions the capturing of unscripted immediacy is by no means an escape from ideology. border regions so to speak. like a stone inside a fruit. In the realm of the cinema. which is simply called a ‘film’. 686) to show how films correspond to or disrupt cinema’s ideological function by exposing and subverting ‘the traditional way of depicting reality’ (689). In their critique of direct cinema (‘category f’ in their schema). or theory of truth. For Deleuze. seminal statement of purpose for Cahiers du cine they announce the goal of a ‘scientific criticism’ (2009. ` re would agree that ‘reality’ needs to be ‘manufactured’ or ‘fictionalized’ Rancie before it can be thought. sees physical reality as the materialist basis of cinema and yet physical reality must be held together by a story that it always threatens to undo. We have to manufacture those’ (692). semiotic. (1974. while the feature-length film of novelistic fiction. Yet they make no mention of the term ‘documentary’ as a distinct mode. but Comolli and Narboni make no distinction between the imaginary production of verisimilitude in what they call ‘bourgeois realism’ (of ‘category a’) and the real. the usage is significant – has traced more and more clearly the king’s highway of expression.64 N. Christian Metz’s Film Language largely repeats Mitry’s reading. the technical film etc. Marxist and psychoanalytic approaches. the ´ ma in the aftermath of May 1968. the movement-images that compose cinema are immanent potentiating fields that . Comolli and Narboni. as merely a ‘means of reproduction’ but it was only with the development of narrative procedures that it became a language. cinema began. Baumbach Note that ‘the true film artist’ first sets out to tell a story. 94) In Comolli and Jean Narboni’s 1969 essay ‘Cinema/Ideology/Criticism’. but his problem with Bazin is that even though he does not mark these new kinds of signs through an analogy to verbal language. Metz. In this he is closer to Bazin. Kracauer. The question of film art for him is no longer about ‘signifying procedures’ in terms of codes and conventions but. but preserves their assumptions about the artlessness of early cinema claiming that it only mimicked ‘natural perception’ (1986. all nonnarrative genres – the documentary. but by treating it as just another variation of ‘bourgeois realism’ they fail to point out that the documentary begins with a different set of aesthetic problems regarding the relationship between reality and ideology than the cinema of novelistic verisimilitude.

art and entertainment. In Rancie when watching a documentary but not one predetermined or necessarily restricted ` re has by the propositional content we take to be intended by the author. in Serge Daney’s terms. how the same images can appear in different media and acquire new meanings through different contexts. the common or rather. Deleuze’s Bergsonian view of cinema means an indifference to questions of how images circulate and the problems opened up by remediation. can explore the capability of fiction to play on the intertwining of art and forms of life. arrangements and aesthetic operations. The cinematic potentialities of putting a ‘stop on the image’. but rather proposes rethinking the concept of documentary itself in terms of the capacity for a cinematic form that stages contestation over the real. Like Rancie ` re he is interested in the reality (to use E fictional capacity of documentaries. modernism. but only when it comes to the ‘live cinema’ of Jean Rouch and Pierre Perrault. Rancie proposed that: . perhaps more than any other ‘art form’.15 or ‘replaying’ the image. In this form of ‘live cinema’ the film does not purport to observe an already existing real. He is not state and political pundits refute Rancie defining the empirical reality of what counts as documentary but rather its potential as an aesthetic form. that is. how certain images can have a history both filmic and afilmic. Symptomatic of this is the absence of either Chris Marker or Guy Debord14 from the indexes of Cinema 1 and Cinema 2. common-sense conceptions and the dominant forms of documentary no more refute this concept of documentary than what counts as democracy for heads of ` re’s conception of democracy. the very word ‘documentary’ is of little interest to Deleuze because for him so-called fiction films are not engaged in creating the ‘effect of the real’ any more than documentaries are recording a profilmic reality or referencing an afilmic ´ tienne Souriau’s terms).16 have no part in Deleuze’s natural history. but the cost is that he restricts ‘cinema’ to films in which new images are created and ignores the circulation of common images as a possible grounds for cinema’s ‘will to art’. in Marker’s terms. Traditional histories. Deleuze recasts his anti-representational philosophy as a natural history of cinematic image-types and in the process sweeps aside hoary debates about realism. but participates with the subjects of the film in the creation of an immanent virtual real. unlike novelistic fiction. the very question of what constitutes the real grounds ` re’s definition we do presume a common real documentary practice. the distribution of the sensible. Indeed. ` re. Rancie ` re makes no claim regarding specific genres of Rancie documentary. documentary does have a different relationship to the real than For Rancie films normally termed fiction. Documentary. ` re: rethinking the concept of documentary Rancie It is with this background of documentary’s marginality. but this is an enabling difference because.New Review of Film and Television Studies 65 do not need to be grasped with reference to anything external to the images themselves. that we should understand ` re’s intervention.

Baumbach We cannot think of documentary film as the polar opposite of fiction film simply because the former works with images from real daily life and archive documents about events that obviously happened. To highlight the potential of fictional invention of the documentary film does not mean that documentary films are fiction films like any other in which the real is nothing other than what counts as real. The fiction of the aesthetic age defined models for connecting the presentation of facts and forms of intelligibility that blurred the border between the logic of facts and the logic of fiction. construct fictions. it’s just that documentary instead of treating the real as an effect to be produced. 158). he is neither opposing ‘fiction’ to the ‘real’ nor is he suggesting that there is no difference between documentary and those films normally termed fiction. for Rancie ` re. means not ` re. Facts. are the tools of the police. in the sense adopted by Rancie knowledge but are ways of constructing the arena in which facts and knowledge are given meaning. as Jean Marie-Straub has reportedly ` re has argued. dissimulations or more neutrally. language games or narratives. Politics. but just that these very distinctions are a question of aesthetics. For the documentary. that when Rancie fiction. To say then that documentary film is a form of fiction just like written historiography is a form of fiction is not to say that there is no distinction between a novel and a written historiography or a documentary film and what is normally called a fiction film. a regime of constructing meanings out of common sensory experience. Fictions. The real difference isn’t that the documentary sides with the real against the inventions of fiction. is the terrain of a kind of film fiction.66 N. relationships between what is seen and what is said. just another fiction or ` re: narrative. is that which declared. 158) In other words. that is to say material rearrangements of signs and images. but they are rather the ground for modes of expression. between what is ` re. which is to say. which is to say both what counts as a fact. the digital or the loss of the real. . as Rancie interrupts the police. which is to say. are not ‘“to feign” but “to forge”’ (Rancie lies. fingere. we need not think of the documentary as constrained by the logic of the real but rather as a mode of ‘fiction’ freed from the logic that demands ‘the imaginary production of verisimilitude’. Facts or documents. which is to say. which we can call documentary. ‘Politics and art. the real as effect. are not opposed to facts that make up Fictions. like forms of knowledge. the real is not an effect. (2006c. The root of the word ‘fiction’. sensory logic with its hierarchical divisions and ways of disrupting that logic. For Rancie age of spectacle. The documentary might be understood as a type of fictional film that is centrally engaged in the gap between police and politics. but also how facts can be assembled to both construct or interrupt meanings. 2006a. According to Rancie It is not a matter of claiming that everything is fiction. 38) ` re. and the latter with actors who act out an invented story. he stresses. treats it as a fact to be understood. but an aesthetic problem. this is not another statement about the done and can be done’ (39). ` re calls documentary a form of We must be clear then. (2006a.

2006c. montage can play on two inverse functions: the real becoming art and art becoming the real. To align memory with fiction is not to relativize fact. sounds and images.17 It has the capacity to generate contestation over common images and meanings and interpretations of the real by highlighting the very work of montage without relying on the identification with the plight of familiar individuals that tend to be buttressed by the rigid unstated laws of spatial and temporal continuity and the causal logic that ensures the suspension of disbelief. ` re. As he puts it: ‘The artistic work of memory is that . It can take ‘artistic work back to its essence. Documentary film is then a more radical starting point for the aesthetic regime of art than so-called fiction film because it starts with non-art as its raw material and can play directly with the capacity of heterogeneous signs to be linked or delinked. is not the subjective experience of the past by an individual. text and manipulations within images – is perhaps the richest terrain for experimenting with an aesthetics of knowledge to reveal the contingency of the distribution of the sensory. its separation from the interests and struggles of daily life was tied to its heteronomy. cinema and documentary cinema in particular can As Rancie play directly on the paradoxical development of modern art in which its autonomy. its efficacy as a delivery machine for facts and information. a fiction for the part who have no part. of lengthening and tightening time’ (2006a. ` re uses for the link between fiction and fact is ‘memory’. ` re calls an ‘aesthetics of knowledge’ Documentary constructs what Rancie which is a ‘redescription and reconfiguration of a common world of experience’ through which knowledge and facts acquire their meaning (2000. The question concerning the politics of documentary should not be about its explanatory power. 115). but poetic Rancie arrangements of knowledge and sensibility that belie the storehouse of static information (2006a. but rather the forms of community that are implied by the regimes of identification through which art. according to Rancie historicity in which the future is defined by restaging the past. The traces of reality become poetic signs because they are wrested from the ‘empirical ` re. which according to ` re. of assembling shots into a story [une histoire ]. 157). to construct or withhold meaning. Rancie and offer the documentary as a fiction for those who are denied fiction. Cinema as documentary – by succession of events’ (Rancie combining automatic silent speech with the resources of montage broadly construed to include not only editing in a conventional sense. Referencing Godard’s ironic claim.New Review of Film and Television Studies 67 ` re has argued. but sound. In documentary. in Ici et Ailleurs. 158). but rather to suggest that production of meaning from fact is a capacity that belongs to anyone and the very province of documentary. is also a new regime of The aesthetic regime of art. that ‘[t]he epic is for the Israelis and the ` re’s gesture is to reverse this logic documentary is for the Palestinians’. to a way of cutting a story [une histoire ] into sequences. the belief that anything could be art and art could fuse with life itself. facts and politics are perceived and recognized. The word Rancie Documentary is not about information but rather memory. 37). of joining and disjoining voices and bodies.

‘radical politics’ signals that the work of the theorist matters while theoretical jargon signals its sophistication. ` re might be attributable to the fact that The recent currency of Jacques Rancie he has offered a new vocabulary for posing the link between aesthetics and politics in a moment when the old models are felt to be saturated. His work does not teach us to apply a politics of aesthetics but stages ways of thwarting the politics of aesthetics that already frame the images and theoretical positions we encounter. For the laziest form of film theory and cultural studies. sensations and ideas. To conclude. 2008. I’d like to suggest that the debates about so-called French theory in American and British film studies were debates about whether film theory should be tied to a radical political project. but not everyone is equally inspired by the sober scholars that seek a more normative ground for film studies by turning to the social sciences.68 N. The potential which accords everyone the dignity of fiction’ (Rancie of documentary is not to challenge lies and distortions with sober facts.18 Rather. And when we put it this way. analytic philosophy or ` re’ is then a new signifier for a French cognitive psychology. What’s needed are new fictions or new memories. and to create contestation over shared sensory experience through the always renewable resources of the impure medium called cinema. but another way of essays on film theory and history in the spirit of Rancie pursuing the same project. his work – like the films that he culture. The link between aesthetics and politics. does nothing to help us think the relation between Noe cinema and political equality. we might recognize that documentary cinema is not merely an important object of study for ` re. but to allow for new kinds of histories to be told that create new common worlds heterogeneous to official narratives marked by inequality. It is the virtue of documentary film and video to participate in thinking the politics of cinematic aesthetics. he tells us. which is to say. is never determined in advance but must be constructed. Baumbach ` re. to construct combinations of image and text. montages that through associations and disassociations allow us to rethink the conceptual networks that determine our impressions of what constitutes the real. as the ‘Post-Theory’ turn spearheaded by David Bordwell and ¨ l Carroll has demonstrated. The backlash against Theory rejected this proposition and scored points by insisting on what many theorists had already theorized – how often the politics of theory was merely confined to repetitive reflexive gestures that signaled commitment and theoretical know-how to other academics but had no direct link to emancipatory political projects. . The name ‘Rancie theorist who can once again authorize the political reading of a work of art or ` re has repeatedly insisted. But pointing this out. 10). dismissing the attempt to think the politics of the aesthetics of cinema as well as the paradoxes of an ‘aesthetics of knowledge’ can be an equally lazy way of signaling that the work of the scholar is responsible by restricting the discipline to an easily definable object of study. But as Rancie finds in some way emancipatory – do not authorize anything.

He prefers the term ‘metapolitics’ to ‘ethics’ to refer to the rethinking of the political in an essay or an artwork. 311. Whereas for Jacques 1. This is the very logic that Rancie the aesthetic regime of art. Of course. But this analogy Rancie ` re avoids injunctions and would not use the poses several problems. only a distinction between a clear and confused concept of fiction. Non-fiction and the Film of Presumptive Assertion: 6. 2. I have written elsewhere about how Rancie sensible’ relates to the Althusserian concepts of his youth and their uptake in the film ` re and the theory of Christian Metz and Peter Wollen. See. For Rancie particular. the form in which 3. See Noe A Conceptual Analysis’. Thirdly. among others. ‘What makes an action political is .New Review of Film and Television Studies Notes 69 ` re’s ‘ethics’. except mixed-up creatures Carroll calls ‘deconstructionists’. See Rancie confirmation of equality is inscribed in the setting up of a dispute. various artistic realms that Rancie ` re’s concept of ‘distribution of the 5. Rancie ` re is not individual. in particular. 7. political equality for Rancie question of ‘one’s’ equality but an equality of the uncounted. see. Rancie is not the one Carroll is working with and so Carroll might claim that there is no real disagreement here. Peter Hallward in his essay ‘Staging Equality: On Rancie ` re’s political notes and critiques the importance of the theatrical metaphor in Rancie thought. Clive Myer (2010). . it is not a word ‘should’. we might say that one should not give ground on equality. I would suggest that these unnamed deconstructionists are fictions. To say that the distinction between two terms in a binary opposition is unstable is not the same as conflating them. If Carroll is right that ‘the film of presumptive assertion’ captures what is typically meant by the term documentary this may help clarify the limiting way that documentary tends to get implicitly codified. . ethics is the injunction not to give ground relative to one’s desire. ` re. Carroll similarly misreads Christian Metz whose claim that ‘Every film is a fiction film’ is taken to mean that he believes that there is no meaningful distinction to be made between documentary and films usually called fiction. We might be tempted to think of this as Rancie Lacan. in Philosophy of Film and Motion Pictures (2006). First. that is. For Lacan’s definition of the ethics of psychoanalysis. Second. I just want to note here that ` re accords a privileged place to theater in I think it is a mistake to think that Rancie particular and that the metaphor of ‘staging’ is only one of the metaphors from ` re uses to think the aesthetics of politics. 143– 73. Everyone. ¨ l Carroll. ethics for him is understood as a way of supplanting politics by replacing dissensus with consensus. ‘Deconstructionists’. but in this Rancie case it’s hard to imagine actual authors in any way faithful to Jacques Derrida’s work whose theoretical arguments would fit Carroll’s description. ‘Fiction. but it does not help . must of course presume a distinction between the two terms in a binary opposition if they are to be ‘deconstructed’. in Critical Cinema: Beyond the Theory of Practice. Carroll is operating under the Aristotelian logic that places fiction in ` re suggests was overthrown by opposition to fact. for ` re. in 1978. if we further entertain this fiction. 2004. See Metz’s rather limited conception of documentary below as evidence that ` re’s definition of ‘fiction’ that I am using he believed no such thing. while at the same time presuming that Carroll is asserting their existence. The Philosopher and His Poor (2003) and Hatred of Democracy (2006b).’ ` re’s Theatocracy’ (2006) 4. ed. 1999. Leaving aside Hallward’s broader concerns. See my ‘Rancie Persistence of Film Theory’. 32. Though Carroll would tell me that I am confused. Indeed. all rhetorical figures are fictional in ` re’s sense whether or not they correspond to an empirical reality. see ` re’s conception of ethics as a way of erasing politics.

8. The claim that the rejection by certain film studies scholars of a broad range of influential French theorists (among other thinkers in the tradition of Marx. from their point of view. 1939) as well. 15. 45). Vertov. David Bordwell and Kristen Thompson 2008. This is often just as true of contemporary critics who are skeptical about truth claims or a transparent access to reality and endorse reflexivity and poetic gestures. among others whose work has engaged with documentary though he tends to skirt consideration of how the real. Comolli defines the ‘documentary condition’ as ‘the filmed encounter of body and machine’ in a given time and place. all but animated films are under this condition – not only the films of Flaherty and Vertov but those of the Marx Brothers. 14. Brian Winston. 17. As Carroll puts it. in his critique of truth claims in documentary tends to focus his analysis of documentary aesthetics on whether films are or are not ‘claiming the real’ and not the regimes of sensory experience that make up the real that the films are constructing. 13. 10. Anyone who opposes the Theory. is politically suspect – probably a ruling class. On the contrary. their primary goal is emphasizing alternatives to psychoanalysis in the work of film studies and the question of politics. and The Wizard of Oz (Victor Fleming.70 N. Baumbach us think of the potential of documentary to create contestation over what counts as reality. ´ Bazin. Eustache. ‘A Free Replay: Notes on Vertigo’. but Marker and Debord stand out as two filmmakers whose absence seems especially conspicuous considering that Deleuze surely had some familiarity with their work. in Andre Volume 1 (1967). What is Cinema? See ‘The Ontology of the Photographic Image’. is a smoke screen. Rancie his sense) construct but not in the sense of an ‘imaginary world’ that takes the real as an ‘effect to be reproduced’. for example. See Chris Marker. 16. See. Brian Winston. 9. For example. homophobic misogynist’ (Carroll 1996. as they see it. of course. Deleuze does have rich discussions of Godard. Consequently. 12. ‘Proponents of the Theory let on that the Theory grew out of the student movement and out of a resistance to oppression everywhere. 18. See Serge Daney. for example. We could add Alexander Kluge. modest. sarcastic description of the proponents of ‘Theory’ appears in an essay that claims to oppose ‘monolithic conceptions of theory’ in favor of robust. Nietzsche or Freud). which is what defines the cinematic for Kracauer as well as Bazin. not to mention Flaherty and. David Bordwell and Noe (1996). according to Bordwell and Carroll. ‘The Tracking Shot in Kapo’. 11. 426– 33. Joseph Cornell or any maker of compilation or found footage films. ¨ l Carroll See Post-Theory: Reconstructing Film Studies. Resnais. Duras and Ackerman. According to Comolli. history or remediation operate in these films. I use this term of Bazin’s rather than ‘realism’ only because realism is often associated with the Aristotelian principles of the classical Hollywood model rather than films that are grounded in the documentary condition of cinema. Of course. . for whatever reason. Ester Shub. ` re means ‘history’ as well as ‘story’ as in a fictional (in By ‘story’ or ‘histoire’. Carroll or many of the other contributors to Post-Theory. from Immemory (1997): CD-ROM. 338–55 or John Izod and Richard Kilborn 1998. The full title of the book is Theory of Film: The Redemption of Physical Reality. ed. Leaving aside that this monolithic. should be understood in terms of debates about the relation between film theory and politics is my own claim not that of Bordwell. criticism of the Theory virtually represents a clear and present danger to the Revolution itself. neoconservative. Johan Van Der Keuken. Claiming the Real: The Griersonian Documentary and its Legitimations (1995). See. See also footnote 18 below.

Siegfried. Mary Ann. 338– 55. David Bordwell and Noe University of Wisconsin. 1996. MA: Harvard University Press. Michael Taylor. Comolli. Trans. NJ: Princeton University Press. References ´ . and Kristen Thompson. a neutral (not derogatory) term understood as the precise opposite of politics. ———. Kracauer. 1974. Policing is defined as the ‘set of procedures’ in which the ‘rules governing ` re. ed. Trans. Comolli. Jean-Louis. In Film theory and criticism. and Jean Narboni. Metz. Annette Michelson. Trans. 2008. ¨ l Carroll. The emergence of cinematic time: Modernity. Princeton. 28– 9) As I hope I appearances’ are established and legitimated (Rancie have made clear. Hugo Gray 1967. Izod. Dennis Porter. Bazin at work. Noel Carroll and Jinhee Choi. ed. New York: W. 1999. October 90: 36 – 49. ———. What is cinema? Volume 1. Lacan. 1971. the archive. The documentary. Trans. In The Oxford guide to film studies. ` re’s theatocracy. Trans. 1998. Bloomington and Indianapolis: University of Indiana Press. New Left Review. John. 1999. Andre Los Angeles: University of California Press. Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen. London: Wiley-Blackwell. Grierson. Norton. Gilles. New York: Oxford University Press. Madison: Reconstructing film studies. 2006. ed. and Noe Madison: University of Wisconsin. Christopher King. 1996.. what I want to point out here is that the attempt to think the politics of the aesthetics of cinema is itself seen as suspect by a definition of ‘true’ theory (the kind Carroll and Bordwell endorse) as ‘the production of generalizations or general explanations or general taxonomies and concepts about film practice’ ` re (Carroll 1996. Hallward. Grierson on documentary. . 1999. Doane. John Hill and Pamela Church Gibson. 1986. Bordwell. Carroll’s conception of doing theory falls under what Rancie calls ‘policing’. 1997. Peter. and Richard Kilborn. Staging equality: On Rancie no. contingency. Christian. Prospects for Film Theory: A Personal Assessment. In Philosophy of film and motion pictures. Film art: An introduction. Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habbberjam. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. In Post-theory: Carroll. Cinema 2: The time-image. Theory of film: The redemption of physical reality. 1989. 39). ed. Jean-Louis.W. Cinema 1: The movement image. Berkeley and Bazin. Trans. 37: 109– 29. Jean. Fiction. 2002. Bordwell. non-fiction and the film of presumptive assertion: A conceptual analysis. 154– 71. New York: Routledge. Trans. 2006. Jacques.New Review of Film and Television Studies 71 dialectical debate. David. New York: McGraw-Hill. 1997. Hugh Tomlinson and Robert Galeta. eds. 1978. I also think that some of the work that Carroll is targeting did and does serve a policing function as well. Post-theory: Reconstructing film studies. 8th ed. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 426– 33. The seminar of Jacques Lacan (Book VII): The ethics of psychoanalysis. Film language: A semiotics of the cinema. John. Forsyth Hardy. 2009. Cambridge. Noe ¨ l Carroll. David. New York: Praeger. Documentary journey to the land of the head shrinkers. ———. Trans. Cinema/ideology/criticism. ¨ l. 7th ed. New York: Oxford University Press. Bert Cardullo and Alain Piette. The aesthetics and psychology of the cinema. Mitry. Deleuze. ed.

1991. Gregory Elliot. Minneapolis: Minnesota Rancie University Press. Brian. Durham. London: British Film Institute. Emiliano Battista. ———. Trans. 1: 1 – 10. . Paris: Galile ———. Jacques Rancie research 2. The politics of aesthetics: The distribution of the sensible. 2006a. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press. Gabriel Rockhill. 2000. New York: Berg. Winston. ———. Claiming the real: The Griersonian documentary and its legitimations. The philosopher and his poor. 2006b. ´ e. 2006c. London: Verso. 1999. Trans. The future of the image. Steve Corcoran. Trans. Trans. ´ tique. ———. Andrew Parker. 2: 113– 26. Film fables. Jacques. 1995. Diacritics 30. 2003. ` re and interdisciplinarity. Disagreement. no. Bill. ———. London: Verso. Representing reality: Issues and concepts in documentary. 2008. Julie Rose. 2004. 2007. no. New York: Continuum. Corinne Oster and John Drury. Trans. ` re.72 N. Dissenting words: A conversation with Jacques Ranciere. Hatred of democracy. Gregory Elliot. Baumbach Nichols. Trans. Trans. Malaise dans l’esthe ———. In Art & ———. ———. NC: Duke University Press.

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