Jean Epslein's Cinena oJ Innanence· TIe BeIaIiIilalion oJ lIe CovpoveaI E¸e

AulIov|s)· MaIcoIn Tuvve¸
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Souvce· OcloIev, VoI. 83 |Winlev, 1998), pp. 25-50
FuIIisIed I¸· The MIT Press
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Jean Epstein's
Cinema of Immanence:
The Rehabilitation of the
Corporeal Eye*
MALCOLM TURVEY
Shall we
say,
then,
that we look out
from
the
inside,
that there is a third
eye
which sees the
paintings
and even the mental
images,
as we used to
speak of
a
third ear which
grasped messages from
the outside
through
the noises
they
caused inside us? But how would this
help
us when the real
problem
is to under-
stand how it
happens
that our
fleshy eyes
are
already
much more than
receptors
for light rays,
colors,
and lines?
-Maurice
Merleau-Ponty, "Eye
and Mind"
(1961)
I
Consider the
following fragment
from
Epstein's oft-repeated paean
to the
cinema,
written in 1921:
Although sight
is
already recognized by everyone
as the most
developed
sense,
and even
though
the
viewpoint
of our intellect and our mores is
visual,
there has nevertheless never been an emotive
process
so homo-
geneously,
so
exclusively optical
as the cinema.
Truly,
the cinema creates
a
particular system of
consciousness limited to a
single
sense. 1
This
definition,
and indeed
celebration,
of cinema as a
"process"
that instantiates a
purely
visual mode of
perception
and consciousness is not
peculiar
to the film
theory
of
Jean Epstein.
Germaine
Dulac,
for
example, writing
in 1925 on the essence of
cinema,
also
argues:
"Should not
cinema,
which is an art of
vision,
as music is an art
of
hearing
... lead us toward the visual idea
composed
of movement and
life,
toward
*
I would like to
express my deep
thanks to Annette Michelson for her editorial and critical
assistance in the
preparation
of this text. I am also
grateful
to Richard
Allen,
Frances
Guerin,
Keisuke
Kitano,
and Mikhail
Yampolsky
for their comments on earlier versions. I have benefited
considerably
from Stuart Liebman's
pioneering study
of
Jean Epstein's
film
theory;
see
Liebman, 'Jean
Epstein's
Early
Film
Theory,
1920-1922"
(Ph.D. diss.,
New York
University, 1980).
1. Jean
Epstein, "Magnification,"
in French Film
Theory
and
Criticism,
A
History/Anthology,
Volume I:
1907-1929,
ed. Richard Abel
(Princeton:
Princeton
University Press, 1988), p.
240
(emphasis
in the
original).
OCTOBER
83,
Winter
1998,
pp.
25-50. ? 1998 Malcolm
Turvey.
OCTOBER
the
conception
of an art of the
eye?"2
And Stan
Brakhage, writing
some
thirty-five
years
later,
opens
his first
major
theoretical work on the cinema
by proclaiming
that
"there
is a
pursuit
of
knowledge foreign
to
language
and founded
upon
visual
communication,
demanding
a
development
of the
optical
mind,
and
dependent
upon perception
in the
original
and
deepest
sense of the word."3
Epstein,
there-
fore,
is neither
original
nor
unique
in the
primacy
he accords to visual
perception
in his film
theory.
Rather,
the definition of cinema as an "art of vision" lies at the
core of the
ontological project
of
establishing
the cinema's
autonomy
in much
modernist film
theory
and
practice.
In the case of
Brakhage,
of
course,
it
generates
a voluminous oeuvre that is almost
entirely
silent.
How are
we,
today,
to understand this fundamental visual axiom of modernist
film
theory,
of which
Epstein's
film
theory
now stands as emblematic? How are we
to
comprehend
the abundant
faith placed
in vision and its cinematic extension
by
modernist film theorists and artists when our own
critical, theoretical,
and artistic
milieu is
permeated by
a
pervasive skepticism
about vision? Martin
Jay
has
recently
given
the name of "antiocularcentrism" to this
skepticism,
which he defines as "a
profound suspicion
of vision and its
hegemonic
role in the modern era" that
begins
to
emerge
in France at the end of the nineteenth
century
and achieves
ascendancy
in
postwar
French
philosophy.4 ForJay,
antiocularcentrism consists of
a
denigration
of the idealization of vision that is located at the
very
core of
Western intellectual and artistic traditions. More
specifically,
it constitutes a broad
and diverse reaction
against
a model of vision that he calls
"Cartesian,"
a model
that has
putatively
achieved
"dominan[ce]
in the modern world" due to its wide-
spread implementation
within
key
intellectual, artistic,
and social
practices.
Indeed,
a
cursory glance
back at the statement
by Epstein
with which we
began immediately suggests
a certain consonance between
Epstein's
celebration
of cinema as an "art of vision" and
Jay's
Cartesian model of vision. Most
obviously,
"sight," says Epstein, echoing
Descartes's famous
dictum,
is "the most
developed
sense." More
importantly, Epstein
identifies both "our intellect and our mores" as
"visual." In
doing
so he
employs,
at least in this
provisional
formulation,
the
foundational
metaphor
of the
eye
for the mind. For
Jay,
as for Richard
Rorty,
this
metaphor
instantiates an
isomorphic
relation between vision and consciousness
and
gives
rise,
in its Cartesian and various
post-Cartesian guises,
to a
picture
of the
mind as some kind of "inner
space
in which both
pains
and clear and distinct
ideas
pass
... in review before a
single
Inner
Eye."5
This
metaphorical
relation
2. Germaine Dulac,
"The Essence of the Cinema: The Visual
Idea,"
in The Avant-Garde Film: A
Reader
of Theory
and Criticism,
ed. P. Adams
Sitney (New
York:
Anthology
Film Archives, 1987), p.
41.
3. Stan
Brakhage, "Metaphors
on Vision," ibid.,
p.
120.
4. Martin
Jay,
Downcast
Eyes:
The
Denigration of
Vision in
Twentieth-Century
French
Thought (Berkeley:
University
of California Press, 1993), p.
14.
5. Richard
Rorty, Philosophy
and the Mirror
of
Nature
(Princeton:
Princeton
University
Press, 1979),
p.
50. Various
philosophers
have
argued
that
Rorty's understanding
of Cartesian and
post-Cartesian
philosophy
is
deeply
flawed.
See,
for
example, John
W.
Yolton,
Perceptual Acquaintance:
From Descartes to
Reid (Minneapolis: University
of Minnesota Press, 1984).
26
Jean
Epstein
's Cinema
of
Immanence
between vision and consciousness
is, however,
a
paradoxical
one.6 On the one
hand,
vision as a
physical, bodily
sense is condemned
by
this
metaphor
as blind.
Descartes,
in
formulating
his causal
theory
of
perception, denigrates
visual
perception
as
interminably susceptible
to
illusion,
deception,
error,
and seduction.
Physical, corporeal
vision,
along
with
sensory perception
in
general,
is thus
rejected
as an
inadequate ground
for certain
knowledge
and
truth,
and the
sup-
posed unreliability
of
sensory knowledge
is used to
support skeptical
conclusions
about the
possibility
of
knowledge
of the external world
by many philosophers
within the
skeptical
tradition.7 On the other
hand,
in
spite
of this
denigration,
vision is nevertheless
employed
as the model for a
picture
of consciousness as a
disembodied
eye
in an act of sublimation that constitutes the
very
discourse of
ocularcentrism. The relation between
physical
and mental realms is therefore
reconfigured by cleansing
the
corporeal eye
of its
bodily imperfections
and
placing
it within the immaterial realm of the mental
through
the idealization of certain of
its attributes.
As an
interiorized,
disembodied
eye,
the mind's nature or "substance" now
constitutes a
fundamentally
different
"world,"
to use
Rorty's apt
word,
from the
world of the
body
and matter.8 Conceived of as translucent and therefore
unmediated
by
matter,
the mind's transcendence over the
epistemological
limita-
tions of
bodily sight
is
figured by
two
primary topoi
which recur in a
variety
of
ways throughout
ocularcentric discourse:
first,
the
spatial topos
of the
pure
reflective
presence
of consciousness to both itself and its
representations,
and
second,
the
temporal topos
of the
instantaneity
or timelessness of the mind's
gaze.
Combined within the central
figure
of the
autonomous,
disembodied
eye,
this
spatial presence
and
temporal instantaneity
constitute the
very possibility
of
absolute
certainty
or
indubitability
within certain traditions of
epistemology:
the
claim that "I can know
my
own
experience immediately
and
incorrigibly."
In
spite
of this initial consonance between ocularcentrism with its ocular
metaphors
for the mind and a certain tradition of modernist film
theory exempli-
fied
by
the work of
Epstein,
the
temptation
to make a literal
comparison
between
Epstein's theory andJay's
"Cartesian
scopic regime"
must nevertheless be resisted.
Such an exercise would be reductive and
futile,
since
Epstein
himself nowhere
provides
a
logically
coherent
philosophy
of mind or visual
perception.
Rather,
his
film
theory
is
contradictory
and often
obscure,
and the earlier
quoted
statement
on the
"exclusively optical"
nature of cinema is characteristic in its tendentiousness
and lack of
any accompanying
theoretical elaboration. To be
clarified,
it
requires
examination within the context of the
larger argument
in which it is contained.
It is
clear,
in this
specific
instance,
that
Epstein's appeal
to
sight
as "the
6. For an
analysis
of this
paradox
as it
emerges
in
Descartes,
see Dalia
Judovitz, "Vision,
Representation,
and
Technology
in
Descartes,"
in
Modernity
and the
Hegemony of
Vision,
ed. David M.
Levin
(Berkeley: University
of California
Press, 1993).
7. See
Barry
Stroud,
The
Philosophical Significance of Scepticism (Oxford:
Clarendon
Press, 1984).
8.
Rorty, Philosophy
and the Mirror
of Nature, p.
52.
27
OCTOBER
most
developed
sense" as well as the "intellect" as "visual" functions as an
explanation
for the
"particularly
intense" nature of cinematic affect that he
wishes to elucidate.9 It is
not,
for
Epstein,
that the film camera
merely replicates
or mimics visual
perception
or visual consciousness.
Rather,
by way
of the size of
the screen and other
magnification techniques
such as
close-up framing,
cinema
intensifies
and
augments
visual
perception by capturing, directing,
and,
in a
sense,
engulfing sight.
"The
close-up,"
he
argues,
"is an
intensifying agent
because of its
size alone." It
limits and directs the attention. ... This is
cyclopean
art,
a unisensual
art,
an
iconoscopic
retina. All life and attention are in the
eye....
Wrapped
in
darkness,
ranged
in cell-like
seats,
directed toward the
source of emotion
by
their softer
side,
the sensibilities of the entire
auditorium
converge,
as if in a
funnel,
toward the film.
Everything
else
is
barred, excluded,
no
longer
valid. Even the music to which one is
accustomed is
nothing
but additional anesthesia for whatever is not
visual. It takes
away
our ears the
way
a Valda
lozenge
takes
away
our
sense of taste.... One cannot listen and look at the same time. If there
is a
dispute, sight,
as the most
developed,
the most
specialized,
and the
most
generally popular
sense,
always
wins.10
Cinema,
for
Epstein
as for other modernist film theorists such as
Brakhage,
augments
visual
perception by producing
an
exclusively optical experience
in
which the
spectator's
attention is focused
totally
in and
through
the
eye.
It is at
this
point
in his
argument
that
Epstein
includes his earlier
quoted
remarks on
sight
as "the most
developed
sense" with which we
began.
Read in
conjunction
with the above
passage
on
magnification,
the
implicit logic
of these remarks
becomes clear. Cinematic
"feeling"
or "emotion" is so "intense" because
cinema,
as
a
purely optical
instrument,
harnesses the
spectator's
most advanced mental and
perceptual capacities
which are a
priori
visual. The
cinema,
in other
words,
acts
on, intensifies,
and
heightens
what is
already
the
spectator's pre-given
visual
nature.
Here, therefore,
Epstein appeals
to
broadly
familiar ocularcentric notions
of visual consciousness and the
"nobility"
of
sight primarily
to
explain
the
specificity
of cinematic affect, "the habit of
strong
sensations,
which the cinema is above all
capable
of
producing."ll
The
general
thesis that cinema
augments
visual
perception,
however,
remains consistent
throughout
his
writings.
Elsewhere,
he reflects on its
implications
for the
spectator's cognitive
relation to the
phenomenal
world as
opposed
to her
purely
emotive reaction to events and
objects
on the screen. In the
following
passage, Epstein tellingly places
the cinema within a
lineage
of inventions that
9.
Epstein, "Magnification," p.
240.
10.
Ibid.,
pp.
239-40.
11.
Ibid., p.
240.
28
Jean
Epstein's
Cinema
of
Immanence
includes the
telescope
and
microscope,
visual devices
that,
by augmenting
visual
perception,
add to and
improve upon
the
spectator's sensory knowledge
of the
world:
And
needing
to do more than
see,
man
augmented
the
microscopic
and
telescopic apparatuses
with the cinematic
apparatus, creating
something
other than the
eye.
Thus to consider the cinema as
merely
a
spectacle
is to reduce
navigation
to
yachting
at Meulan. The cinema is
a
particular
form of
knowing,
in that it
represents
the world in its
continuous
mobility.12
Here, therefore,
a
superior sensory knowledge
of the
phenomenal
world is
enabled
by
the film
camera,
which
becomes,
like its
predecessors,
a
cognitive
tool
or instrument.13
Again, Epstein
is
certainly
not alone in
making
this claim for the
epistemological powers
of the film camera. Richard Abel
points
out that French
film theorists in
general
at this time share a
preoccupation,
to borrow Abel's
words,
with "the
power
of
representation
as a means to
knowledge....
For French
writings
on the
cinema,
this
cognitive power
was located in the new
apparatus
of
the camera
and,
by
extension,
the
projector
and screen."14 Louis
Delluc,
for
example,
writes in 1917 that "The cinema will make us all
comprehend
the
things
of this
world as well as force us to
recognize
ourselves."15
Furthermore,
Annette
Michelson
argues
that this fascination with cinema "as a new and
powerful cognitive
instrument" is
truly
international in its reach
during
the
1920s, shared,
among
others,
by
Vertov and Eisenstein
during
the
period
of the elaboration in the Soviet
Union of
montage theory.16
For these filmmakers and theorists in
general,
the
cinema,
like other visual
devices,
is a scientific tool of
enlightenment, penetrating
and
revealing
the
phenomenal
world in new
ways.
Nothing
could be more different from the discourse of antiocularcentrism
and its
challenge
to the
"nobility"
of
sight
that
according
to
Jay
is
gaining
momentum in France at the
precise
moment
Epstein
is
writing.
It is worth
pausing
to indicate the sheer extent to which this discourse
diverges
from
Epstein's understanding
of the cinema's
impact upon sensory knowledge.
Indeed,
the
arguments
we find in recent histories of
technology
about the invention of
cinema are
diametrically opposed
to
Epstein's
thesis of a union between human
12.
Epstein,
"The Cinema
Continues,"
in French Film
Theory
and
Criticism,
A
History/Anthology,
Volume II:
1929-1939,
ed. Richard Abel
(Princeton:
Princeton
University
Press, 1988), p.
64.
13.
Epstein's comparison
between the film camera and scientific devices such as the
telescope
can
be understood as
part
of the
general attempt
within modernism to
legitimize
art as a "form of know-
ing," equal
or
superior
in status to "scientific forms of
knowing."
See
Paisley Livingston, Literary
Knowledge:
Humanistic
Inquiry
and the
Philosophy of
Science
(Ithaca:
Cornell
University
Press, 1988), pp.
16-29.
14. Richard
Abel,
"Photogenie
and
Company,"
in
Abel,
French Film
Theory, p.
107.
15. Louis
Delluc,
"Beauty
in the
Cinema,"
in
ibid.,
p.
137.
16. Annette
Michelson,
"The
Wings
of
Hypothesis:
On
Montage
and the
Theory
of the
Interval,"
in
Montage
and Modern
Life 1919-1942,
ed. Matthew Teitelbaum
(Cambridge:
MIT
Press, 1992), p.
62.
29
OCTOBER
being
and machine in the form of
augmented
cinematic vision and
cognition.
For
these
histories,
cinema
certainly
does not extend the
capacities
of the
eye
and
enable human
beings
to achieve new and
penetrating cognitive insights
into the
phenomenal
world.
Rather,
cinema
participates
in the
gradual sundering
of visual
perception
from
any
direct
correspondence
with a referential
world,
thereby
intensifying
the antiocularcentric assault on the
cognitive power
of
sight. Stephen
Kern,
for
example, suggests
that the cinema's
ability
to
"manipulate space
in
many
ways" plays
a crucial role in the
general
breakdown of
"uniform,"
"universal and
homogeneous space"
at the turn of the
century.
It
contributes, therefore,
to the
relativist
"proliferation
of
perspectives"
that
according
to Kern occurs in different
ways
within
physics, philosophy, painting,
and literature.17
Similarly, Jonathan
Crary explicitly challenges
the
argument
that
cinema,
like
photography,
is
part
of
a "continuous
unfolding
of a Renaissance-based mode of vision"
grounded
in the
"perspectival space"
of the camera obscura.18
Rather,
for
Crary
both inventions
are the
product
of an
epistemological
transformation in the
early
nineteenth
century
in which visual
perception
is
newly conceptualized
as the
product
of an
observer's
subjective
mental and
physiological capabilities.
This transformation
renders obsolete the
"perspectivalist"
model of visual
perception
and consciousness
hitherto
guaranteed by
the
analogy
between visual
perception
and the camera
obscura. The
result,
for
Crary,
is that vision becomes
increasingly opaque,
its
authority
as a source of
knowledge
about the external world
irrevocably
under-
mined: "There is an irreversible
clouding
over of the
transparency
of the
subject-as-observer.
Vision,
rather than a
privileged
form of
knowing,
becomes
itself an
object
of
knowledge."19
The
eye
is now the victim of
technology, susceptible
in its
productivity
to
"techniques"
of
manipulation
and
deception by
a
burgeoning
industry
of visual machines and entertainments that will later include the cinema.
Crary
thus locates the cinema
firmly
within the
logic
of a "relentless abstraction
of the visual" from the referential
world,
an abstraction that is
apparently
culminating
in the
"ubiquitous implantation
of fabricated visual
'spaces"' by
new
technologies
in recent
years.20
Epstein's
celebration of the
cognitive power
of the cinema
obviously
contrasts
dramatically
with these histories of vision and
technology.
However,
it is worth
noting
that it also seems to differ
markedly
from the
project
and
aspirations
of the
radical
avant-garde
that are
coming
to fruition in France
during
the 1920s as
Epstein
is
writing.
These
aspirations
have
recently
been theorized
by
Rosalind
Krauss.
Again,
as in
Jay,
central to her account is the
rejection
of a
particular
model of
vision,
this time as it is instantiated within the
autonomy
aesthetic of
17.
Stephen
Kern,
The Culture
of
Time and
Space
1880-1918
(Cambridge:
Harvard
University
Press,
1983), pp.
142-43,
147-48.
18. Jonathan
Crary, Techniques of
the Observer: On Vision and
Modernity
in the Nineteenth
Century
(Cambridge:
MIT
Press, 1992), p.
4.
19.
Ibid.,
p.
70.
20.
Ibid.,
pp.
1-3.
30
Jean Epstein
's Cinema
of
Immanence
modernist abstract
painting.
The
components
of this model of vision are
by
now
familiar to us from the
pivotal figure
of the disembodied
eye.
Modernist
abstraction,
argues
Krauss,
aims for "a
higher,
more formal order of vision" in which the
very
"structure of the visual field" is
captured
in the act of vision as
cognition,
"of
vision in its reflexive form: the terms not
just
of
seeing
but of consciousness
accounting
for the fact of its
seeing.
It is the axis of a redoubled vision: of a
seeing
and a
knowing
that one
sees,
a kind of
cogito
of vision."21 As
such,
"the
place
of the
Viewer" within this visual model becomes that of the "transcendental
ego"
in
which
"everything
material falls
away."
Here
again
are the two ocularcentric
topoi
of
temporal instantaneity
and
spatial presence-of "pure immediacy," "complete
self-enclosure,"
and of absolute
"presence"
to self and
representation.22
The
"counterhistory"
that Krauss then traces is one that works
"against
the
grain"
of
this visual model from
within,
occupying
a structural relation to modernist
abstraction that is
analogous
to the relation of the unconscious to consciousness.
The
practices
that Krauss
analyzes
and claims for this
counterhistory
take the
form of an anti-aesthetic of desublimation in which the
fundamental,
interminable
visual
opacity
and blindness of the
corporeal eye
that constitutes the sublimated
ground
of ocularcentrism
re-emerges.23
These
practices attempt
to
negate
the
visual model of modernist abstraction
by inscribing temporality,
desire,
and the
compulsive,
libidinal
body
into
perception.
"The
optical
unconscious will claim
for itself this dimension of
opacity,
of
repetition,
of
time,"
writes Krauss.
Thus,
she
reads Max Ernst's
collages
and
readymades
as
challenging
the
transparency
and
synchrony
of modernist abstraction
through
the
inscription
of a
fundamental,
structuring
absence or "blind
spot."
This is "a
rupture
in the field of vision" that is
the
very
condition for
transparency,
vision,
and
knowledge,
"a
point
in the
optical
system
where what is
thought
to be visible will never
appear."24
Juxtaposing
the visual
opacity
of
antiocularcentrism,
with its roots in
Descartes's
skeptical rejection
of
sensory knowledge,
and
Epstein's
faith in the
optical
and
cognitive powers
of the cinema therefore seems to confront us with
two
historically contemporaneous yet radically
incommensurable
conceptions
of
vision and the cinema. Not
only
do
Epstein's pronouncements
seem to
defy
the
logic
of
Crary's general
abstraction of vision from a referential world and the
consequent undermining
of vision and visual consciousness as a source of reliable
knowledge
about the external
world,
but his film
theory
also seems to be at odds
with the most radical movements and elements within the French
avant-garde
as
theorized
by
Krauss.
Thus,
we are faced with a
question.
We must ask whether or
not the abundant faith
placed
in the cinema as a new
cognitive
instrument
by
Epstein
and others-a faith that
mirrors,
after
all,
Descartes's own celebration of
21. Rosalind E.
Krauss,
The
Optical
Unconscious
(Cambridge:
MIT
Press, 1993), pp.
15,
19.
22.
Ibid.,
pp.
19, 20.
23.
Krauss,
invoking
Bataille,
writes of "the foundations of modernism
[as]
mined
by
a thousand
pockets
of
darkness,
the
blind,
irrational
space
of the
labyrinth" (ibid.,
p. 21).
24.
Ibid., pp.
82-88.
31
OCTOBER
"inventions which serve to increase [the
eye's] power
[as]
the most useful there
can be" in the
opening
sentences of La
Dioptrique-is simply
a
re-emergence
or
perpetuation
of an
increasingly
anachronistic model of visual
perception
and
consciousness that is
simultaneously
and
obsessively being challenged by
the
most advanced currents within intellectual and artistic modernism. Is
Epstein's
cinematic
epistemology-namely,
his
theory
of the visual and
cognitive powers
of
cinema-merely
an instantiation of an outmoded
"perspectivalist"
or
"Cartesian
scopic regime"
that has been attacked and
denigrated by
the discourse
of antiocularcentrism in its various
guises?
Is
Epstein's theory
of the cinema's
augmentation
of vision and
cognition simply part
of a modernist
paradigm
that
has receded into the
past
and is now irrelevant to us? Or is it
something
other,
a
conceptualization
of cinematic vision and
epistemology
that somehow
sidesteps
the
opposition
between the
disembodied,
transparent,
foundationalist
eye
of
ocularcentrism and the
corporeal,
blind,
skeptical eye
of
antiocularcentrism,
thereby opening up
a
very
different
perspective?
II
The
question
of the cinematic instantiation-on the levels of
ontology,
narra-
tive,
and
signification-of
the disembodied
eye
of ocularcentrism has in
many ways
been the most
powerful
motor behind the last
twenty-five years
of
Anglo-American
film
theory.
In the seminal work of Christian
Metz,
Jean-Louis Baudry,
and the
writers
grouped
around the
journal
Screen,
it is indeed
argued
that there is a funda-
mental
homology
between this disembodied
eye
and the film camera. In
Baudry,
we find the clearest statement of this
argument
in its
ontological
variant:
And if the
eye
which moves is no
longer
fettered
by
a
body, by
the
laws of matter and
time,
if there are no more
assignable
limits to its
displacement-conditions
fulfilled
by
the
possibilities
of
shooting
and
of film-the world will not
only
be constituted
by
this
eye
but for it.
The
movability
of the camera seems to fulfill the most favorable
conditions for the manifestation of the "transcendental
subject".25
Baudry's argument
has
proved
to be
highly
influential for
contemporary
film
theory,
generating
a
widespread
theoretical
investigation
into the
ideological
and
psychic
effects on the
spectator
of her
exposure
to the camera as "transcendental
subject."
In recent
years,
this theoretical
trajectory
has to a
large
extent
dissipated
under
the
weight
of internal and external
challenges.26
However,
as Annette Michelson
25. Jean-Louis
Baudry, "Ideological
Effects of the Basic
Cinematographic Apparatus,"
Film
Quarterly
28,
no. 2
(Winter 1974-75), p.
43.
26. An
example
of a
sympathetic challenge
to this tradition of
contemporary
film
theory
can be
found in David N.
Rodowick,
The Crisis
of
Political Modernism: Criticism and
Ideology
in
Contemporary
Film
Theory (Urbana: University
of Illinois
Press, 1988);
an
unsympathetic
(and
devastating) challenge
can
be found in Noel Carroll,
Mystifying
Movies: Fads and Fallacies in
Contemporary
Film
Theory (New
York:
Columbia
University
Press, 1988).
32
Jean Epstein
's Cinema
of
Immanence
has
shown,
a sustained
preoccupation
with the cinematic
inscription
of the disem-
bodied, "transcendental"
eye
of ocularcentrism can be located in the American
independent
cinema of the 1960s and
early
1970s,
and
especially
in the film
theory
and
practice
of Michael Snow.
As Michelson
demonstrates,
Snow's
theory
and
practice,
located as it is
within the context of Minimalism and its
"systematic exploration
of the modalities
of
perception,"27
is one that conceives of the cinema as a
cognitive
or
analytic
tool,
albeit in a somewhat different
way
from
Epstein
and his
generation.
Moreover,
the
independent
cinema of the late 1960s in
general, according
to
Michelson,
aims to
give
rise to a
"cognitive
viewer" in
place
of the "hallucinated
viewer" of the
preceding period
of romantic
expressionism, exemplified by
the
practice
of
Brakhage.
However,
and most
importantly,
the
analytic
film
practice
of
Snow and others continues to share with its
predecessor
"an insistence on the
primacy
of vision" in
spite
of the
pronounced
shift from a
"gaze
of fascination" to
one of
"analytic inspection."
As
such,
Snow's
work,
according
to
Michelson,
critically
perpetuates
"the idealist
primacy
of vision" and the "status" of the viewer as
"transcendental
subject."
And it is in La
Region
Centrale
(1971)
that
Snow,
through
hyperbolization, magnificently
"extends and intensifies the traditional
concept
of
vision as the sense
through
which we know and master the universe."28 This
hyperbolization
is enacted
by way
of the film's
uniquely
varied and
multiple
camera
movements,
executed in an
empty landscape,
which instantiate the
idealized
"mobility"
of the "transcendental"
"eye-subject."
However,
in a film
made,
as Michelson
points
out,
during
a
period
of
euphoria
about
space
travel in
general
and the first ever "moon
walk,"
it is
ultimately
the
extremity
of the
deprivation
of
any
"source or medium of
corporeal grounding
and identification"29
that
truly
fulfills the conditions of disembodiment. This
deprivation
enforces for the
spectator
a
pure,
Metzian identification with the camera that in its boundless
mobility
transcends the limitations of the
body
and,
to use
Baudry's
words,
"the
laws of matter and time."
Michelson's
analysis
of Snow's
theory
and
practice
therefore reveals the
same insistence on the
primacy
of vision that we have located in
Epstein's
film
theory,
as well as a
conception
of the cinema as a
cognitive
instrument that is not
wholly
unrelated to
Epstein's.
However,
despite
these
similarities,
Epstein's
description
of the
spectator's phenomenal experience
of cinema differs in several
important
and
revealing respects
from the
production
of the
spectator
as "tran-
scendental
subject"
in the
practice
of Snow.
Consider,
for
example,
the
following passage:
Through
the window of a train or a
ship's porthole,
the world
acquires
a
new,
specifically
cinematic
vivacity.
A road is a road but
27. Annette
Michelson,
"About
Snow,"
October 8
(Spring 1979), p.
114.
28.
Ibid.,
pp.
113-14, 122.
29.
Ibid.,
pp.
121-23.
33
OCTOBER
the
ground
which flees under the four
beating
hearts of an automo-
bile's
belly transports
me. The Oberland and
Semmering
tunnels
swallow me
up,
and
my
head,
bursting through
the
roof,
hits
against
their vaults. Seasickness is
decidedly pleasant.
I'm on board the
plummeting airplane. My
knees bend. This area remains to be
exploited.
I
yearn
for a drama aboard a
merry-go-round,
or more
modern
still,
on
airplanes.
The fair below and its
surroundings
would
be
progressively
confounded.
Centrifuged
in this
way,
and
adding
vertigo
and rotation to
it,
the
tragedy
would increase its
photogenic
quality
ten-fold.30
Here,
Epstein
is
attempting
to
envisage
the
precise
nature of the
spectator's
experience
of new forms of
perception
enabled
by
the
mobility
of the camera
when
placed
in or on a modern machine such as an
automobile,
airplane,
or
merry-go-round.
In direct contrast to the
"euphoria"
of the
disembodied,
"weight-
less state"
that,
as Michelson has
shown,
is
generated by
the
mobility
and freedom
of Snow's camera in La
Region
Centrale,
for
Epstein
the effects of camera
mobility
on the
spectator
are
unambiguously
located in the
corporeal density
of the
spectator's
body.
"Seasickness,"
"centrifuged,"
and
"vertigo"
are some of the terms used to
specify
the
spectator's
sensations,
all of which describe the
powerful
effects of the
action of forces on the
body
of the
spectator
as a result of the extremes of
cinematic
mobility.
Indeed,
camera
mobility
seems to be able to
reproduce
for
Epstein
both the actual
physical
forces that act on
fast-moving
bodies as well as
their visceral
impact,
thus
conveying
a sense of
weighted physical
movement in
space
that is
firmly subject
to
gravity,
resistance,
and other laws. This is
very
different
from
Baudry's
or Snow's disembodied
"eye-subject" transcending
"the laws of matter
and time."
Throughout Epstein's writings,
the
strong, overwhelmingly physical
nature of the sensations described in the above
passage
is a central
component
of
his
prototypical spectator's perceptual experience
of the cinema. He often
equates,
for
example,
the intense
pleasures
of this
experience
with
bodily penetra-
tion and
need,
comparing
the affect
("intermittent paroxysms")
of
close-ups
with
"needles,"
and the
"extremely pleasant
intellectual state" attained
during viewing
with "a sort of
need,
like tobacco or coffee."31 Such a
striking
characterization of
spectatorship,
with its
emphasis
on
physical
need, stimulation, and,
more
generally,
the state of
being
acted on
by physical
forces unleashed
by
camera
mobility,
pulling
and
pushing
the
body
as
"projectile,"
is
diametrically opposite
to the
disembodied transcendence of the
physical
world and
body
that is the central
figure
ofJay's
"Cartesian
scopic regime."
More
significant
for our
purposes,
however,
is
Epstein's general argument
concerning
the cinematic extension of vision and
cognition
within which these
30.
Epstein, "Magnification," p.
237.
31.
Ibid.,
pp.
236,
240.
34
Jean
Epstein
's Cinema
of
Immanence
remarks about the
corporeal
effects on the
spectator
are located. This
argument
is nowhere
explicitly
and
logically
formulated.
Rather,
it
emerges
within
scattered,
obscure,
and often
contradictory
statements which
together gradually
reveal a
logical
form at work within
Epstein's
cinematic
epistemology. Although
often
inconsistent,
the
logical
form of this cinematic
epistemology,
I would
suggest,
differs from the
visual model of ocularcentrism and its
figure
of the disembodied
eye.
If,
for a
theorist like
Baudry,
the cinema
reproduces
for the
spectator
the conditions of
disembodied "transcendental
subjectivity"
above and
beyond
the
physical
world
of matter and
time,
then for
Epstein,
I would
argue,
the cinema
gives
rise instead
to a
spectator
who is embedded in the world and its material laws. In other
words,
in
contrast to a cinema of
transcendence,
perpetuating
and
intensifying
the familiar
tradition of
ocularcentrism,
Epstein attempts
to
propose
and
envisage
for us a
cinema of immanence.
Consistent with this
conception
of a cinema of immanence is the extended
analogy Epstein
most often draws on to describe the
perceptual
relation between
the
spectator
and the
phenomenal
world that is established
by
the film camera.
This
relation,
he
argues,
is a
profoundly
"intimate"
one,
and as such he
consistently
likens it to the
intimacy
of
bodily
contact and
ingestion:
The
close-up
modifies the drama
by
the
impact
of
proximity.
Pain is
within reach. If I stretch out
my
arm I touch
you,
and that is
intimacy.
I
can count the
eyelashes
of this
suffering.
I would be able to taste the
tears. Never before has a face turned to mine in that
way.
Ever closer it
presses against
me,
and I follow it face to face. It's not even true that
there is air between
us;
I consume it. It is in me like a sacrament.
Maximum visual
acuity.32
The sensuous
proximity
to the world that is
being
articulated here contrasts
sharply
with the
metaphors
of "distance" and
"autonomy"
that are
standardly
employed
to describe the disembodied
viewpoint
of the "Cartesian
perspectivalist
gaze." Epstein's
valorization of the cinema's
ability
to induce a
corporeal intimacy
with the world reaches its
apotheosis
in his call for a form of
subjective
camera
movement that
places
the
spectator
within the
very body
of a fictional character.
"I would like to look
through
his
eyes," Epstein
fantasizes at one
point
in a
passage
that
again remarkably
echoes
Brakhage,
"and see his hand reach out from under
me as if it were
my
own;
interruptions
of
opaque
film would imitate the
blinking
of our
eyelids."33
Note that the
emphasis
here is
resolutely
on
physical
incarnation,
and not
simply
on the camera's
assumption
of a character's
cognitive
or emotive
viewpoint.
But it is
ultimately,
I would
argue,
the
logical
form of
Epstein's
cinematic
epistemology
that differs most
profoundly
from the "Cartesian" visual model of
32.
Ibid., p.
239.
33. Ibid.
35
OCTOBER
Jay's
ocularcentrism. In order to demonstrate
this,
a careful
investigation
into this
cinematic
epistemology
is
required.
For at first
sight, Epstein's epistemology-his
theory
of the film camera as a
cognitive
instrument that reveals the
phenomenal
world anew to the
spectator-appears highly mystical,
full of
sweeping metaphysical
claims.
According
to
Epstein,
what is revealed
by
the camera to the
spectator
is
something
he calls the "soul" of the
world,
a "soul" that is
standardly
hidden to
the
naked,
corporeal eye:
The face of the world
may
seem
changed
since
we,
the fifteen hundred
million who inhabit
it,
can see
through eyes equally
intoxicated
by
alcohol, love,
joy,
and
woe,
through
lenses of all
tempers,
hate and
tenderness;
since we can see the clear thread of
thoughts
and
dreams,
what
might
or should have
been,
what
was,
what never was or could
have
been,
feelings
in their secret
guise,
the
startling
face of love and
beauty,
in a
word,
the soul.34
Here,
in
discussing
the transformation of "the face of the world" effected
by
the
film
camera,
Epstein
insists that it is the "soul" of the "world" that is laid bare for
the
spectator's corporeal eye,
and this is a claim that occurs
repeatedly throughout
his film
theory.
What, therefore,
does
Epstein
mean
by
"soul"? What
precisely
is
revealed to the
spectator's bodily eye by
the film camera?
III
Epstein's
answer to this
question
is
predictably
multifarious,
contradictory,
and difficult to
pin
down
conceptually.
Sometimes,
for
example,
he follows other
film theorists of his
generation
in
arguing
that it is the essential
"mobility"
of the
world that is revealed
by
the camera.
Elsewhere,
he
suggests
that the cinema
gives
rise to a
perceptual experience
of the fundamental formlessness and "chaos" of
the
universe,
a "chaos" that is
spuriously
masked
by
rational
knowledge.
In tandem
with these
general
claims, however,
Epstein
also isolates
specific
entities that are
revealed to the
spectator's bodily eye by
the camera.
Epstein
returns to these entities
again
and
again throughout
the course of his film
theory.
When considered
together, they gradually
reveal a
logical
form at work in his cinematic
epistemology
that
provides
the
conceptual
foundation for his claim that the cinema reveals the
"soul" of the "world" to the
spectator.
The most
prominent
of these entities is time. For
Epstein,
cinema allows the
spectator
to
perceptually experience
events
unfolding
in time. More
importantly,
though, Epstein
also claims that the cinema allows for the
possibility
of
controlling
time in a
radically
new
way.
Unlike human
beings
whose
experience
of time is a
perpetual
missed encounter with the
present,
the cinema is an instrument that
can
capture
and therefore
manipulate
time:
34.
Epstein,
"On Certain Characteristics of
Photogenie,"
in French Film
Theory,
Volume
I,
p.
318.
36
Jean
Epstein
's Cinema
of
Immanence
The fact is that there is no real
present; today
is a
yesterday, perhaps
already
old,
colliding
with a
possibly
distant tomorrow. The
present
is
an
uneasy
convention. In the flow of time it is an
exception
to time. It
eludes the chronometer. You look at
your
watch;
strictly speaking
the
present
is no
longer
there;
and
strictly speaking
it is there
again,
and
always
will be from one
midnight
to the next. I
think,
therefore I was.
The future "I" is shed as "I"
past;
the
present
is
merely
this instantaneous
and
perpetual sloughing.
The
present
is
merely
an encounter. The
cinema is the
only
art
capable of depicting
this
present
as it is.35
Only
the
cinema,
for
Epstein,
can
capture
the
pure immediacy
of time in the
present
tense,
the "now" that is
always
missed
during
the
spectator's
standard
perceptual experience
of the
phenomenal
world. As Annette Michelson has
pointed
out,
Epstein's
film
theory,
in
making
this
claim,
bears a remarkable
similarity
to his
contemporary
in the Soviet
Union,
Dziga
Vertov,
who also
argues
that the
cinema allows for an
unprecedented
control over time: "The mechanical
eye,
the
camera . . .
experiments, distending
time,
dissecting
movement, or,
in
contrary
fashion,
absorbing
time within
itself,
swallowing years,
thus
schematizing
processes
of
long
duration inaccessible to the normal
eye."36
Vertov
emphasizes
the
analytical power
of the camera's control over
time,
its
ability
to
distend, dissect,
or swallow time and movement.
Epstein,
however,
persistently points
to the
cinema's
synthetic ability
to halt or
stop
time,
to
congeal
it in a moment of
presence,
rendering
it
palpable
and latent within the
image
as a sensuous
entity
available to
the
spectator's gaze
of
inspection.
In the
following passage Epstein
valorizes the
close-up precisely
because it arrests the flow of time and holds it in
abeyance
as
pure potential:
Even more beautiful than a
laugh
is the face
preparing
for it. I must
interrupt.
I love the mouth which is about to
speak
and holds
back,
the
gesture
which hesitates between
right
and
left,
the recoil before the
leap,
and the moment before
landing,
the
becoming,
the
hesitation,
the taut
spring,
the
prelude,
and even more than all
these,
the
piano
being
tuned before the overture.37
Here,
time is
something
that becomes
directly
visible to the
spectator, something
that she can
directly
see
congealed
in the
image
in the latent form of a
"recoil,"
"hesitation," or
"becoming."
And the result of this sensuous
latency
of
time,
for
Epstein,
is the
production
of a
pregnant
moment of
presence
that
punctuates
and
interrupts
the
standard, continuous,
linear flow of time.
During
such moments of
presence,
the linear
organization
of time into the discrete dimensions of
past,
35.
Epstein,
"Art of
Incidence," ibid.,
p.
413
(emphasis added).
36. See Annette
Michelson,
introduction to
Kino-Eye,
The
Writings of Dziga
Vertov,
ed. Michelson
(London:
Pluto
Press, 1984), pp.
xliii-vi;
and
Dziga
Vertov,
"The Council of
Three,"
in
Kino-Eye, p.
19.
37.
Epstein, "Magnification," p.
236.
37
OCTOBER
present,
and future is
replaced by
a fecund moment
pregnant
with time in which
past
and future
collapse
or coalesce into the
present.
Past and future in effect
become visible to the
spectator
within the
pure
"now" of the
present captured by
the camera:
"Fragments
from several
pasts
take root in a
single present.
The
future
erupts through
the memories."38
Hence,
Epstein argues
that
narrative,
with
its linear flow of time from
past
to
future,
is antithetical to the true nature of
cinematic
temporality,
and should therefore be
rejected
in favor of a "new
dramaturgy"
which he names an "art of incidences" or "situations." "There are no
stories,"
he claims. "There have never been stories. There are
only
situations,
having
neither head nor
tail;
without
beginning,
middle,
or
end,
no
right
side or
wrong
side;
they
can be looked at from all
directions;
right
becomes
left;
without limits in
past
or
future,
they
are
present."39
Thus,
for
Epstein,
time is a
specific entity
that
the camera is
capable
of
revealing
to the
spectator's bodily eye, "crystallizing"
it in
a
sensuous,
palpable
form.
The second such
entity
that
Epstein consistently points
to is emotion. For
Epstein,
the cinema enables the
spectator
to see emotion:
The
close-up
is drama in
high gear.
A man
says,
"I love the
faraway
princess."
Here the verbal
gearing
down is
suppressed.
I can see love. It
half lowers its
eyelids,
raises the arc of the
eyebrows laterally,
inscribes
itself on the taut
forehead,
swells the
masseters,
hardens the tuft of the
chin,
flickers on the mouth and at the
edge
of the nostrils.40
Here,
Epstein argues
that emotion is manifested on a character's face when filmed
in
close-up.
The character's
exteriority
is
punctured by
the
camera,
allowing
his
interior
passions
to issue forth and saturate the surface details of his
face,
thereby
producing
a
physiognomic knowledge.
Because of this
capacity, Epstein envisages
the use of the camera as an
analytical
tool that will reveal to
prospective
lovers the
true nature of their
partner's
intentions: "Possibilities are
already appearing
for
the drama of the
microscope,
a
hystophysiology
of the
passions,
a classification of
the amorous sentiments ....
Young girls
will consult them instead of the fortune
teller."41
Epstein
therefore sees the camera as an instrument for
making
visible the
interior life of human
beings
that is
standardly
hidden to the naked
eye
behind
the flesh and bone of the
body.
Now,
this
argument
is also made
by
other film
theorists
during
this
period, including
Vertov and Bela Balazs.
However,
Epstein's
specific
variant of this
argument
is
unique
because he extends it
beyond
the realm
of the human face and
body
into the realm of
inanimate,
material
objects.
For
Epstein,
not
only
does the camera reveal the interior life of human
beings.
It also
makes visible the interior life of
objects:
38.
Epstein,
"Art of
Incidence,"
p.
413.
39.
Epstein,
"The Senses I
(b),"
in French Film
Theory,
Volume
I,
p.
242.
40.
Epstein, "Magnification," p.
239.
41.
Ibid.,
p.
238.
38
Jean
Epstein's
Cinema
of
Immanence
Jean
Epstein.
Cour Fidele. 1923.
39
OCTOBER
And a
close-up
of a revolver is no
longer
a
revolver,
it is the revolver-
character,
in other words the
impulse
towards or remorse for
crime,
failure,
suicide. It is as dark as the
temptations
of the
night, bright
as
the
gleam
of
gold
lusted
after,
taciturn as
passion, squat,
brutal,
heavy,
cold,
wary, menacing.
It has a
temperament,
habits, memories,
a
will,
a
soul.42
Here,
the emotion associated with
guns
and crime is
captured by
the camera and
transformed into a sensuous substance that inheres or subsists within the revolver.
It is rendered
present
and
palpable
within the material
qualities
of the revolver
itself,
just
as time is
congealed
within the
pregnant
moment of the "situation."
Epstein
refers to the emotional life of
objects
revealed
by
the camera as the
"personality"
of the
object,
and he
argues
that,
like
time,
"personality"
is made
directly
visible to the
spectator's bodily eye: "Personality
is the
spirit
visible in
things
and
people,
their
heredity
made
evident,
their
past
become
unforgettable,
their future
already present."43
The result of this
unmasking
of
"personality"
is
that
objects
seem to come alive for the
spectator.
The revelation of their latent
emotional
potential
as a sensuous substance confers on them "life" and
presence,
and
Epstein
therefore labels the cinema "animistic."
Indeed,
so
great
is the
power
of the camera to reveal the
"personality"
of
objects
for
Epstein
that it can
charge
an entire environment with a
palpable
and almost
overwhelming
emotional
vivacity:
True
tragedy
remains in
abeyance.
It threatens all the faces. It is in the
curtain at the window and the handle of the door. Each
drop
of ink can
make it bloom on the
tip
of the fountain
pen.
In the
glass
of water it
dissolves. The whole room is saturated with
every
kind of drama. The
cigar
smoke is
poised menacingly
over the
ashtray's
throat. The dust is
treacherous. The
carpet
emits venomous
arabesques
and the arms of
the chair tremble.44
Thus
emotion,
like
time,
is an
entity
that becomes
physically
incarnated within
the
people
and
objects represented by
the cinematic
image.
It therefore also
becomes
directly
visible to the
corporeal eye
of the
spectator.
Time and emotion are the two
major
entities revealed
by
the camera to
which
Epstein's
film
theory
returns
again
and
again.
However,
there is a third that
Epstein only occasionally
mentions,
namely "family
resemblance":
From oldest ancestor to
youngest
child,
all the resemblances and
differences delineated a
single
character. The
family
seemed to me like
42.
Epstein,
"On Certain Characteristics of
Photogenie," p.
317.
43. Ibid.
44.
Epstein,
"The Senses I
(b)," p.
242. In
Epstein's
film The Fall
of
the House
of
Usher
(1928),
the
capacity
of cinema to
charge
environments with a
heightened
emotional
vivacity
is
wonderfully
exploited
to its fullest.
40
Jean
Epstein
's Cinema
of
Immanence
Jean Epstein.
The Fall of the House of Usher. 1928.
an individual whose dissimilar members never
disrupted
the sense of
unity
and,
on the
contrary, proved necessary
to its
equilibrium....
Not
a
single person
in the assembled
group
seemed to me
free,
neither in
what
they
had
been,
nor in what
they
were,
nor in what
they
would be.
And what issued from the mouth of one or another was the
family,
which answered me with its
singular
voice,
according
to its
singular
character,
with its set
way
of
thinking
and which carried on across
many past, present,
and future bodies.45
Here,
Epstein
characterizes the
"single
character" or
"unity"
of the
family
as a
distinct
synthetic entity
that inheres in each
family
member and that reveals itself
through
the resemblances between them.
However,
it is
only
the cinema that
45.
Epstein, "Photogenie
and the
Imponderable," p.
191.
41
OCTOBER
actually
has the
power
to
"capture"
this
strange entity,
to abstract it from the
individual members of the
family
and
preserve
it as a
separate entity
in its own
right through
the accumulation of
images
of the
family
across time:
Once
cinematography
will have reached the
century
mark of its exis-
tence ... it will have been able to
capture
the
startling
and instructive
appearances
of this familial monster.
Many
other
concepts
await their
personification through cinematography; among
the closest are
heredity,
the affectations of the
mind,
diseases.46
Family
resemblance,
like time and
emotion,
is therefore an
entity
that can be
revealed
by
the camera and
"personified"
in a sensuous form within the cinematic
image
for the
spectator
to see.
Although
these three
entities-time, emotion,
and
family
resemblance-
may
seem somewhat curious
companions
when
placed alongside
each
other,
they
nevertheless
point
toward a consistent
logical
form at work within
Epstein's
cinematic
epistemology.
This
logical
form
may
be described in the
following way:
quite simply,
each is an immaterial
entity
that
is,
according
to
Epstein, given
a
sensuous,
palpable
incarnation within the
people, objects,
and events
depicted by
the cinematic
image. Epstein's theory
of cinema as a
cognitive
tool is therefore
founded
upon
a
logic of
embodiment.
According
to this
logic,
time, emotion,
and
family
resemblance are immaterial entities that are
cognized by
the
spectator
because she can see them with her
corporeal eye.
And she is able to do so because
these entities enter into and become embodied within the
people, objects,
and
events
depicted by
the cinematic
image,
due to the
unique powers
of the camera.
Having
located this
logic
of embodiment at the core of
Epstein's
cinematic
epistemology,
it now
appears
obvious
why Epstein
characterizes the
cognitive
power
of the cinema as a revelation of the "soul" of the "world" to the
spectator.
For the word "soul,"
like
"spirit,"
refers to an immaterial substance or
entity.
If the
cinema does have the
power
to reveal
through
embodiment the immaterial entities
of
time, emotion,
and
family
resemblance,
then it is indeed
appropriate
to claim
that these entities constitute a
"soul,"
one that is
granted by
the cinema an immanent
presence
in the
faces, bodies,
objects,
environments,
landscapes,
and events that
populate
the
phenomenal
world as it is
captured
within the cinematic
image.
IV
Even
though
it
is,
perhaps,
now clearer what
Epstein
means
by
his claim that
the "soul" of the "world" is revealed to the
spectator by
the film
camera,
his
cinematic
epistemology undoubtedly
continues to
appear mystical.
The
argument
that immaterial entities such as
time, emotion,
and
family
resemblance become
embodied and visible within the cinematic
image
due to the
power
of the camera
46. Ibid.
42
Jean Epstein's
Cinema
of
Immanence
appears highly superstitious,
an
outrage
to our
modern, rational,
scientific theories
of the
image
and vision.
Indeed,
Epstein's
film
theory
as a whole is
usually
dismissed
from a theoretical and scientific
perspective
as a form of
mystical
idealism.47 If
Epstein's
theoretical claims are considered at
all,
they
are
usually simply
viewed as
grist
for the mill of a
psychological (usually psychoanalytical) explanation.48
There
is, however,
a
philosopher
who takes
seriously
the claim that a
seemingly
immaterial
entity
can be seen in an
image,
and who
rejects any psychological
or
theoretical
explanation
of the beholder's
putative ability
to do so. This
philosopher
is
Wittgenstein,
and he calls this immaterial
entity
an
"aspect."
For
Wittgenstein,
the beholder's claim to be able to
directly
see an
aspect
in
an
image
arises most
clearly
and
unambiguously during
a
unique
visual
experience
that he calls
"aspect-dawning." Although
the duck-rabbit is the most famous
example
of this
experience, Wittgenstein provides
us with
many
others: "I
suddenly
see the
solution of a
picture puzzle.
Before,
there were branches
there;
now there is a
human
shape. My
visual
impression
has
changed
and now I
recognize
that it has
not
only shape
and color but also a
quite particular 'organization'.-My
visual
impression
has
changed."49
For
Wittgenstein,
there is a
paradox
in the beholder's
use of the verb "to see" to describe this curious visual
experience.
On the one
hand,
the
image
remains
materially unchanged
in this and all other
examples
of
aspect-dawning. Nothing
is
physically
added to or taken
away
from the
"picture
puzzle"
to
change
its
appearance.
Yet,
on the
other,
the words the beholder uses
to describe the
experience
of
aspect-dawning-words
such as "see" and
"object"-
seem to indicate that this is
precisely
what has
happened,
that indeed the
image
does seem to have
changed materially
in front of the beholder's
eyes during
this
experience.
The beholder now seems to see it
differently,
as if
something
had
been added to it.
Wittgenstein
elucidates this
paradox by asking
the beholder who
has
experienced aspect-dawning
to
represent
the difference between her old and
new
perception
of the
picture puzzle using
a
drawing.
The beholder
is,
of
course,
unable to do so. A
drawing
of the
picture puzzle prior
to the
dawning
of the
aspect
will be identical to a
drawing
of the
puzzle
once the
aspect
has dawned.
Thus,
we are introduced to the
ambiguous
and
mysterious concept
of the
aspect.
On the one
hand,
the
aspect
of "the human
shape"
in the
picture puzzle
cannot be
pointed
to or
represented directly using
an
image
or verbal
description
of
it,
in the same
way
that the material
properties
of an
object
can be. The
aspect
belongs
to a different dimension of visual
experience
than material
properties
such as color and
shape,
which can be
pointed
to,
copied,
and described with
ease. It therefore seems to be
something
invisible,
immaterial or
abstract,
some-
47. For an
example
of this
type
of
argument,
see David
Bordwell,
French
Impressionist
Cinema: Film
Culture,
Film
Theory,
and Film
Style (New
York: Arno
Press, 1980).
48. For an
example
of this
type
of
argument,
see Paul
Willemen,
"Photogenie
and
Epstein,"
in Looks
and Frictions:
Essays
in Cultural Studies and Film
Theory (London: BFI, 1994).
49.
Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations,
trans. G. E. M. Anscombe
(Oxford: Blackwell,
1968), p.
196. Hereafter cited in the text as PI.
43
OCTOBER
thing beyond
the
perception
of material
properties
and entities.
Yet,
on the
other,
the
aspect
nevertheless
appears
to be
materially present
within the
image
or
object.
It seems to
presence
itself,
becoming materially
incarnated in the
image
or
object during
the visual
experience
of
aspect-dawning.
The
aspect
is
something
that we
appear
to
experience visually
on a
sensuous,
perceptual
level,
even
though
we cannot in fact
point
to it or
represent
it,
beyond
the
vague suggestion
that it is
a
type
of
"organization."
It is this
strange ambiguity
of an
entity
that is both
present
and
absent,
material and
immaterial,
visible and
invisible,
that
prompts
Wittgenstein's investigation
into the curious
experience
of
aspect-dawning.
For our
purposes,
the visual
experience
of
aspect-dawning highlighted by
Wittgenstein possesses
the same
logical
form as
Epstein's
cinematic
epistemology.
In
both,
an immaterial
entity seemingly
enters into the
image
in
question
and is
seen
directly by
the beholder. More
remarkably,
however,
there is also a substantive
similarity
between
aspect-dawning
and
Epstein's
film
theory.
For
Wittgenstein
extends his
concept
of
aspect-dawning beyond
the mere
perceptual recognition
of
objects
within an
image
to include some of the same entities that
Epstein singles
out in his film
theory.
Indeed,
Wittgenstein's very
first
example
of an
aspect
is the
resemblance between two
faces,
familiar to us from
Epstein's "family
resemblance"
argument:
"I
contemplate
a
face,
and then
suddenly
notice its likeness to another.
I see that it has not
changed;
and
yet
I see it
differently"
(PI,
p.
193).
Like "the
human
shape"
in the
picture puzzle,
the "likeness" between two faces is an
aspect
because it is
directly
seen
by
the beholder even
though
it is not a material
property
of the faces in
question.
It
cannot, therefore,
be
pointed
to or
copied
using
a
drawing
of the faces in
question although,
as
Wittgenstein
makes
clear,
it
can be
captured
by
an
image:
"The one man
might
make an accurate
drawing
of
the two
faces,
and the other notice in the
drawing
the likeness which the former
did not see"
(PI,
p.
193). Similarly,
emotion is an
entity
that
Wittgenstein repeatedly
points
to as an
example
of an
aspect.
"Friendliness,"
for
instance,
is an emotion
that a beholder can see in a
smile,
but which cannot be described in terms of the
material or
spatial properties
of the smile in
question:
"And this materialization is
something spatial
and it must be
possible
to describe it in
purely spatial
terms. For
instance
(if
it is a
face)
it can
smile;
the
concept
of
friendliness, however,
has no
place
in an account of
it,
but is
foreign
to such an account
(even
though
it
may
subserve
it)" (PI,
p.
199).
For
Wittgenstein,
a
person
who cannot see
aspects,
who
is
"aspect-blind,"
is someone who cannot
directly
see an emotion manifested in
another
person's
face.
Wittgenstein
does not
go
so far as to
argue
that time is an
entity
that can be
seen
directly during aspect-dawning,
however,
he does describe the visual
experience
of
aspect-dawning
in
general
as one in which the beholder's
experience
of time is
reconfigured
in a manner
very
similar to
Epstein's descriptions
of cinematic
temporality during
a "situation." For
Wittgenstein, aspect-dawning
is
always
an
interruption
or
rupture
within the beholder's standard
experience
of time as a
continuous flow. An
aspect
is
always something
that
Wittgenstein
describes as
44
Jean
Epstein
's Cinema
of
Immanence
"flashing" upon
the
beholder,
erupting "suddenly"
into her consciousness.
Furthermore,
once the
aspect
has
dawned,
it arrests the flow of time
by occupying
the beholder
intensely
for a
pregnant
moment which then fades. "'I observed the
likeness between him and his father for a few
minutes,
and then no
longer.'-One
might say
this if his face were
changing
and
only
looked like his father's for a
short
lime.
But it can also mean that after a few minutes I
stopped being
struck
by
the likeness"
(PI,
p.
210).
Finally, Wittgenstein
also
employs
the
language
of
"animism,"
so often used
by Epstein,
to describe a certain
type
of
aspect-dawning
experienced by
the beholder while
looking
at a
picture. According
to this
description,
a
picture may
at times seem to
possess
a certain
presence,
as if it had
come alive and was
looking
at the beholder:
I
might say:
a
picture
does not
always
live for me while I am
seeing
it.
"Her
picture
smiles down on me from the wall." It need not
always
do
so,
whenever
my glance lights
on it. The duck-rabbit. One asks oneself:
how can the
eye-this
dot-be
looking
in a
direction?-"See,
it is
looking!"
(And
one "looks" oneself as one
says
this.) [PI, p. 205]
Here,
Wittgenstein
is
using
the
language
of "animism" to articulate
precisely
the
type
of visual
experience
of a
picture
that
Epstein argues
is characteristic of the
spectator's
visual
experience
of the cinematic
image.
The
logical
and substantive similarities between
Epstein's
film
theory
and
Wittgenstein's concept
of
aspect-dawning
extend even
further,
however. For
Epstein
also
provides
an articulation of the
grammar
of this visual
experience
that
anticipates Wittgenstein's
own
attempt
to render the
experience
of
aspect-dawning
intelligible
to his reader. Central to both their accounts is
knowledge
and
cognition.
What
essentially
constitutes the occurrent visual
experience
of
aspect-dawning,
for
Wittgenstein,
is the
dawning
of
knowledge
in the beholder.
Aspect-dawning
is
the
experience
of a
cognition.
But it is the
experience
of a
special type
of
cognition,
namely
a
recognition.
"The
very expression," says Wittgenstein
about the beholder's
response
to the
duck-rabbit,
"which is also a
report
of what is
seen,
is here a
cry
of
recognition"
(PI,
p.
198). Thus,
the visual
experience
of
aspect-dawning
is a sudden
moment of
recognition
in which the
image
or
object
of the beholder's
sight
emerges
for her in an
unexpected
but familiar
light.
In
aspect-dawning,
the
beholder
unexpectedly recognizes
or
alights upon
a different
way
of
seeing
the
image
or
object
in
question.
What, however,
is it
precisely
that is
recognized
and
seen
by
the beholder
during aspect-dawning?
In what is
perhaps
his clearest
definition of the
aspect, Wittgenstein says,
"but what I
perceive
in the
dawning
of
an
aspect
is not a
property
of the
object,
but an internal relation between it and
other
objects"
(PI,
p.
212).
When the beholder
recognizes
an
object
under a new
aspect,
she is
not, therefore,
cognizing
a new
"property"
or attribute of the
object.
Aspect-dawning
is not the
cognition
of a material
property,
and it is for this reason
that the
aspect
is not akin to material
concepts
such as
shape
or color.
Rather,
during aspect-dawning,
the beholder becomes aware of the
image
or
object's
45
OCTOBER
"internal relation" with other
objects.
In other
words,
she becomes aware of the
place
of the
image
or
object
within a
grammar
or form of life-an extrinsic
conceptual ground
or field that she is
already
familiar with and knows how to find
her
way
around.
Aspect-dawning
is the
unexpected recognition
of a fit or
identity
between the
image
and
object
in
question
and an extrinsic
conceptual ground
or
field. In the case of the
picture puzzle,
for
example,
the sudden
dawning
of the
aspect
of "the human
shape"
consists of the beholder's
recognition
of a fit
between the lines of the
picture puzzle
and the familiar
conceptual
field of
human
shapes. Aspect-dawning
is therefore a
recognition
of the
identity
of the
image
or
object
in
question,
of the kind of
object
that it can be seen
as,
a conscious
experience
that arises because the
normally
instantaneous
recognition
of the
image
or
object during
visual
perception
has been
delayed.
However,
the most
important
characteristic of
aspect-dawning
is that the
recognition
of the "internal relation" or
conceptual
field within which an
image
or
object
can be seen is not a
purely
mental
event;
it does not take
place
within
the mind of the beholder. The extrinsic
conceptual
field is not
something
that
the beholder's mind
anticipates, supplies,
or
brings
to the
image
or
object.
Rather,
it is
something
that the beholder finds in the
image
or
object using
her
corporeal eye.
Her
recognition
of the new "internal relation" takes
place
within the
realm of her sensuous
perception
of the
image
or
object
in
question.
This new
"internal relation" or extrinsic
conceptual ground
is
something
that
emerges
and
becomes embodied within the
image
or
object
in the
sensuous,
palpable
form of
the
aspect
as the beholder's
eye alights upon
it. It is because of this lack of mental
agency
that the
dawning
of an
aspect
is
always
a
surprise
to the beholder. It is
something
that she does not think of or
expect.
Instead,
it is
something
she finds.
It is also for this reason that the beholder ascribes
agency
to the
image
or
object
and
speaks
of it as if it had
changed materially
in front of her
eyes,
as if it were
alive. For once the new
conceptual
field
emerges
within the
image
or
object
in
question
in the sensuous form of the
aspect,
the
image
or
object
looks different to
the beholder because of her
familiarity
with the
conceptual
field that has
dawned. The
dawning
of an
aspect
is
essentially
the
dawning
of a new
way
of
relating
to the
image
or
object
on the
part
of the
beholder,
a new attitude of
familiarity
that arises
upon
the basis of the sensuous
recognition
of a new "internal
relation" within which the
image
or
object
can be seen. It is a new
way
of
seeing
and
taking
the
image
or
object.50
If we return to
Epstein's
film
theory,
we find that
Epstein provides
a
very
similar
articulation of the
grammar
of the visual
experience
of embodiment that is at the
core of his cinematic
epistemology:
50. It is no accident that
Wittgenstein
makes various remarks about aesthetic
experience
while
investigating aspect-dawning;
the
experience
of
"seeing something
new" in a work of
art,
of
alighting
upon
a new
way
of
seeing
or
understanding something
in a work of
art,
is a standard form of aesthetic
experience
with its
unique
blend of sensuous
perception
and
cognition.
The ramifications for aesthetics
of
Wittgenstein's investigation
of
aspect-dawning
have
yet
to be
fully explored.
46
Jean
Epstein
's Cinema
of
Immanence
Each of
us,
I
assume,
must
possess
some
object
which he holds onto for
personal
reasons: for some it's a
book;
for
some,
perhaps,
a
very
banal
and somewhat
ugly
trinket;
for someone
else,
perhaps,
a
piece
of
furniture with no value. We do not look at them as
they really
are. To
tell the
truth,
we are
incapable
of
seeing
them as
objects.
What we see
in
them,
through
them,
are the memories and
emotions,
the
plans
or
regrets
that we have attached to these
things
for a more or less
lengthy
period
of
time,
sometimes forever.
Now,
this is the
cinematographic
mystery:
an
object
such as
this,
with its
personal
character,
that is to
say,
an
object
situated in a dramatic action that is
equally photographic
in
character,
reveals anew its moral
character,
its human and
living
expression
when
reproduced cinematographically.51
Here,
Epstein quite clearly
and
lucidly argues
that
objects
in the cinematic
image
appear
to have an
interior,
emotional life because
they
come to
embody,
like
personal objects,
the form of life or extrinsic
conceptual ground
within which
they
are
located,
namely
the emotional and dramatic context of the narrative or
"dramatic situation." For
Epstein,
like
Wittgenstein,
the
spectator
can see this
context,
this form of
life,
within the
objects represented
on the screen.
Thus,
they
seem to come to
life
for
her,
much like
Wittgenstein's
beholder who looks at the
picture
of the
smiling
woman. This
picture
comes alive for the beholder because it
embodies in a
palpable
form all the
personal
associations of its
subject
for a
short,
pregnant
moment of
aspect-dawning.
Once these
profound logical
and substantive similarities between
Wittgenstein's concept
of
aspect-dawning
and
Epstein's
film
theory
are taken into
consideration,
Epstein's
cinematic
epistemology emerges
in a new and remarkable
light.
From the strict
perspective
of science and
theory,
his claim that the cinema
reveals the "soul" of the "world" to the
spectator
can
only
be condemned as a form of
mystical
idealism. It cannot be taken
seriously.
But from the
perspective
of
Wittgenstein's philosophical grammar,
this cinematic
epistemology
can be viewed as
an
imaginative
and
ingenious attempt
to articulate the
logical
form of a visual and
cognitive experience
that
Wittgenstein,
some fifteen
years following
the formative
period
of
Epstein's
film
theory,
will call
"aspect-dawning."
To evaluate
Epstein's
writ-
ings
about the cinema
using
the criteria of
science,
to search in them for a
theory
consisting
of a coherent
body
of causal
explanations
for the
spectator's perceptual
and
cognitive experience
of the
cinema,
is to miss their
lasting
value. It is to miss
Epstein's attempt-often contradictory
and
frustrating, deliberately mysterious,
and
replete
with
hyperbole-to
articulate the contours of a
unique
visual
experience.
51.
Epstein,
"For a New
Avant-Garde,"
in French Film
Theory,
Volume
I,
p.
352.
47
OCTOBER
It is
also, however,
to miss the
larger significance
of this visual
experience,
and it is in
considering
this
significance
that we can
now,
finally,
return to the
question
with which we
began, namely
the
question
of the relation between
Epstein's
celebration of cinema as an "art of vision" and antiocularcentrism. For
as is well
known,
Wittgenstein's
later
philosophy
constitutes,
in its
entirety,
a
rejection
of the Cartesian
picture
of the mind and
body
and its
accompanying
theory
of
knowledge.
This
rejection
consists,
among many
other
things,
of
remapping
the distinction between mind and
body
and
redefining
the nature of
perception
and
knowledge.52
The
importance
of the visual
experience
of
aspect-
dawning
in the context of these
larger
concerns is that it is a
sensuous,
physical
experience.
The
aspect
is
something
that is seen
by
the beholder's
corporeal
eye.
It is not
something
that is intuited or inferred
by
her mind.
Aspect-dawning
also demonstrates that the beholder's
perceptual knowledge
of the
phenomenal
world-her
recognition
of the duck in the
duck-rabbit,
her
certainty
that a
person's
smile is a
friendly
smile,
her
ability
to see the resemblance between two
faces-is the
product
of her
ability
to become
familiar
with the form of life
within which she encounters this
phenomenal
world. The beholder's
capacity
to
experience aspect-dawning,
to see an
aspect
dawn in an
image, object,
or
person,
is
logically dependent
on what
Wittgenstein
calls "the
mastery
of a
technique,"
the beholder's
ability
to find her
way
around and
navigate
a form of life consist-
ing
of
images, objects, people,
and
language:
"It is
only
if someone can
do,
has
learnt,
is master
of, such-and-such,
that it makes sense to
say
he has had this
experience"
(PI,
p.
209).
For
Wittgenstein
in his later
philosophy, knowledge
and
certainty
are the
product
of a
familiarity
with the form of life or
grammar
bequeathed
to us
by ordinary language,
a
familiarity
that is akin to
knowing
one's
way
around a
city,
to
being
familiar with its streets and
alleyways.
Knowledge
and
certainty
are
dependent upon
a
familiarity
with a form of life
that comes from use and
experience,
from
being
immersed within that form of
life.
They
are not the
product
of a "transcendental
subject,"
of a disembodied
mental
eye
that can see itself
seeing
itself.
In-as-much as
Epstein's
film
theory argues
that the cinema
gives
rise to a
sensuous form of
perceptual knowledge
that is
logically
and
substantively
almost
identical to
Wittgenstein's concept
of
aspect-dawning,
we can therefore also view
his film
theory
as
part
of the
larger attempt
to refute
skepticism
and to rethink
and redefine vision and
knowledge
outside of the Cartesian
picture
of the mind
and
body,
an
attempt
that in
many ways
constitutes one of the
major
ambitions of
modern
philosophy
as well as certain
types
of artistic
practices.
Indeed,
we
only
have to recall
Epstein's
claim that the cinema
brings
the
spectator
into a
corporeal
"intimacy"
with the
phenomenal
world to realize
just
how close his film
theory
is
52. For an excellent account of this
"remapping"
in
Wittgenstein's
later
philosophy
of
psychology,
see
PaulJohnston,
Wittgenstein: Rethinking
the Inner
(London: Routledge, 1993).
For a recent account of
Wittgenstein's
contribution to
epistemology
in his later
philosophy,
see Avrum
Stroll,
Moore and
Wittgenstein
on
Certainty (New
York: Oxford
University
Press, 1994).
48
Jean Epstein
's Cinema
of
Immanence
to the
spirit
of
Wittgenstein's
later
philosophy
with its sense of
immanence,
immersion,
and embeddedness in a form of life.
Epstein
and
Wittgenstein
are
therefore
clearly part
of the
general rejection
of the Cartesian visual model that
Jay
terms ocularcentrism.
However,
unlike the antiocularcentric
trajectory
described
byJay
and the artistic
practices
examined
by
Krauss,
their
rejection
is
not a
negation
of this
optical logic through
the
"denigration"
of vision and the
inscription
of blindness and
cognitive uncertainty.53
Neither are concerned with
producing
a
"rupture
in the field of
vision,"
to use Krauss's
words,
or "a
point
in
the
optical system
where what is
thought
to be visible will never
appear."54
If the
reemergence
of the
skeptical denigration
of sense
perception
formalized
by
Descartes in his causal
theory
of
perception-with
its
metaphors
of blindness and
cognitive uncertainty-is
one
response
to the crisis of ocularcentrism within
modernity,
then
Epstein
and
Wittgenstein present
us with another. Instead of
negating
the visual model of
ocularcentrism,
they attempt
to redefine vision and
knowledge
itself,
and
they
do this
by rehabilitating
the
corporeal eye-by salvaging
it from its
position
of blindness within ocularcentrism and antiocularcentrism-
and
describing
the
possibility
of a
new,
sensuous
knowledge
of the world that is
not founded
upon
the idealized
optical powers
of consciousness. The true
import
of
Epstein's
film
theory
lies in its demonstration that the
history
of vision within
modernity
is much more
complex
than the antiocularcentric narrative of decline
and fall. Antiocularcentrism-the turn to visual
opacity
and
cognitive uncertainty-
is
only
one
response
to the crisis of ocularcentrism within modernism in
general
and within the French
avant-garde
of the 1920s in
particular.
Of
course,
the cinema
plays absolutely
no role in
Wittgenstein's
discussion
of
aspect-dawning
and vision. The
concept
of
aspect-dawning
is one of a number
of
concepts
within the
grammar
of
"ordinary"
visual
experience.
It is not a visual
experience produced by
the cinema or
any
other visual
technology, although
the
image certainly plays
a
major
role in
Wittgenstein's description
of it. To
compare
Epstein's
cinematic
epistemology
to
Wittgenstein's concept
of
aspect-dawning
is
therefore to
reject
as
imaginative hyperbole Epstein's
claim that
only
the cinema
provides
the
perceptual
conditions for such a visual
experience. However, perhaps
we can after all allow a little room for this claim
by modifying
it somewhat.
Rather than
producing
a visual
experience
that is the sole domain of the cinema,
perhaps
we
can, following Epstein,
view the cinema as a machine that extends the
spectator's cognitive
and
sensory capacity
to see
aspects,
to "see" the "soul" of the
"world,"
due to its
ability
to make the
phenomenal
world more
familiar
to us, to
53. I borrow the term
"negation"
from Jochen Schulte-Sasse, "Theory
of Modernism versus
Theory
of the
Avant-Garde," foreword to Peter
Burger,
Theory
of
the Avant-Garde
(Minneapolis: University
of
Minnesota
Press, 1984). Schulte-Sasse uses the term to describe the
operation
that
Jacques
Derrida
performs
on the
"subject
of idealistic
cognition theory,"
which is
roughly equivalent
to what we have
here been
calling
the "transcendental
subject"
of ocularcentrism. Schulte-Sasse
argues
that Derrida's
strategy
of
negation
remains
dependent upon
the
very
transcendental
object
it is
negating.
The same
could be said of artistic
practices
that fall
underJay's general
rubric of antiocularcentrism.
54.
Krauss,
The
Optical Unconscious, pp.
82-88.
49
50 OCTOBER
reveal it in its sensuous details and endless
variety. Although
the
thought
would
have horrified
Wittgenstein,
with his distrust of
technology
and
science,
can we
not
now,
thanks to
Epstein,
see the cinema as a
genuine prosthesis
for the
corporeal,
human
eye,
a visual machine for
enlightening
us,
for
making
visible and familiar
to us forms of life?

Jean Epstein's Cinema of Immanence: The Rehabilitation of the Corporeal Eye*

MALCOLM TURVEY

Shall we say, then, that we look out from the inside, that there is a third eye which sees the paintings and even the mental images, as we used to speak of a third ear which grasped messages from the outside through the noises they caused inside us? But how would this help us when the real problem is to understand how it happens that our fleshy eyes are already much more than receptors for light rays, colors, and lines? -Maurice Merleau-Ponty, "Eye and Mind" (1961) I Consider the following cinema, written in 1921: fragment from Epstein's oft-repeated paean to the

Although sight is already recognized by everyone as the most developed sense, and even though the viewpoint of our intellect and our mores is visual, there has nevertheless never been an emotive process so homogeneously, so exclusively optical as the cinema. Truly, the cinema creates a particular system of consciousness limited to a single sense.1 This definition, and indeed celebration, of cinema as a "process" that instantiates a purely visual mode of perception and consciousness is not peculiar to the film theory of Jean Epstein. Germaine Dulac, for example, writing in 1925 on the essence of cinema, also argues: "Should not cinema, which is an art of vision, as music is an art of hearing ... lead us toward the visual idea composed of movement and life, toward
* I would like to express my deep thanks to Annette Michelson for her editorial and critical assistance in the preparation of this text. I am also grateful to Richard Allen, Frances Guerin, Keisuke Kitano, and Mikhail Yampolsky for their comments on earlier versions. I have benefited considerably from Stuart Liebman's pioneering study of Jean Epstein's film theory; see Liebman, 'Jean Epstein's Early Film Theory, 1920-1922" (Ph.D. diss., New York University, 1980). 1. Jean Epstein, "Magnification," in FrenchFilm Theoryand Criticism,A History/Anthology,Volume I: 1907-1929, ed. Richard Abel (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988), p. 240 (emphasis in the original). OCTOBER Winter1998, pp. 25-50. ? 1998 MalcolmTurvey. 83,

the foundational metaphor of the eye for the mind. a cursory glance back at the statement by Epstein with which we began immediately suggests a certain consonance between Epstein's celebration of cinema as an "art of vision" and Jay's Cartesian model of vision. 1993). See. artistic.26 OCTOBER the conception of an art of the eye?"2And Stan Brakhage. theoretical. and artistic about vision? Martin Jay has recently milieu is permeated by a pervasive skepticism the name of "antiocularcentrism" to this skepticism. in its Cartesian and various post-Cartesian guises. Adams Sitney (New York:Anthology Film Archives. is neither original nor unique in the primacy he accords to visual perception in his film theory." says Epstein. Indeed. it generates a voluminous oeuvre that is almost entirely silent. antiocularcentrism consists of a denigration of the idealization of vision that is located at the very core of Western intellectual and artistic traditions. is "the most developed sense. For Jay. of course. for example. Perceptual Reid (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Various philosophers have argued that Rorty's understanding of Cartesian and post-Cartesian FromDescartesto Acquaintance: philosophy is deeply flawed. opens his first major theoretical work on the cinema by proclaiming that "there is a pursuit of knowledge foreign to language and founded upon visual communication. P. in review before a single Inner Eye. p. 3. writing some thirty-five years later. it constitutes a broad and diverse reaction against a model of vision that he calls "Cartesian."3Epstein. 14. FrenchThought(Berkeley: Martin Jay. Philosophy 5. and social practices. to a picture of the mind as some kind of "inner space in which both pains and clear and distinct ideas pass . echoing Descartes's famous dictum. "sight. University of California Press. of which Epstein's film theory now stands as emblematic? How are we to comprehend the abundant faith placed in vision and its cinematic extension by modernist film theorists and artists when our own critical. Stan Brakhage." in The Avant-GardeFilm: A 2. Epstein identifies both "our intellect and our mores" as "visual."5This metaphorical relation Germaine Dulac. 1987). DowncastEyes:TheDenigrationof Vision in Twentieth-Century 4.. 120. p. to understand this fundamental visual axiom of modernist film theory. 1984)." More importantly. "Metaphors on Vision.. and the Mirrorof Nature (Princeton: Princeton University Press. p. How are we. Readerof Theoryand Criticism. In the case of Brakhage. today. this metaphor instantiates an isomorphic relation between vision and consciousness and gives rise. demanding a development of the optical mind. which he defines as "a given profound suspicion of vision and its hegemonic role in the modern era" that begins to emerge in France at the end of the nineteenth century and achieves ascendancy in postwar French philosophy.. 41. 1979). and dependent upon perception in the original and deepest sense of the word. therefore.4 ForJay. 50. at least in this provisional formulation. "The Essence of the Cinema: The Visual Idea. Rather. . ed." In doing so he employs. p. the definition of cinema as an "art of vision" lies at the core of the ontological project of establishing the cinema's autonomy in much modernist film theory and practice." ibid. Yolton."a model that has putatively achieved "dominan[ce] in the modern world" due to its widespread implementation within key intellectual. John W. as for Richard Rorty. Richard Rorty. More specifically. Most obviously.

Representation. error. is thus rejected as an inadequate ground for certain knowledge and truth."to use Rorty's apt word. it requires examination within the context of the larger argument in which it is contained. in this specific instance. Philosophy . and the supposed unreliability of sensory knowledge is used to support skeptical conclusions about the possibility of knowledge of the external world by many philosophers within the skeptical tradition. and seduction. the temptation to make a literal comparison between Epstein's theory andJay's "Cartesian scopic regime" must nevertheless be resisted. the spatial topos of the pure reflective presence of consciousness to both itself and its representations. It is clear. and Technology in Descartes. since Epstein himself nowhere provides a logically coherent philosophy of mind or visual perception. and of second.Jean Epstein 's Cinema of Immanence 27 between vision and consciousness is.p. For an analysis of this paradox as it emerges in Descartes. vision as a physical. deception. in spite of this denigration. a paradoxical one. vision is nevertheless employed as the model for a picture of consciousness as a disembodied eye in an act of sublimation that constitutes the very discourse of ocularcentrism. disembodied eye. in formulating his causal theory of perception." In spite of this initial consonance between ocularcentrism with its ocular metaphors for the mind and a certain tradition of modernist film theory exemplified by the work of Epstein. corporeal vision. 7. denigrates visual perception as interminably susceptible to illusion. from the world of the body and matter. the temporal topos of the instantaneityor timelessness the mind's gaze. see Dalia Judovitz. Significanceof Scepticism 8.7 On the other hand. Physical. Rather. 52. this spatial presence and temporal instantaneity constitute the very possibility of absolute certainty or indubitability within certain traditions of epistemology: the claim that "I can know my own experience immediately and incorrigibly. As an interiorized. his film theory is contradictory and often obscure. along with sensory perception in general. To be clarified. the mind's nature or "substance" now constitutes a fundamentally different "world.8 Conceived of as translucent and therefore unmediated by matter. disembodied eye. See Barry Stroud. 1984). Descartes.ed." in Modernity and the Hegemonyof Vision. Rorty. and the earlier quoted statement on the "exclusivelyoptical" nature of cinema is characteristic in its tendentiousness and lack of any accompanying theoretical elaboration. ThePhilosophical (Oxford: Clarendon Press. Such an exercise would be reductive and futile.6 On the one hand. David M. and theMirrorof Nature. the mind's transcendence over the epistemological limitations of bodily sight is figured by two primary topoi which recur in a variety of ways throughout ocularcentric discourse: first. Combined within the central figure of the autonomous. Levin (Berkeley: University of California Press. however. "Vision. bodily sense is condemned by this metaphor as blind. 1993). that Epstein's appeal to sight as "the 6. The relation between physical and mental realms is therefore reconfigured by cleansingthe corporeal eye of its bodily imperfections and placing it within the immaterial realm of the mental through the idealization of certain of its attributes.

"the habit of strong sensations. 239-40. "Magnification.." he argues... the implicit logic of these remarks becomes clear. no longer valid. Ibid. therefore. Elsewhere. Even the music to which one is accustomed is nothing but additional anesthesia for whatever is not visual. an iconoscopic retina. Here. which the cinema is above all capable of producing. One cannot listen and look at the same time. directing. pp.9 It is not. by way of the size of the screen and other magnification techniques such as close-up framing. sight. It takes away our ears the way a Valda lozenge takes away our sense of taste. as a purely optical instrument. It is at this point in his argument that Epstein includes his earlier quoted remarks on sight as "the most developed sense" with which we began. . Epstein tellingly places the cinema within a lineage of inventions that 9. in other words. Ibid.. for Epstein. Epstein. the sensibilities of the entire auditorium converge. directed toward the source of emotion by their softer side. This is cyclopean art. Wrapped in darkness. Everything else is barred. If there is a dispute.28 OCTOBER most developed sense" as well as the "intellect" as "visual" functions as an for the "particularly intense" nature of cinematic affect that he explanation wishes to elucidate. toward the film. acts on. intensifies. 11. p.. augments visual perception by producing an exclusively optical experience in which the spectator's attention is focused totally in and through the eye. 10. ranged in cell-like seats.. . a unisensual art. excluded. he reflects on its implications for the spectator's cognitive relation to the phenomenal world as opposed to her purely emotive reaction to events and objects on the screen. Cinematic "feeling" or "emotion" is so "intense" because cinema. for Epstein as for other modernist film theorists such as Brakhage. All life and attention are in the eye. and heightens what is already the spectator's pre-given visual nature. remains consistent throughout his writings.. The cinema.10 Cinema. as if in a funnel. Rather. Read in conjunction with the above passage on magnification. 240. as the most developed." It limits and directs the attention. "The close-up. engulfing sight. always wins. "is an intensifying agent because of its size alone.. 240. and the most generally popular sense. In the following passage. harnesses the spectator's most advanced mental and perceptual capacities which are a priori visual. and. cinema intensifies and augments visual perception by capturing. Epstein appeals to broadly familiar ocularcentric notions of visual consciousness and the "nobility" of sight primarily to explain the specificity of cinematic affect."p. however. the most specialized. that the film camera merely replicates or mimics visual perception or visual consciousness. in a sense.."ll The general thesis that cinema augments visual perception..

Thus to consider the cinema as merely a spectacle is to reduce navigation to yachting at Meulan. p. Literary Humanistic Inquiry and the Philosophyof Science (Ithaca: Cornell University Press. for example.13 Again. man augmented the microscopic and telescopic apparatuses with the cinematic apparatus. "Beauty in the Cinema. A History/Anthology. 1992). "Photogenie Company. 16. this cognitive power was located in the new apparatus of the camera and. is a scientific tool of enlightenment. the cinema. add to and improve upon the spectator's sensory knowledge of the world: And needing to do more than see." See Paisley Livingston. Knowledge: 16-29."15 Furthermore. 64. Volume 1929-1939. Annette Michelson. ed. Indeed. p..12 Here.. to borrow Abel's words. Richard Abel. by Vertov and Eisenstein during the period of the elaboration in the Soviet Union of montage theory. Epstein. Annette Michelson argues that this fascination with cinema "asa new and powerful cognitive instrument" is truly international in its reach during the 1920s.. "The Cinema Continues. Epstein is certainly not alone in making this claim for the epistemological powers of the film camera. penetrating and revealing the phenomenal world in new ways. Epstein's comparison between the film camera and scientific devices such as the telescope can be understood as part of the general attempt within modernism to legitimize art as a "form of knowing.Jean Epstein's Cinema of Immanence 29 includes the telescope and microscope. Matthew Teitelbaum (Cambridge: MIT Press. 1988). Nothing could be more different from the discourse of antiocularcentrism and its challenge to the "nobility" of sight that according to Jay is gaining momentum in France at the precise moment Epstein is writing. For French writings on the cinema. by extension. pp." in ibid." in French Film Theory and Criticism. FrenchFilm Theory. 62. 14. like other visual devices. . the arguments we find in recent histories of technology about the invention of cinema are diametrically opposed to Epstein's thesis of a union between human 12. "The Wings of Hypothesis: On Montage and the Theory of the Interval. The cinema is a particular form of knowing. which becomes. therefore. Richard Abel points out that French film theorists in general at this time share a preoccupation. p.16 For these filmmakers and theorists in general. Louis Delluc. 137. shared. a cognitive tool or instrument. It is worth pausing to indicate the sheer extent to which this discourse diverges from Epstein's understanding of the cinema's impact upon sensory knowledge. with "the power of representation as a means to knowledge."in Abel.. among others. creating something other than the eye. ed."14 Louis Delluc. 1988). like its predecessors. writes in 1917 that "The cinema will make us all comprehend the things of this world as well as force us to recognize ourselves." equal or superior in status to "scientific forms of knowing. 107. II: 13." in Montageand ModernLife 1919-1942. in that it represents the world in its continuous mobility. the projector and screen. by augmenting visual perception. visual devices that. Richard Abel (Princeton: Princeton University Press. a superior sensory knowledge of the phenomenal world is enabled by the film camera. and 15.p.

susceptible itself an object of knowledge. Ibid.18 Rather. Rather. for example. Stephen Kern. is that vision becomes increasingly opaque. and literature. it is worth noting that it also seems to differ markedly from the project and aspirations of the radical avant-garde that are coming to fruition in France during the 1920s as Epstein is writing. . pp. Jonathan Crary. p. 20. 70. Stephen Kern. 18. However. thereby intensifying the antiocularcentric assault on the cognitive power of sight.. Jonathan Crary explicitly challenges the argument that cinema. This transformation renders obsolete the "perspectivalist"model of visual perception and consciousness hitherto guaranteed by the analogy between visual perception and the camera obscura.. becomes The eye is now the victim of technology. its authority as a source of knowledge about the external world irrevocably undermined: "There is an irreversible clouding over of the transparency of the subject-as-observer. pp. for Crary both inventions are the product of an epistemological transformation in the early nineteenth century in which visual perception is newly conceptualized as the productof an observer's subjective mental and physiological capabilities. The Cultureof Time and Space 1880-1918 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 142-43. as in Jay. like photography. is part of a "continuous unfolding of a Renaissance-based mode of vision" grounded in the "perspectival space" of the camera obscura. rather than a privileged form of knowing."19 in its productivity to "techniques" of manipulation and deception by a burgeoning industry of visual machines and entertainments that will later include the cinema. 19. an abstraction that is apparently culminating in the "ubiquitous implantation of fabricated visual 'spaces"' by new technologies in recent years. this time as it is instantiated within the autonomy aesthetic of 17. central to her account is the rejection of a particular model of vision. 1983).30 OCTOBER being and machine in the form of augmented cinematic vision and cognition. therefore. These aspirations have recently been theorized by Rosalind Krauss.17 Similarly. cinema participates in the gradual sundering of visual perception from any direct correspondence with a referential world. Again. painting." "universal and homogeneous space" at the turn of the century. Vision. Techniquesof the Observer:On Vision and Modernity in the Nineteenth Century (Cambridge: MIT Press. 1-3. For these histories. 1992). 4. to the relativist "proliferation of perspectives" that according to Kern occurs in different ways within physics. suggests that the cinema's ability to "manipulate space in many ways" plays a crucial role in the general breakdown of "uniform. philosophy. The result. for Crary. 147-48. Crary thus locates the cinema firmly within the logic of a "relentless abstraction of the visual" from the referential world. cinema certainly does not extend the capacities of the eye and enable human beings to achieve new and penetrating cognitive insights into the phenomenal world. p.20 Epstein's celebration of the cognitive power of the cinema obviously contrasts dramatically with these histories of vision and technology. It contributes. Ibid.

we are faced with a question." "complete and of absolute "presence" to self and representation. p. writes of "the foundations of modernism [as] mined by a thousand pockets of darkness. Rosalind E. The practices that Krauss analyzes and claims for this counterhistory take the form of an anti-aesthetic of desublimation in which the fundamental. Thus." writes Krauss. Krauss. The OpticalUnconscious (Cambridge: MIT Press. pp. Not only do Epstein's pronouncements seem to defy the logic of Crary's general abstraction of vision from a referential world and the consequent undermining of vision and visual consciousness as a source of reliable knowledge about the external world. desire." that Krauss then traces is one that works "against the grain" of "counterhistory" this visual model from within.23 These practices attempt to negate the visual model of modernist abstraction by inscribing temporality. pp. of time. Ibid."21 As such. and the compulsive. and Epstein's faith in the optical and cognitive powers of the cinema therefore seems to confront us with two historically contemporaneous yet radically incommensurable conceptions of vision and the cinema. The components of this model of vision are by now familiar to us from the pivotal figure of the disembodied eye. irrational space of the labyrinth" (ibid. . Krauss. 21). 15. with its roots in Juxtaposing Descartes's skeptical rejection of sensory knowledge. Descartes's own celebration of Epstein and others-a 21. libidinal body into perception. We must ask whether or not the abundant faith placed in the cinema as a new cognitive instrument by faith that mirrors." Here again are the two ocularcentric topoi of temporal instantaneity and spatial presence-of "pure immediacy. 22. invoking Bataille. Ibid. Modernist abstraction. interminable visual opacity and blindness of the corporeal eye that constitutes the sublimated ground of ocularcentrism re-emerges. a kind of cogito of vision. but his film theory also seems to be at odds with the most radical movements and elements within the French avant-garde as theorized by Krauss. It is the axis of a redoubled vision: of a seeing and a knowing that one sees. occupying a structural relation to modernist abstraction that is analogous to the relation of the unconscious to consciousness. 82-88. argues Krauss. the blind." This is "a rupture in the field of vision" that is the very condition for transparency. 23. vision. structuring absence or "blind spot.22 The self-enclosure. 1993). aims for "a higher. pp.Jean Epstein 's Cinema of Immanence 31 modernist abstract painting. more formal order of vision" in which the very "structure of the visual field" is captured in the act of vision as cognition. 20. of repetition.. she reads Max Ernst's collages and readymades as challenging the transparency and synchrony of modernist abstraction through the inscription of a fundamental. 24."24 the visual opacity of antiocularcentrism. Thus. 19. "The optical unconscious will claim for itself this dimension of opacity. "a point in the optical system where what is thought to be visible will never appear. after all. and knowledge.. 19. "of vision in its reflexive form: the terms not just of seeing but of consciousness accounting for the fact of its seeing.. "the place of the Viewer" within this visual model becomes that of the "transcendental ego" in which "everything material falls away.

skeptical eye of antiocularcentrism. The movability of the camera seems to fulfill the most favorable conditions for the manifestation of the "transcendental subject". blind. no. 43. 2 (Winter 1974-75). and signification-of the disembodied eye of ocularcentrism has in many ways been the most powerful motor behind the last twenty-fiveyears of Anglo-American film theory.26 However. Jean-Louis Baudry. this theoretical trajectory has to a large extent dissipated under the weight of internal and external challenges. an unsympathetic (and devastating) challenge can Film Theory (New York: be found in Noel Carroll. 1988). by the laws of matter and time. Rodowick. thereby opening up a very different perspective? II The question of the cinematic instantiation-on the levels of ontology. foundationalist eye of ocularcentrism and the corporeal. his theory of the visual and cognitive powers of cinema-merely an instantiation of an outmoded "perspectivalist" or "Cartesian scopic regime" that has been attacked and denigrated by the discourse of antiocularcentrism in its various guises? Is Epstein's theory of the cinema's augmentation of vision and cognition simply part of a modernist paradigm that has receded into the past and is now irrelevant to us? Or is it something other. "Ideological Effects of the Basic Cinematographic Apparatus. . as Annette Michelson 25. An example of a sympathetic challenge to this tradition of contemporary film theory can be 26. generating a widespread theoretical investigation into the ideological and psychic effects on the spectator of her exposure to the camera as "transcendental subject. Jean-Louis Baudry.32 OCTOBER "inventions which serve to increase [the eye's] power [as] the most useful there can be" in the opening sentences of La Dioptrique-is simply a re-emergence or perpetuation of an increasingly anachronistic model of visual perception and consciousness that is simultaneously and obsessively being challenged by the most advanced currents within intellectual and artistic modernism. p. 1988). a conceptualization of cinematic vision and epistemology that somehow sidesteps the opposition between the disembodied. Film found in David N. In Baudry. is indeed argued that there is a fundait mental homology between this disembodied eye and the film camera." Film Quarterly 28. In the seminal work of Christian Metz.25 Baudry'sargument has proved to be highly influential for contemporary film theory. we find the clearest statement of this argument in its ontological variant: And if the eye which moves is no longer fettered by a body. and the writers grouped around the journal Screen. narrative. MystifyingMovies:Fads and Fallaciesin Contemporary Columbia University Press. transparent. Is Epstein's cinematic epistemology-namely. if there are no more assignable limits to its displacement-conditions fulfilled by the possibilities of shooting and of film-the world will not only be constituted by this eye but for it." In recent years. The Crisis of PoliticalModernism:Criticismand Ideologyin Contemporary Theory(Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

113-14. as Michelson points out. pp. As Michelson demonstrates. the independent aims to give rise to a "cognitive viewer" in place of the "hallucinated Michelson. cinema of the late 1960s in general. However." And it is in La Region Centrale (1971) that Snow. according to Moreover. p.Jean Epstein 's Cinema of Immanence 33 has shown. as well as a conception of the cinema as a cognitive instrument that is not wholly unrelated to Epstein's. Snow's work. 29. 114. Snow's theory and practice. 121-23." Michelson's analysis of Snow's theory and practice therefore reveals the same insistence on the primacy of vision that we have located in Epstein's film theory. and especially in the film theory and practice of Michael Snow. the analytic film practice of Snow and others continues to share with its predecessor "an insistence on the primacy of vision" in spite of the pronounced shift from a "gaze of fascination" to one of "analytic inspection."28 This is enacted by way of the film's uniquely varied and multiple hyperbolization camera movements. viewer" of the preceding period of romantic expressionism. Annette Michelson. specifically cinematic vivacity." October (Spring 1979). critically perpetuates "the idealist primacy of vision" and the "status" of the viewer as "transcendental subject. "transcendental" eye of ocularcentrism can be located in the American independent cinema of the 1960s and early 1970s. However. in a film "eye-subject. to use Baudry's words.." As such. during a period of euphoria about space travel in general and the first ever "moon walk. Epstein's description of the spectator's phenomenal experience of cinema differs in several important and revealing respects from the production of the spectator as "transcendental of Snow. the subject" in the practice following passage: the world Through the window of a train or a ship's porthole. magnificently "extends and intensifies the traditional concept of vision as the sense through which we know and master the universe. Consider.. according to Michelson. 8 Ibid. executed in an empty landscape. which instantiate the idealized "mobility" of the "transcendental" However."27 is one that conceives of the cinema as a cognitive or analytic tool. Metzian identification transcends the limitations of the body and. albeit in a somewhat different way from Epstein and his generation. despite these similarities. a new. located as it is within the context of Minimalism and its "systematic exploration of the modalities of perception. 28. "About Snow. through hyperbolization. ." it is ultimately the extremity of the deprivation of any "source or medium of corporeal grounding and identification"29 that truly fulfills the conditions of disembodiment. a sustained preoccupation with the cinematic inscription of the disembodied. 122. This deprivation enforces for the with the camera that in its boundless spectator a pure. A road is a road but acquires 27. Ibid. and most importantly. pp. exemplified by the practice of Brakhage. for example. "the mobility laws of matter and time." made.

The fair below and its surroundings would be progressively confounded. or more modern still. stimulation.resistance. however. for example."31Such a striking characterization of spectatorship. Seasickness is decidedly pleasant. hits against their vaults. the state of being acted on by physical forces unleashed by camera mobility. the tragedy would increase its photogenic quality ten-fold.34 OCTOBER the ground which flees under the four beating hearts of an automobile's belly transports me. "Magnification. the intense pleasures of this experience with bodily penetration and need."p. Epstein the effects of camera mobility on the spectator are unambiguously located in the corporeal density of the spectator's "Seasickness. He often equates. airplane. is generated by the mobility and freedom for of Snow's camera in La Region Centrale. all of which describe the powerful effects of the action of forces on the body of the spectator as a result of the extremes of cinematic mobility.30 Here. and my head. 240." More significant for our purposes. In direct contrast to the "euphoria" of the disembodied. is Epstein's general argument concerning the cinematic extension of vision and cognition within which these 30. overwhelmingly physical nature of the sensations described in the above passage is a central component of his prototypical spectator's perceptual experience of the cinema. 236. Centrifuged in this way." and "vertigo" are some of the terms used to body. Epstein is attempting to envisage the precise nature of the spectator's experience of new forms of perception enabled by the mobility of the camera when placed in or on a modern machine such as an automobile. I'm on board the plummeting airplane. pp. and." and the "extremely pleasant intellectual state" attained during viewing with "a sort of need.. on airplanes. "weightless state" that. camera mobility seems to be able to reproduce for Epstein both the actual physical forces that act on fast-moving bodies as well as their visceral impact. or merry-go-round. The Oberland and Semmering tunnels swallow me up. I yearn for a drama aboard a merry-go-round. This is very different from Baudry'sor Snow's disembodied "eye-subject"transcending "the laws of matter and time. Epstein. as Michelson has shown." "centrifuged. and adding vertigo and rotation to it. . and other laws." is diametrically opposite to the disembodied transcendence of the physical world and body that is the central figure ofJay's "Cartesianscopic regime. thus conveying a sense of weightedphysical movement in space that is firmly subject to gravity. more generally. Ibid. Indeed. the strong. like tobacco or coffee. 31. specify the spectator's sensations. with its emphasis on physical need. My knees bend. bursting through the roof. comparing the affect ("intermittent paroxysms") of close-ups with "needles. 237." Throughout Epstein's writings. This area remains to be exploited. pulling and pushing the body as "projectile.

is a profoundly "intimate"one. the logical form of this cinematic epistemology. perpetuating and intensifying the familiar tradition of ocularcentrism. It is in me like a sacrament. Although often inconsistent. I would suggest.. I would argue. If I stretch out my arm I touch you. If. p. In other words. in in contrast to a cinema of transcendence. and often contradictory statements which together gradually reveal a logical form at work within Epstein's cinematic epistemology. It's not even true that there is air between us. Rather.32 The sensuous proximity to the world that is being articulated here contrasts sharply with the metaphors of "distance" and "autonomy" that are standardly employed to describe the disembodied viewpoint of the "Cartesian perspectivalist gaze. the logical form of Epstein's cinematic epistemology that differs most profoundly from the "Cartesian"visual model of 32. for a theorist like Baudry. Maximum visual acuity. the cinema reproduces for the spectator the conditions of disembodied "transcendental subjectivity" above and beyond the physical world of matter and time. Ibid. . then for Epstein. the cinema gives rise instead to a spectator who is embedded the world and its material laws. "and see his hand reach out from under me as if it were my own. I would argue. I can count the eyelashes of this suffering. Pain is within reach. But it is ultimately." Epstein's valorization of the cinema's ability to induce a corporeal intimacy with the world reaches its apotheosis in his call for a form of subjective camera movement that places the spectator within the very body of a fictional character."33 Note that the emphasis here is resolutely on physical incarnation. Epstein attempts to propose and envisage for us a cinema of immanence. Never before has a face turned to mine in that way. and not simply on the camera's assumption of a character's cognitive or emotive viewpoint.Jean Epstein 's Cinema of Immanence 35 remarks about the corporeal effects on the spectator are located. and as such he consistently likens it to the intimacy of bodily contact and ingestion: The close-up modifies the drama by the impact of proximity. I consume it. it emerges within scattered. This relation. he argues. and that is intimacy. I would be able to taste the tears. This argument is nowhere explicitly and logically formulated. Ibid. Ever closer it presses against me. 239. obscure. differs from the visual model of ocularcentrism and its figure of the disembodied eye. Consistent with this conception of a cinema of immanence is the extended analogy Epstein most often draws on to describe the perceptual relation between the spectator and the phenomenal world that is established by the film camera." Epstein fantasizes at one point in a passage that again remarkably echoes Brakhage. "Iwould like to look through his eyes. 33. interruptions of opaque film would imitate the blinking of our eyelids. and I follow it face to face.

does Epstein mean by "soul"?What precisely is revealed to the spectator's bodily eye by the film camera? III Epstein's answer to this question is predictably multifarious. The most prominent of these entities is time. he follows other film theorists of his generation in arguing that it is the essential "mobility"of the world that is revealed by the camera. Unlike human beings whose experience of time is a perpetual missed encounter with the present. what is revealed by the camera to the spectator is something he calls the "soul" of the world. what never was or could have been. For Epstein." FrenchFilm Theory. According to Epstein. therefore. a careful investigation into this cinematic epistemology is required. For at first sight. can see through eyes equally intoxicated by alcohol.36 OCTOBER Jay's ocularcentrism. love. Epstein insists that it is the "soul"of the "world"that is laid bare for the spectator's corporeal eye. feelings in their secret guise. When considered together. he suggests that the cinema gives rise to a perceptual experience of the fundamental formlessness and "chaos" of the universe. in a word. in I. joy. In order to demonstrate this. they gradually reveal a logical form at work in his cinematic epistemology that provides the conceptual foundation for his claim that the cinema reveals the "soul"of the "world"to the spectator. through lenses of all tempers. Epstein also claims that the cinema allows for the possibility of controlling time in a radically new way. full of sweeping metaphysical claims. and difficult to pin down conceptually. in discussing the transformation of "the face of the world" effected by the film camera. cinema allows the spectator to perceptually experience events unfolding in time. In tandem with these general claims. Sometimes. and woe. since we can see the clear thread of thoughts and dreams. what might or should have been. the startling face of love and beauty.Volume p. Epstein returns to these entities again and again throughout the course of his film theory. however. a "soul" that is standardly hidden to the naked. "On Certain Characteristics of Photogenie.34 Here. contradictory. though. . the cinema is an instrument that can capture and therefore manipulate time: 34. What. Elsewhere. Epstein's epistemology-his theory of the film camera as a cognitive instrument that reveals the phenomenal world anew to the spectator-appears highly mystical. for example. More importantly. the fifteen hundred million who inhabit it. Epstein also isolates specific entities that are revealed to the spectator's bodily eye by the camera. a "chaos"that is spuriously masked by rational knowledge. corporeal eye: The face of the world may seem changed since we. the soul. hate and tenderness. 318. what was. and this is a claim that occurs repeatedly throughout his film theory. Epstein.

and the moment before landing.. the hesitation. p. Michelson (London: Pluto Press. is the production of a pregnant moment of presence that punctuates and interrupts the standard. and always will be from one midnight to the next. colliding with a possibly distant tomorrow. The cinema is the only art capable of depicting this present as it is. 236." "hesitation. today is a yesterday. . See Annette Michelson. Epstein. the piano being tuned before the overture. the becoming. the camera . or."p. the linear organization of time into the discrete dimensions of past. I think. and Dziga Vertov. experiments. thus schematizing processes of long duration inaccessible to the normal eye." or "becoming. in contrary fashion. to congeal it in a moment of presence. the recoil before the leap. rendering it palpable and latent within the image as a sensuous entity available to the spectator's gaze of inspection. for Epstein. The present is merely an encounter. 37. its ability to distend. who also argues that the cinema allows for an unprecedented control over time: "The mechanical eye. the present is merely this instantaneous and perpetual sloughing. linear flow of time. for Epstein. dissect." ibid. introduction to Kino-Eye." And the result of this sensuous latency of time.Jean Epstein 's Cinema of Immanence 37 The fact is that there is no real present. 35. and even more than all these. in making this claim. "Artof Incidence. During such moments of presence. p. therefore I was. Dziga Vertov. dissecting movement. I must interrupt. 19. I love the mouth which is about to speak and holds back. distending time. xliii-vi.35 Only the cinema. The future "I"is shed as "I"past. "The Council of Three. 413 (emphasis added). In the flow of time it is an exception to time. the taut spring. It eludes the chronometer. strictly speaking the present is no longer there. 1984). 36. . You look at your watch. the gesture which hesitates between right and left. or swallow time and movement. the prelude. The Writings of Dziga Vertov. absorbing time within itself. something that she can directly see congealed in the image in the latent form of a "recoil. time is something that becomes directly visible to the spectator. swallowing years."36 Vertov emphasizes the analytical power of the camera's control over time. Epstein's film theory. continuous. Epstein." in Kino-Eye. In the following passage Epstein valorizes the close-up precisely because it arrests the flow of time and holds it in abeyance as pure potential: Even more beautiful than a laugh is the face preparing for it. and strictly speaking it is there again. The present is an uneasy convention. "Magnification. however. pp. persistently points to the cinema's synthetic ability to halt or stop time.37 Here. perhaps already old. can capture the pure immediacy of time in the present tense.ed. As Annette Michelson has perceptual experience pointed out. Epstein. the "now" that is always missed during the spectator's standard of the phenomenal world. bears a remarkable similarity to his contemporary in the Soviet Union. .

39. A man says.. 413. palpable form. allowing his interior passions to issue forth and saturate the surface details of his face. 238. Epstein's specific variant of this argument is unique because he extends it beyond the realm of the human face and body into the realm of inanimate. and future is replaced by a fecund moment pregnant with time in which past and future collapse or coalesce into the present. p. this argument is also made by other film theorists during this period." in FrenchFilm Theory."38Hence." p. "There have never been stories. . the cinema enables the spectator to seeemotion: The close-up is drama in high gear.. with its linear flow of time from past to future. "crystallizing"it in a sensuous. I can see love. thereby producing a physiognomic knowledge. Past and future in effect become visibleto the spectator within the pure "now"of the present captured by the camera: "Fragments from several pasts take root in a single present. swells the masseters. and should therefore be rejected in favor of a "new dramaturgy" which he names an "art of incidences" or "situations. For Epstein.. no right side or wrong side. However. for Epstein. not only does the camera reveal the interior life of human beings. The second such entity that Epstein consistently points to is emotion. without beginning. a hystophysiology of the passions. Epstein argues that narrative. The character's exteriority is punctured by the camera. It half lowers its eyelids. "The Senses I (b). I.. they can be looked at from all directions. hardens the tuft of the chin." Here the verbal gearing down is suppressed. "I love the faraway princess. Because of this capacity."he claims. right becomes left."p.38 OCTOBER present. The future erupts through the memories. Ibid. It also makes visible the interior life of objects: 38. they are present. 40. material objects. 239. Epstein. For Epstein. 242. Epstein."39Thus. inscribes itself on the taut forehead. raises the arc of the eyebrows laterally. Epstein argues that emotion is manifested on a character's face when filmed in close-up. time is a specific entity that the camera is capable of revealing to the spectator's bodily eye. Epstein envisages the use of the camera as an analytical tool that will reveal to prospective lovers the true nature of their partner's intentions: "Possibilities are already appearing for the drama of the microscope. Young girls will consult them instead of the fortune teller. is antithetical to the true nature of cinematic temporality.""There are no stories. a classification of the amorous sentiments . without limits in past or future."41 Epstein therefore sees the camera as an instrument for making visible the interior life of human beings that is standardly hidden to the naked eye behind the flesh and bone of the body. Now. or end.Volume p. middle. 41.40 Here. "Artof Incidence. including Vertov and Bela Balazs. There are only situations. flickers on the mouth and at the edge of the nostrils. "Magnification. Epstein. having neither head nor tail.

1923. .Jean Epstein's Cinema of Immanence 39 Jean Epstein.Cour Fidele.

their heredity made evident." Indeed. in other words the impulse towards or remorse for crime. 44." 317. taciturn as passion. The family seemed to me like 42. 43. just as time is congealed within the pregnant moment of the "situation. their past become unforgettable. It is as dark as the temptations of the night. bright as the gleam of gold lusted after. In Epstein's film The Fall of the House of Usher (1928).44 Thus emotion. It is rendered present and palpable within the material qualities of the revolver itself. "On Certain Characteristics of Photogenie. It therefore also becomes directly visible to the corporeal eye of the spectator. it is the revolvercharacter. Epstein. "The Senses I (b). It threatens all the faces. . However. Ibid. p.42 Here. Time and emotion are the two major entities revealed by the camera to which Epstein's film theory returns again and again. the capacity of cinema to charge environments with a heightened emotional vivacity is wonderfully exploited to its fullest. so great is the power of the camera to reveal the "personality" of objects for Epstein that it can charge an entire environment with a palpable and almost overwhelming emotional vivacity: True tragedy remains in abeyance. The dust is treacherous. The cigar smoke is poised menacingly over the ashtray's throat. namely "family resemblance": and From oldest ancestor to youngest child. squat. habits." Epstein refers to the emotional life of objects revealed by the camera as the "personality" of the object. The carpet emits venomous arabesques and the arms of the chair tremble. a soul. and Epstein therefore labels the cinema "animistic. failure. there is a third that Epstein only occasionally mentions.40 OCTOBER And a close-up of a revolver is no longer a revolver. menacing. memories. and he argues that. all the resemblances differences delineated a single character. 242. Each drop of ink can make it bloom on the tip of the fountain pen. Epstein. It has a temperament. brutal. heavy. It is in the curtain at the window and the handle of the door. The revelation of their latent emotional potential as a sensuous substance confers on them "life" and presence. "personality" is made directly visible to the spectator's bodily eye: "Personality is the spirit visible in things and people. The whole room is saturated with every kind of drama. cold." p. wary. like time. is an entity that becomes physically incarnated within the people and objects represented by the cinematic image. like time. a will. In the glass of water it dissolves."43 The result of this unmasking of "personality" is that objects seem to come alive for the spectator. their future already present. the emotion associated with guns and crime is captured by the camera and transformed into a sensuous substance that inheres or subsists within the revolver. suicide.

neither in what they had been..45 Here. proved necessary to its equilibrium. However. Fallof the House of Usher. Epstein characterizes the "single character" or "unity" of the family as a distinct synthetic entity that inheres in each family member and that reveals itself through the resemblances between them.Jean Epstein 's Cinema of Immanence 41 The JeanEpstein." p. an individual whose dissimilar members never disrupted the sense of unity and. Not a single person in the assembled group seemed to me free. and future bodies. according to its singular character. "Photogenie the Imponderable. which answered me with its singular voice. on the contrary. nor in what they were.. it is only the cinema that 45. And what issued from the mouth of one or another was the family. nor in what they would be. 191.. . and Epstein. present. with its set way of thinking and which carried on across many past. 1928.

. they may nevertheless point toward a consistent logical form at work within Epstein's cinematic epistemology. given a sensuous. of the cinema as a revelation of the "soul" of the "world" to the spectator. emotion. it will have been able to capture the startling and instructive appearances of this familial monster." one that is granted by the cinema an immanent presence in the faces. bodies. If the cinema does have the power to reveal through embodiment the immaterial entities of time. landscapes." like "spirit." refers to an immaterial substance or entity. time. his cinematic epistemology undoubtedly continues to appear mystical. This logical form may be described in the following way: quite simply. emotion. The argument that immaterial entities such as time. Many other concepts await their personification through cinematography. diseases. and events that populate the phenomenal world as it is captured within the cinematic image. objects. environments. due to the unique powers of the camera. the affectations of the mind. is therefore an entity that can be revealed by the camera and "personified" in a sensuous form within the cinematic image for the spectator to see. now clearer what Epstein means by his claim that the "soul" of the "world" is revealed to the spectator by the film camera. palpable incarnation within the people.42 OCTOBER actually has the power to "capture" this strange entity. IV Even though it is. and events depicted by the cinematic image. emotion. seem somewhat curious companions when placed alongside each other. objects. and family resemblanceAlthough these three entities-time. emotion. and events depicted by the cinematic image. like time and emotion. Epstein's theory of cinema as a cognitive tool is therefore founded upon a logic of embodiment.. According to this logic. and family resemblance become embodied and visible within the cinematic image due to the power of the camera 46. each is an immaterial entity that is. and family resemblance. perhaps. Ibid. and family resemblance are immaterial entities that are cognized by the spectator because she can see them with her corporeal eye. objects.46 Family resemblance. power For the word "soul. according to Epstein. then it is indeed appropriate to claim that these entities constitute a "soul. Having located this logic of embodiment at the core of Epstein's cinematic it now appears obvious why Epstein characterizes the cognitive epistemology. . And she is able to do so because these entities enter into and become embodied within the people. among the closest are heredity. to abstract it from the individual members of the family and preserve it as a separate entity in its own right through the accumulation of images of the family across time: Once cinematography will have reached the century mark of its existence .

On the one hand. see Paul Willemen. p. A drawing of the picture puzzle prior to the dawning of the aspect will be identical to a drawing of the puzzle once the aspect has dawned. they are usually simply viewed as grist for the mill of a psychological (usually psychoanalytical) explanation. The beholder is. For an example of this type of argument. "Photogenie and Epstein. Anscombe (Oxford: Blackwell. unable to do so.-My visual impression has changed. Wittgenstein elucidates this paradox by asking the beholder who has experienced aspect-dawning to represent the difference between her old and new perception of the picture puzzle using a drawing. Yet. the words the beholder uses to describe the experience of aspect-dawning-words such as "see"and "object"seem to indicate that this is precisely what has happened. Epstein's film theory as a whole is usually dismissed from a theoretical and scientific perspective Epstein's theoretical claims are considered at all.and Film Style (New York:Arno Press. see David Bordwell. Nothing is physically added to or taken away from the "picture puzzle" to change its appearance. in the same way that the material properties of an object can be. however." For Wittgenstein. 49. M. 196. there is a paradox in the beholder's use of the verb "to see" to describe this curious visual experience. and who rejects any psychological or theoretical explanation of the beholder's putative ability to do so. The aspect belongs to a different dimension of visual experience than material properties such as color and shape. we are introduced to the ambiguous and mysterious concept of the aspect. 1994). that indeed the image does seem to have changed materially in front of the beholder's eyes during this experience. Ludwig Wittgenstein. The beholder now seems to see it differently.47 If . Hereafter cited in the text as PI. rational." Although the duck-rabbitis the most famous example of this experience. 48. On the one hand. G. It therefore seems to be something invisible. Indeed. of course. which can be pointed to. scientific theories of the image and vision. 1980). there were branches there."49For Wittgenstein. now there is a human shape. a philosopher who takes seriously the claim that a seemingly immaterial entity can be seen in an image. and described with ease." in Looks and Frictions: Essays in CulturalStudiesand Film Theory(London: BFI. the aspect of "the human shape" in the picture puzzle cannot be pointed to or represented directly using an image or verbal description of it. For an example of this type of argument. 1968). FrenchImpressionist Cinema:Film Film Theory. some47. the beholder's claim to be able to directly see an aspect in an image arises most clearly and unambiguously during a unique visual experience that he calls "aspect-dawning. on the other. immaterial or abstract. as a form of mystical idealism. Culture. My visual impression has changed and now I recognize that it has not only shape and color but also a quite particular 'organization'.trans. the image remains materially unchanged in this and all other examples of aspect-dawning.Jean Epstein's Cinema of Immanence 43 appears highly superstitious.48 There is. and he calls this immaterial entity an "aspect. PhilosophicalInvestigations. copied. Before. Wittgenstein provides us with many others: "I suddenly see the solution of a picture puzzle. Thus. This philosopher is Wittgenstein. an outrage to our modern. E. as if something had been added to it.

becoming materially incarnated in the image or object during the visual experience of aspect-dawning. a person who cannot see aspects. "Friendliness. p. Wittgenstein's investigation For our purposes. beyond the vague suggestion that it is a type of "organization. even though we cannot in fact point to it or represent it. it can be captured by an image: "The one man might make an accurate drawing of the two faces. the "likeness" between two faces is an aspect because it is directly seen by the beholder even though it is not a material property of the faces in question. however. however. but which cannot be described in terms of the material or spatial properties of the smile in question: "And this materialization is something spatial and it must be possible to describe it in purely spatial terms. It seems to presence itself." It is this strange ambiguity of an entity that is both present and absent. the concept of friendliness. p. The aspect is something that we appear to experience visually on a sensuous." For Wittgenstein.44 OCTOBER thing beyond the perception of material properties and entities. p. 193). Yet. An aspect is always something that Wittgenstein describes as . that prompts into the curious experience of aspect-dawning. Wittgenstein does not go so far as to argue that time is an entity that can be seen directly during aspect-dawning. For Wittgenstein extends his concept of aspect-dawning beyond the mere perceptual recognition of objects within an image to include some of the same entities that Epstein singles out in his film theory." for instance. has no place in an account of it. and the other notice in the drawing the likeness which the former did not see" (PI. Indeed. familiar to us from Epstein's "family resemblance" argument: "I contemplate a face. and then suddenly notice its likeness to another. and yet I see it differently" (PI. Like "the human shape" in the picture puzzle. he does describe the visual experience of aspect-dawning in general as one in which the beholder's experience of time is of cinematic in a manner very similar to Epstein's descriptions reconfigured temporality during a "situation. I see that it has not changed. aspect-dawning is always an interruption or rupture within the beholder's standard experience of time as a continuous flow. as Wittgenstein makes clear. visible and invisible. For Wittgenstein. there is also a substantive similarity between aspect-dawning and Epstein's film theory. on the other. who is "aspect-blind. the visual experience of aspect-dawning highlighted by Wittgenstein possesses the same logical form as Epstein's cinematic epistemology. but is foreign to such an account (even though it may subserve it)" (PI. however. an immaterial entity seemingly enters into the image in question and is seen directly by the beholder. In both. is an emotion that a beholder can see in a smile." is someone who cannot directly see an emotion manifested in another person's face. For instance (if it is a face) it can smile. be pointed to or copied using a drawing of the faces in question although. material and immaterial. Similarly. Wittgenstein's very first example of an aspect is the resemblance between two faces. 199). therefore. More remarkably. It cannot. perceptual level. emotion is an entity that Wittgenstein repeatedly points to as an example of an aspect. 193). the aspect nevertheless appears to be materially present within the image or object.

Jean Epstein 's Cinema of Immanence 45 "flashing" upon the beholder. the beholder becomes aware of the image or object's during aspect-dawning." It need not always do so. is the dawning of knowledge in the beholder. Thus. What. "'I observed the likeness between him and his father for a few minutes. 205] Here. The logical and substantive similarities between Epstein's film theory and extend even further. "which is also a report of what is seen. p. "but what I perceive in the dawning of an aspect is not a property of the object. cognizing a new "property" or attribute of the object. Wittgenstein says. however.) [PI. once the aspect has dawned. . and it is for this reason that the aspect is not akin to material concepts such as shape or color. Furthermore. for Wittgenstein. In aspect-dawning. The duck-rabbit.'-One might say this if his face were changing and only looked like his father's for a short lime. erupting "suddenly" into her consciousness. Aspect-dawning is not the cognition of a material property." so often used by Epstein. Central to both their accounts is knowledge and cognition. is it precisely that is recognized and seen by the beholder during aspect-dawning? In what is perhaps his clearest definition of the aspect. 212). What essentially constitutes the occurrent visual experience of aspect-dawning. Aspect-dawning is the experience of a cognition. p. Wittgenstein is using the language of "animism" to articulate precisely the type of visual experience of a picture that Epstein argues is characteristic of the spectator's visual experience of the cinematic image. to describe a certain type of aspect-dawning experienced by the beholder while looking at a picture. Rather. "The very expression. According to this a picture may at times seem to possess a certain presence. namely a recognition. Wittgenstein also employs the language of "animism. therefore. but an internal relation between it and other objects" (PI. as if it had description. the visual experience of aspect-dawning is a sudden moment of recognition in which the image or object of the beholder's sight but familiar light. 198). whenever my glance lights on it. When the beholder recognizes an object under a new aspect. "Her picture smiles down on me from the wall. the emerges for her in an unexpected beholder unexpectedly recognizes or alights upon a different way of seeing the image or object in question. is here a cry of recognition" (PI. For Wittgenstein's concept of aspect-dawning also provides an articulation of the grammar of this visual experience that Epstein anticipates Wittgenstein's own attempt to render the experience of aspect-dawning intelligible to his reader. But it is the experience of a special type of cognition. and then no longer. Finally. come alive and was looking at the beholder: I might say: a picture does not always live for me while I am seeing it. however. it arrests the flow of time by occupying the beholder intensely for a pregnant moment which then fades. One asks oneself: how can the eye-this dot-be it is looking in a direction?-"See. looking!" (And one "looks" oneself as one says this. p. she is not. 210)." says Wittgenstein about the beholder's response to the duck-rabbit. But it can also mean that after a few minutes I stopped being struck by the likeness" (PI. p.

as if it were alive. Instead. a new attitude of familiarity that arises upon the basis of the sensuous recognition of a new "internal relation" within which the image or object can be seen. the most important characteristic of aspect-dawning is that the recognition of the "internal relation" or conceptual field within which an image or object can be seen is not a purely mental event. it does not take place within the mind of the beholder. of the kind of object that it can be seen as. In the case of the picture puzzle. It is because of this lack of mental agency that the dawning of an aspect is always a surprise to the beholder. a conscious experience that arises because the normally instantaneous recognition of the image or object during visual perception has been delayed. It is also for this reason that the beholder ascribes agency to the image or object and speaks of it as if it had changed materially in front of her eyes. corporeal Her recognition of the new "internal relation" takes place within the realm of her sensuous perception of the image or object in question. or brings to the image or object. However.50 If we return to Epstein's film theory. It is something that she does not think of or expect. is a standard form of aesthetic experience with its unique blend of sensuous perception and cognition. It is no accident that Wittgenstein makes various remarks about aesthetic experience while investigating aspect-dawning. she becomes aware of the place of the image or object within a grammar or form of life-an extrinsic conceptual ground or field that she is already familiar with and knows how to find her way around. It is a new way of seeing and taking the image or object.46 OCTOBER "internal relation" with other objects. Aspect-dawning is therefore a recognition of the identity of the image or object in question. it is something that the beholder finds in the image or object using her eye. of alighting upon a new way of seeing or understanding something in a work of art. we find that Epstein provides a very similar articulation of the grammar of the visual experience of embodiment that is at the core of his cinematic epistemology: 50. the image or object looks different to the beholder because of her familiarity with the conceptual field that has dawned. This new "internal relation" or extrinsic conceptual ground is something that emerges and becomes embodied within the image or object in the sensuous. The dawning of an aspect is essentially the dawning of a new way of relating to the image or object on the part of the beholder. the experience of "seeing something new" in a work of art. it is something she finds. The extrinsic conceptual field is not something that the beholder's mind anticipates. In other words. palpable form of the aspect as the beholder's eye alights upon it. For once the new conceptual field emerges within the image or object in question in the sensuous form of the aspect. for example. the sudden dawning of the aspect of "the human shape" consists of the beholder's recognition of a fit between the lines of the picture puzzle and the familiar conceptual field of human shapes. Aspect-dawning is the unexpected recognition of a fit or identity between the image and object in question and an extrinsic conceptual ground or field. The ramifications for aesthetics of Wittgenstein's investigation of aspect-dawning have yet to be fully explored. . supplies. Rather.

" To evaluate Epstein's writings about the cinema using the criteria of science. must possess some object which he holds onto for personal reasons: for some it's a book. like Wittgenstein. Thus. a very banal and somewhat ugly trinket. for someone else. I assume. perhaps. emotional life because they come to embody. a piece of furniture with no value. From the strict perspective of science and theory. and with hyperbole-to articulate the contours of a unique visual experience. namely the emotional and dramatic context of the narrative or "dramatic situation. . we are incapable of seeing them as objects. Epstein. within the objects represented on the screen. pregnant moment of aspect-dawning. an object situated in a dramatic action that is equally photographic in character. to search in them for a theory consisting of a coherent body of causal explanations for the spectator's perceptual and cognitive experience of the cinema. We do not look at them as they really are. Now. To tell the truth. Epstein quite clearly and lucidly argues that objects in the cinematic image appear to have an interior. the spectator can see this context. its human and living expression when reproduced cinematographically. will call "aspect-dawning. Epstein's cinematic epistemology emerges in a new and remarkable light. this form of life. sometimes forever. this cinematic epistemology can be viewed as an imaginative and ingenious attempt to articulate the logical form of a visual and cognitive experience that Wittgenstein. his claim that the cinema reveals the "soul" of the "world" to the spectator can only be condemned as a form of of mystical idealism." For Epstein. some fifteen years following the formative period of Epstein's film theory. with its personal character. 352. I.Jean Epstein 's Cinema of Immanence 47 Each of us. are the memories and emotions. What we see in them.Volume p. But from the perspective Wittgenstein's philosophical grammar. is to miss their lasting value. "Fora New Avant-Garde. reveals anew its moral character. replete 51.51 Here. It is to miss Epstein's attempt-often contradictory and frustrating. deliberately mysterious. much like Wittgenstein's beholder who looks at the picture of the smiling woman. like personal objects. perhaps. It cannot be taken seriously. through them."in FrenchFilm Theory. the plans or regrets that we have attached to these things for a more or less lengthy period of time. This picture comes alive for the beholder because it embodies in a palpable form all the personal associations of its subject for a short. for some. the form of life or extrinsic conceptual ground within which they are located. Once these profound similarities between logical and substantive Wittgenstein's concept of aspect-dawning and Epstein's film theory are taken into consideration. this is the cinematographic mystery: an object such as this. they seem to come to life for her. that is to say.

finally. an attempt that in many ways constitutes one of the major ambitions of modern philosophy as well as certain types of artistic practices. 209). or person. In-as-much as Epstein's film theory argues that the cinema gives rise to a sensuous form of perceptual knowledge that is logically and substantively almost identical to Wittgenstein's concept of aspect-dawning.48 OCTOBER It is also. Aspect-dawning also demonstrates that the beholder's perceptual knowledge of the phenomenal of the duck in the duck-rabbit. has learnt. object. a rejection of the Cartesian picture of the mind and body and its accompanying theory of knowledge. however. namely the question of the relation between For Epstein's celebration of cinema as an "art of vision" and antiocularcentrism. objects. knowledge experience" and certainty are the product of a familiarity with the form of life or grammar bequeathed to us by ordinary language. For a recent account of Wittgenstein's contribution to epistemology in his later philosophy. in its entirety." the beholder's ability to find her way around and navigate a form of life consisting of images. For Wittgenstein in his later philosophy. to see an aspect dawn in an image. we only have to recall Epstein's claim that the cinema brings the spectator into a corporeal "intimacy" with the phenomenal world to realize just how close his film theory is For an excellent account of this "remapping" in Wittgenstein's later philosophy of psychology. is master of. we can therefore also view his film theory as part of the larger attempt to refute skepticism and to rethink and redefine vision and knowledge outside of the Cartesian picture of the mind and body. return to the question with which we began. and it is in considering this significance that we can now. to being familiar with its streets and alleyways. 1993). p. see PaulJohnston. Knowledge and certainty are dependent upon a familiarity with a form of life that comes from use and experience. . This rejection consists. and language: "It is only if someone can do. is logically dependent on what Wittgenstein calls "the mastery of a technique. The beholder's capacity to experience aspect-dawning. 52. to miss the larger significance of this visual experience. It is not something that is intuited or inferred by her mind. The aspect is something that is seen by the beholder's corporeal eye. physical experience. of remapping the distinction between mind and body and redefining the nature of perception and knowledge. such-and-such. Wittgenstein: RethinkingtheInner (London: Routledge. from being immersed within that form of life. that it makes sense to say he has had this (PI. Indeed." of a disembodied mental eye that can see itself seeing itself. as is well known. a familiarity that is akin to knowing one's way around a city. see Avrum Stroll.52 The importance of the visual experience of aspectdawning in the context of these larger concerns is that it is a sensuous. among many other things. 1994). people. Wittgenstein's later philosophy constitutes. They are not the product of a "transcendental subject. her ability to see the resemblance between two person's the product of her ability to become familiar with the form of life faces-is within which she encounters this phenomenal world. Moore and on Wittgenstein Certainty(New York:Oxford University Press. her certainty that a world-her recognition smile is a friendly smile.

"due to its ability to make the phenomenal world more familiar to us. although the image certainly plays a major role in Wittgenstein's description of it. or "a point in the optical system where what is thought to be visible will never appear. they attempt to redefine vision and the knowledge itself."foreword to Peter Burger. and embeddedness in a form of life. to 53. It is not a visual experience produced by the cinema or any other visual technology. pp.53 Neither are concerned with producing a "rupture in the field of vision. following Epstein. The same could be said of artistic practices that fall underJay's general rubric of antiocularcentrism. To compare Epstein's cinematic epistemology to Wittgenstein's concept of aspect-dawning is therefore to reject as imaginative hyperbole Epstein's claim that only the cinema provides the perceptual conditions for such a visual experience. 1984). immersion. to "see" the "soul"of the "world. I borrow the term "negation" from Jochen Schulte-Sasse. their rejection is not a negation of this optical logic through the "denigration" of vision and the inscription of blindness and cognitive uncertainty. However. Antiocularcentrism-the turn to visual opacity and cognitive uncertaintyis only one response to the crisis of ocularcentrism within modernism in general and within the French avant-garde of the 1920s in particular. Krauss. Instead of modernity. However. Rather than producing a visual experience that is the sole domain of the cinema. The concept of aspect-dawning is one of a number of concepts within the grammar of "ordinary"visual experience. Epstein and Wittgenstein are therefore clearly part of the general rejection of the Cartesian visual model that Jay terms ocularcentrism. view the cinema as a machine that extendsthe spectator's cognitive and sensory capacity to see aspects.Jean Epstein 's Cinema of Immanence 49 to the spirit of Wittgenstein's later philosophy with its sense of immanence. the cinema plays absolutely no role in Wittgenstein's discussion of aspect-dawning and vision. perhaps we can after all allow a little room for this claim by modifying it somewhat. unlike the antiocularcentric trajectory described byJay and the artistic practices examined by Krauss. sensuous knowledge of the world that is not founded upon the idealized optical powers of consciousness."54If the reemergence of the skeptical denigration of sense perception formalized by Descartes in his causal theory of perception-with its metaphors of blindness and one response to the crisis of ocularcentrism within cognitive uncertainty-is then Epstein and Wittgenstein present us with another." which is roughly equivalent to what we have here been calling the "transcendental subject" of ocularcentrism. "Theory of Modernism versus Theory of the Avant-Garde." to use Krauss's words. The true import of Epstein's film theory lies in its demonstration that the history of vision within modernity is much more complex than the antiocularcentric narrative of decline and fall. Schulte-Sasse argues that Derrida's strategy of negation remains dependent upon the very transcendental object it is negating. Theoryof the Avant-Garde(Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Of course. 54. negating the visual model of ocularcentrism. . and they do this by rehabilitating corporeal eye-by salvaging it from its position of blindness within ocularcentrism and antiocularcentrismand describing the possibility of a new. Schulte-Sasse uses the term to describe the operation that Jacques Derrida performs on the "subject of idealistic cognition theory. 82-88. perhaps we can. The OpticalUnconscious.

for making visible and familiar to us forms of life? . Although the thought would have horrified Wittgenstein. see the cinema as a genuine prosthesis for the corporeal.50 OCTOBER reveal it in its sensuous details and endless variety. a visual machine for enlightening us. can we not now. thanks to Epstein. human eye. with his distrust of technology and science.

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