Alex Ling employs the philosophy of Alain Badiou to answer the question central to all serious film scholarship: 'can cinema be thought? Secondly, he investigates whether cinema can actually think for itself; that is, whether or not it is truly 'artistic'. Finally, he explores in what ways we can rethink the consequences of the fact that cinema thinks. In answering these questions, the author uses well-known films ranging to illustrate Badiou's philosophy and to consider the ways in which his work can be extended, critiqued and reframed with respect to the medium of cinema. An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page.
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After working their way through structuralism and semiotics, psychoanalysis and so on, who needed yet another thinker on the stage? Some might well feel the same about the presence of Alain Badiou, and the new book Badiou and Cinema.
Yet the question remains, and it is a question well worth asking; whether one is tired or energised, fatigued by theoretical discussion or alive to the debate: what does the new emperor have to say? On the other hand cinema is a mass art, and can out of its very impurity attract an audience unlike other art forms. In some ways these are antithetical notions, but perhaps out of their apparent contradictions come ideas that could be usefully opened up for fresh pathways into film.
How many who love film are themselves caught in the double-bind of seeking a cinema that has a popular capacity to transform the world, and an intimate form of film that subtly changes the way we think? If the former often appeals to our sense of collective renewal, the latter allows us to think the un-thought, to find in our inexplicable reactions the chance to create new pathways to thinking. Indeed, is this not one of the vital and apparent contradictions that Deleuze brilliantly works off in the cinema books: with the former often allowing for images of movement; the latter of time, and the subtle ways in which movement and time function in film?
However, if one notices the same inner conflict in the image in Badiou and Deleuze, in many other ways they greatly differ, and it is in this difference that Badiou can be useful to film. After all, if one feels the need to take on another thinker from outside the field of film studies, we must expect from the philosopher new ways of thinking about the moving image.
But what are these new ways? One lies in cinema as not an inclusive art but an extractive one, and this is where cinema seems not a popular art form but a difficult one by virtue of its eliminative procedures. In Antonioni it lies in the depopulated shot where the conventionally positioned and placed social self is obliterated.
In Rohmer it might lie in his refusal to include music in his films and thus to emphasise the thoughts of the characters over their actions.
Are we, however, simply saying nothing other than less is more? Not really, or not especially — otherwise would we not be including classical Hollywood, with its eschewed sex scenes and tamed violence?
Was Hollywood under the Hays Code not a subtractive cinema as Badiou would seem to define it? Obviously not, yet Badiou does seem to suggest that all cinema is by its nature subtractive. As Ling says,. Yet only certain films make us aware of this void; others mask it by giving the impression that there is no off-screen space; only onscreen presence. It is more a question of how cinema subtracts from the world. The pure possibility of changing the sensible beauty of the image.
Not the extraordinary difficulties of the musical composition, not the subtle arrangement of harmonic verticality […] what is important for cinema is that music, or its rhythmic ghost, escorts the happenings of the visible.
In this type of cinema, however, absences are not felt; they are pragmatically eschewed. They never went there either. Humphrey Bogart never set foot in the town. As Dogville pushes into the further reaches of elimination as the film is set in the Rocky Mountains but gets filmed on a European sound stage, so the subtraction becomes a question over form.
In Casablanca the subtractions are easily absorbed into the form. It is these twin issues that seem most to fascinate Badiou, and subsequently Ling.
The difference between modern and classical cinema is chiefly modes of subtraction, and the degree to which modern cinema manages to purify itself from impurities; the classical with accepting these impurities and where the subtraction lies elsewhere. Badiou is basically a philosopher interested in inherent notions. Badiou is both Platonic and mathematical — in other words he believes in a notion of fundamental truths, and has couched his truths in the language of set theory.
This particular set is subtracted from the conditions of every other set in set theory: that of having elements. That is the null-set, a multiple of nothing or of the void.
In other words, can truth be extracted from all this violence, or is the film simply littered with images of extremity? Is it in their sentimental moments or is it in their moments of sentiment: not in how they make us cry, but why they might.
If in the sentimental lies meretricious manipulation; in the sentiment a more fundamental value seems to be extracted out of the material. In such great works the truth is extracted but the art itself is hardly subtractive.
Now some might claim that such films are reactive. Is this not why we call the films of Andrei Tarkovsky, Kiarostami and Bela Tarr meditative — as dead time produces thought?
These are questions we have hopefully addressed here, no matter if it might demand an over-simplification and eschewal of many aspects of the book. What we asked at the beginning of the review was what can Badiou bring to cinema, and in answer the most useful notions seem to concern questions of the subtractive and the popular.
It is this rupture — similar to the Deleuzian dichotomy yet not at all the same — that we have tried to elucidate in an attempt to escape theory fatigue. Home Book Reviews. Badiou, Infinite Thought , p.
Badiou and Cinema