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    Impure Cinema: Political Pedagogies in Film and Theory

    by

    Nico Baumbach

    Literature Program Duke University

    Date:_______________________ Approved:

    ___________________________

    Jane Gaines, Co-Chair

    ___________________________ Fredric Jameson, Co-Chair

    ___________________________

    Negar Mottahedeh

    ___________________________ Michael Hardt

    Dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor

    of Philosophy in the Program in Literature in the Graduate School

    of Duke University

    2009

  • ABSTRACT

    Impure Cinema: Political Pedagogies in Film and Theory

    by

    Nico Baumbach

    Program in Literature Duke University

    Date:_______________________ Approved:

    ___________________________

    Jane Gaines, Co-Chair

    ___________________________ Fredric Jameson, Co-Chair

    ___________________________

    Negar Mottahedeh

    ___________________________ Michael Hardt

    An abstract of a dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor

    of Philosophy in the Program in Literature the Graduate School

    of Duke University

    2009

  • Copyright by Nicholas Gower Baumbach

    2009

  • iv

    Abstract

    In 1969, the influential French film magazine Cahiers du Cinema, reemerged

    following the upheavals of May 68 with a statement expressing a commitment to “the

    scientific criticism of capitalist ideology.” Once known for passionate impressionistic

    celebrations of filmmakers working within the Hollywood system, the editors of Cahiers

    announced at this time that all films should be analyzed in terms of their relation to the

    dominant ideology, an approach that would provide a template for much Anglo-American

    film studies in the following decades. In 1996, two well-known American film scholars

    edited a volume called Post-Theory announcing the end of “Grand Theory.” Theory, the

    authors countered, should be limited to piecemeal empirical investigations of normative

    viewing practices. The discipline of film studies, as they saw it, could only be salvaged

    by being liberated from the sterile dogmas of ideology critique and identity politics.

    Impure Cinema: Political Pedagogies in Film and Theory asks what are the ways

    that the politics of film theory have been conceptualized since the era now known as “70s

    film theory.” In particular, it analyzes the writings on cinema, politics and art by

    contemporary French philosophers Alain Badiou and Jacques Rancière in relation to the

    influential approaches of Louis Althusser and Gilles Deleuze and to theories of

    documentary cinema. I argue that unlike the political modernism of 70s film theory and

    the post-theory turn of 90s film studies, Badiou and Rancière offer an approach to film

    theory that neither assumes that all films are political, nor that politics underdetermine

    theory, but rather suggests that we analyze both theories and films in terms of how they

  • v

    construct connections between cinema and politics. Following Deleuze, I call these

    connections “pedagogical” not because they transmit knowledge but because they always

    involve a new kind of connection or relation that seeks to transform habitual ways of

    seeing, saying or doing. For Badiou and Rancière this is based on a conception of cinema

    as “impure.” Cinema, they argue, is never free of elements from other arts or daily life,

    but it is this impurity that is the grounds for linking its artistic and political possibilities. I

    look at various film forms that highlight cinema’s impurity, in particular the “actuality”

    and how it has been reappropriated in various forms of documentary and essayistic

    practices as a way of giving cinematic form to questions of political equality.

  • vi

    Dedication

    “The exercise was beneficial.” -- Moonfleet (Fritz Lang, 1955)

    For Carolyn. And for my father.

  • vii

    Contents

    Abstract .................................................................................................................................................iv

    Acknowledgements ........................................................................................................................... viii

    Introduction: After Political Modernism..............................................................................................1

    Chapter 1: Rancière and the Politics of Film Theory After Althusser .............................................29

    Chapter 2: Badiou and the Philosophy of Cinema After Deleuze ....................................................75

    Chapter 3: Nature Caught In The Act: On the Transformation of an Idea of Art in Early Cinema and Beyond ....................................................................................................................................... 133

    Chapter 4: Rancière and the Fictional Capacity of Documentary ................................................. 172

    Chapter 5: Cinematic Equality: From Vertov to Warhol to Kiarostami ...................................... 249

    Works Cited ...................................................................................................................................... 282

    Biography .......................................................................................................................................... 295

  • viii

    Acknowledgements

    Thanks to the members of my committee: to Jane Gaines for all her valuable comments

    over the years, her commitment and whimsy, and for always favoring risky, adventurous

    work; to Fredric Jameson for being such a generous reader and teacher as well as being a

    great, if largely unacknowledged, influence on my own thinking about the relation

    between aesthetics and politics that I develop in this dissertation; to Negar Mottahedeh

    for her time and care and for being an ally and supporter as well as an invaluable resource

    on Iranian cinema; and to Michael Hardt for being a model of clarity, and for

    demonstrating how critical thought should always be tied to affirmation. Thanks to

    Danette Patchner and the rest of the Lilly library staff for helping me find the films I

    needed to see. Thanks to Tiwonda Johnson-Blount, Literature’s Program Assistant, for

    making so many things easier than they otherwise would have been.

  • 1

    Introduction: After Political Modernism

    Impurity, Politics, Pedagogy, Cinema: On a Constellation of Concepts

    The title of this dissertation links together three terms in relation to cinema

    studies: impurity, politics and pedagogy. Each deserves a preliminary explanation

    though I’ll be developing these terms over the course of the dissertation.

    First: Impurity. Alain Badiou derives his concept of cinema as an impure art from

    André Bazin’s 1952 essay “Pour Un Cinéma Impur: Défense de L’Adaptation,” known in

    Hugo Gray’s standard English translation as “In Defense of Mixed Cinema.”1 Bazin

    because of his famous essay grounding cinema in the “ontology of the photographic

    image” is known as a theorist of medium specificity who defines cinema’s ontology by

    the fact that it embalms the real in duration, but he proposes that once we think in terms

    of film’s “aesthetics” as distinct from what he calls its “psychology,” there is always an

    impure relation to the other arts and to non-art.2 It is this impurity that Badiou elevates to

    the status of cinema’s ontology. Jacques Rancière calls it cinema’s “thwarting logic.” As

    he puts it, “the art and thought of images have always been nourished by all that thwarts

    them.”3

    This non-teleological, anti-essentialist conception of cinema is central to thinking

    the politics of cinema’s aesthetics and a dynamic relation between theory and cinema.4

    1 See Andre Bazin, “In Defense of Mixed Cinema,” What is Cinema? Volume 1, trans. Hugo Gray, University of California Press, 2005, 53-75. 2 Ibid, 11. 3 Jacques Rancière, Film Fables, trans. Emiliano Battsista (New York: Berg Publishers, 2006), 19. 4 Of course, Badiou’s theory of cinema could be considered essentialist since, as we said, for him cinema’s lack of medium specificity in some sense defines its specificity, but, as we shall see, for Badiou’s

  • 2

    But more than merely another anti-essentialist claim demonstrating the limitations of the

    modernist doxa that grounds the aesthetics of an art in terms of its capacity to be in some

    way “about” the very medium itself, I wish to use “impurity” as a positive not a negative

    category that I claim is central to thinking the politics of cinema. Politics for Badiou and

    Rancière cannot be realized by cinema, but cinema like theory or philosophy is

    “metapolitical” because it has the capacity to transform