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New Review of Film and Television Studies
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Doubting vision: film and the revelationist tradition
Christian Quendler
a a

Department of American Studies, University of Innsbruck, Austria Published online: 21 Feb 2012.

To cite this article: Christian Quendler (2012) Doubting vision: film and the revelationist tradition, New Review of Film and Television Studies, 10:2, 299-304, DOI: 10.1080/17400309.2012.661308 To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/17400309.2012.661308

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we can only show its meaningfulness by establishing external relations to so-called empirical observations. escapes its limitations and thereby has the potential to bring about a fundamental change for the better in human existence’ (6). 10. or rather created and would be nothing without the creator’s signature’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1994. ‘to varying degrees in their writings. for whom clarity was the core programme of philosophy. Logically speaking. They must be invented.2012. As Turvey observes. 299–304 BOOK REVIEW Doubting vision: film and the revelationist tradition. they express near-religious extremes of euphoria about its ISSN 1740-0309 print/ISSN 1740-7923 online http://dx.doi. Be Kracauer. 5).com .New Review of Film and Television Studies Vol. it also points to the competitive forces in the economy of concepts: ‘Concepts are not waiting for us ready-made. June 2012. No. There is no heaven for concepts. In classical film theory. Malcolm Turvey’s Doubting Vision: Film and the Revelationist Tradition follows the last turn. psychoanalysis and logical analysis. Gilles Deleuze and Fe programme of philosophy is ‘to create concepts that are always new’ (1994. rather than extending the power of the human eye. their invocations of cinema go well beyond scientific uses of film. this view is shared by filmmakers ´ la Bala ´ zs and Siegfried and critics as diverse as Jean Epstein.00 (paperback). Doubting Vision is a philosophical book that challenges film theory by exposing its ‘logical and empirical errors’ (11) within a general framework of analytical philosophy. The theoretical claims subjected to Turvey’s philosophical investigation maintain that film art is endowed with an ‘awesome. fabricated. Twentieth-century philosophy has been confronted in a series of turns by epistemology. £20. 2008.org/10.661308 http://www. by Malcolm Turvey. Oxford.1080/17400309. The conjunction of logic and empiricism made famous by the Vienna Circle in the 1920s is necessary because logic is not a science but a philosophical method that clarifies the sense of a proposition or validates the method of a theory. ISBN 978-0-19-532098 Downloaded by [UNAM Ciudad Universitaria] at 10:48 20 August 2013 ´ lix Guattari declare that the core In What is Philosophy?. Turvey draws primarily on the insights of ordinary language philosophers Gilbert Ryle and Ludwig Wittgenstein. Although they ‘often clothed their work in scientific garb and compared artistic knowledge to scientific discovery’ (129). For Turvey they institute a canon of what he calls the revelationist tradition. 5). like heavenly bodies. £65.tandfonline. It is an integral part of this philosophical language-game that concepts are being challenged – not only by rival philosophers but also other disciplines and discourses. even miraculous power that. Dziga Vertov. we cannot say why or say that a proposition is true.00 (hardback). 2. Oxford University Press. linguistics. While this minimalist definition of philosophy retains the traditional objective that the tools of our understanding must be reliable and prevailing.

Epstein argued that cinema permits a glimpse into the inner life of things in their continuous mobility and their entanglement in the flux of time. He considers this confusion symptomatic of a kind of theorizing that blurs the distinction between the mind and the brain and that projects the scope of intentionality from human agents onto technological instruments. as Turvey observes. Bala logical analysis. the disembodied vision of the Downloaded by [UNAM Ciudad Universitaria] at 10:48 20 August 2013 . This study’s trajectory is straightforward and succinct. as patrons of this tradition illustrate. this is. Turvey is deeply convinced that if we want to take Like Noe film seriously as an art form. The first chapter is dedicated to an ´ zs and Kracauer exegesis of the revelatory virtue that Epstein. It is a great merit of Doubting Vision that it takes conspicuous and idiosyncratic concepts of film theory seriously. These filmmakers and theoreticians approached cinema for different reasons with diverse objectives and favoured different kinds of film aesthetics. Studying this revelationist tradition promises not only a richer understanding of modernism. Turvey shows that the spectrum of invisibility that this cinema of revelation claims to make manifest covers an impressively wide range. For Turvey this is a categorical mistake that illicitly confounds different types of knowledge productions.300 Book Review revelatory capacity’ (6). In this sense. they all shared a distinct form of visual scepticism: a deep distrust in human vision that is paired with the desire to transcend these limitations through cinema. Grouping these four together under the label of the revelationism is intriguing – not simply for its connotations of dramatic disclosure – but also because they form a canon that cuts across what orthodox film histories often call realist and modernist traditions. For Vertov. the first historical chapter may only seem to delay a crushing verdict. However. His critique particularly targets film theoretical approaches that following Stanely Cavell and Deleuze regard cinema as a mode of thinking or ‘philosophizing’ (130). the book’s best chapter. Instead of discarding them as exuberant rhetoric brought about by the novelty of the medium. but it also helps to bring out a pervasive feature of modernism that. we must not confuse it with philosophical and scientific endeavours. Vertov. which David Bordwell and Charlie Keil have dubbed the modernity thesis’ (89). ¨ l Carroll (1996). I believe. Subsequent chapters offer a critique of their theories. The concluding chapter ‘The Lure of Visual Skepticism’ proposes to revise central claims of this tradition in a logically consistent and an empirically plausible way. Bala attributed to cinema. the film philosophies of Cavell and Deleuze as well as the ‘film theory. Vertov. Even readers who are new to analytical philosophy may immediately get an ´ zs nor Kracauer will stand the test of uneasy feeling that neither Epstein. tracing their legacy in more recent approaches such as psychoanalytic film theory. his theoretical intervention evolves from an insightful historical reappraisal of cinematic modernism as seen through the writings of the revelationist tradition. Turvey insists on the sincerity of the theorists’ words and probes their senses and meanings by subjecting them to the rigorous policing regimes of logical analysis and common-sense empiricism. informs both realist and anti-realist positions. Yet. Although Turvey qualifies his book as mainly theoretical.

The objection that Kracauer uses the word ‘invisible’ figuratively misses the point as it raises the question: how must we interpret the conclusion of an argument that rests upon flimsy metaphors? Film theory is replete with conceptual misuses of perceptual terms that mix senses and tenses across different logical categories. a fallacy that Ryle famously called the ‘category mistake’. divinations of the human soul or as defamiliarizations of everyday life. also possess this ability. interactions we are in many instances perfectly capable of perceiving or finding out about without assistance. 41). Nor can we see the past and future in the present (Epstein) unless we project time onto space. Others may feel cheated that the exegesis and critique of Kracauer’s theory as well as the discussion of its prevailing influence conclude in what appears to be a rather literal-minded revision: [T]here is a genuine insight buried in Kracauer’s argument: the cinema is an art with an unparalleled capacity to direct our attention to truths that are in plain sight but that we do not notice or pay attention to.New Review of Film and Television Studies 301 Downloaded by [UNAM Ciudad Universitaria] at 10:48 20 August 2013 camera and the unforeseen possibilities of reorganizing these views through montage promised an escape from preconceived notions of reality and a means ´ zs discovered the close-up as a to showing a social reality unmarred by ideology. In fact. Turvey finds Vertov guilty of treating social relations as if they were physical. The other visual arts. the last chapter reformulates them to highlight the singularity or superiority of film as an art form. Turvey emphasizes more than once that this is not merely a quarrel over words. (58) . the author explains. It is therefore as nonsensical to accuse the eye of failing to see these social relations as it is to accuse it of failing to see the past and the future. of course. such as familiar environments. cited in Turvey. (124) The physical reality redeemed by cinema is not. when in fact they are properties things possess by virtue of their interactions with the world. It is impossible to see ‘to the bottom of a soul’ ´ zs) unless we understand ‘seeing’ in a spiritual sense or give the concept (Bala ‘soul’ a physical meaning. as Kracauer states. invisible but passes merely as unnoticed – just like the world outside the window of Turvey’s office. variable framing and the control over attention it allows means that filmmakers can force us to notice things we might otherwise overlook. Similarly. Turvey places these claims in their historical contexts such as the contemporary philosophy of Henri Bergson or the romantic tradition that has variously employed art as meditations on time. Bala kind of micro-expressionist laboratory where ‘we can see to the bottom of a soul by means of such tiny movements of facial muscles which even the most observant ´ zs. However. 2008. does not become invisible when he focuses on writing his book. intrinsic properties of things that the eye is incapable of seeing unaided. Some readers may wonder if Turvey wishes to institute a new paragone of the arts. Turvey doesn’t altogether reject these claims. For Kracauer film partner would never perceive’ (Bala illuminates such psycho-physical correlations in a macrostructural context in that it reawakens our senses to perceive those aspects of reality that have become invisible in modern routines of everyday life.

normal. or having someone else confirm what we see. Yet his example also shows how the logical distinction between subject and object is challenged by the synthetic character of observations (‘the microscopic discovery’). such as philosophy. but. relies on the fact that our eyes are reliable and that we already can see and know the world around us. materialistic. but can it account for the programmatic and consistent use of illogical confusions in a theory? Why did Vertov conceal his genuine insights in an amalgam of such errors? Turvey’s overall answer lies in the hegemonic politics of discourses: The sciences have been so successful at explaining and predicting the natural universe over the last four centuries that they have become the paradigm of explanation in the modern world. form relays of objectified norms. (113) He succinctly argues that microscopic discovery depends upon the reliability of our eyes. Using such technologies. idealistic. presupposes that we can see the microscope correctly. and art. Thus. on the other. or using another one. and that any mistakes we make in doing so can be corrected by looking through the microscope again. Turvey’s analytical framework helps to invalidate categorical mistakes in film theories and informs his theoretical revisions. physical vision’ (101) that is the . in other words. Readers who disagree with the premises of this critique will find the book an invitation to argue against a seemingly incompatible approach.1 His example also illustrates that this discovery is not a simple relation based on the reliability of our immediate sense-experience. relying on different microscopic technologies. on the one hand.302 Book Review Downloaded by [UNAM Ciudad Universitaria] at 10:48 20 August 2013 Since the very notion of a category mistake is premised upon the logical separation of physical and mental domains. which he rejects on logical and empirical grounds. religion. however. seem to rely on our subjective experience. thereby casting a long shadow over other types of knowledge. etc. and negotiating observations with other viewers. neuroscientific. It also assumes that we can accurately see what the microscope reveals. In what sense can cinema as a relational system be understood as a dispositif of temporal and social perception? Turvey argues that construing a disanalogy between a deficient naked-eye vision and a superior technological vision leads to an erroneous confusion between agency (intentional) and ability (instrumental). which are marked by an irreducible dualism of relations (‘the particulate structure discovered’) and things (‘the object examined’). We may add other normative practices and technologies that. any attempt (whether it is dualistic.) that tries to resolve body –mind relations is likely to face a categorical mistake. cybernetic. He concedes. for example. a series of views forming efficient viewing habits. psychoanalytic. The ‘standard. it is not surprising that logical analysis and Vertov become strange bedfellows. (129) Doubting Vision can be read as an analytical critique that challenges an important strand in film theory. Discovering the particulate structure of an object using a microscope. but involves conventions of using a microscope. rules and principles that become part of the multifarious world of experience. everyday. that visual technologies extend and augment human vision: They enable us to see further and know more than we would be able to otherwise.

and rhetoric of the natural sciences into realms where they have no application’ (129). Deleuze developed a similar critique in his essay on David Hume.New Review of Film and Television Studies 303 Downloaded by [UNAM Ciudad Universitaria] at 10:48 20 August 2013 subject matter of Doubting Vision is itself a great example of this double movement subjects are caught up with. ‘[t]he word “language-game” is meant to bring into prominence that speaking a language is part of an activity. 2006. whom Turvey mentions only in a footnote. Quine (1951). methods. orig. where the distinction between sense and nonsense is absolute. Nutzen (usefulness).2 As Wittgenstein remarks in Philosophical Investigations. Vertov. Wittgenstein distinguishes between a variety of ‘uses’ such as Gebrauch (usage). or of a form of life’ (1958. On Wittgenstein’s logical and grammatical approaches to clarity. 1991. some of which may be incompatible with Turvey’s representationalist conception of film art as a repertoire of techniques (such as variable framing and others). 2. see Garver. Notes 1. . interpretation is that of mediation. Examining meaning and use also dismisses the notion of nonsense as the only alternative to sense. Furthermore. art is a type of knowledge that serves primarily as a vehicle of intuition and is subservient to concept and reason. From a logical point of view assuming a rigorous distinction between art and ´ zs and Kracauer must indeed science. Bala appear ‘the illicit extension of the forms. In analytical philosophy. In Theorizing the Moving Image. 11). Turvey’s heavy recourse to an analytical Wittgenstein. Empiricism and Subjectivity: An Essay on Hume’s Theory of Human Nature. While analysis is the business of making clear cuts. About the same time. he may indeed be the philosopher most pertinent to this debate. There is still plenty of space for confusion and negotiation. For Turvey. this objection was raised by W. We are reminded of Carroll’s objection that avant-garde films can only illustrate theoretical tenets but never claim to be acts of theorizing themselves. New York: Columbia University Press. the scientism in Epstein. Doubting Vision is a provocative book in at least two senses: it compels us to think about the sense and meaning of film theory. It reminds us to use language clearly so we don’t ‘stray beyond the bounds of sense into nonsense’ (17). Benutzung (using). Deleuze. Noe 162– 8. Gilles. Avant-Garde Film and Film Theory. provokes one to think of Wittgenstein’s pragmatic strain that highlights the contextual by shifting the focus from logic to a grammar of use. From a grammatical perspective the cross-bearing of scientific and aesthetic claims raises the question of their respective uses.V. As Wittgenstein sought to master both the ciphers of logic and the forms of life. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1996. Empiricism and Subjectivity (1991. Verwendung (employment) or Anwendung (application). References ¨ l. Notably. 1953). Carroll.

Christian Quendler . What is Philosophy? New York: Columbia Deleuze. Wittgenstein and Approaches to Clarity.at q 2012. 1994. Wittgenstein. Ludwig. W. Doubting Vision: Film and the Revelationist Tradition. Austria christian. Oxford: Blackwell. NY: Humanity Books. Two Dogmas of Empiricism. Garver. 1951. 1958. Gilles. Amherst.ac.304 Book Review ´ lix Guattari.V. Turvey. Philosophical Investigations. 2008.quendler@uibk. The Philosophical Review 60: 20 –43. 2006. Newton. Malcolm. Quine. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Downloaded by [UNAM Ciudad Universitaria] at 10:48 20 August 2013 Christian Quendler Department of American Studies University of Innsbruck. and Fe University Press.

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