Cinema, like language, can be said to exist as a system of differences. In his latest book, acclaimed philosopher Jacques Rancière looks at cinematic art in comparison to its corollary forms in literature and theatre. From literature, he argues, cinema takes its narrative conventions, while at the same time effacing literature’s images and philosophy; and film rejects theatre, while also fulfilling theatre’s dream.
Built on these contradictions, the cinema is the real, material space in which one is moved by the spectacle of shadows. Thus, for Rancière, film is the perpetually disappointed dream of a language of images.
This dialogue between Nina Power and film historian Geoffrey Nowell-Smith took place in 2012-13. It was due to be published by a film magazine, but fell through for reasons beyond the control of the authors. It first appeared online at Ninapower.net.
La ricotta (1963).
Geoffrey Nowell-Smith: Pasolini has often been described as a Catholic Marxist but his Marxism was always unorthodox and he was never a Catholic although brought up in an environment permeated by the imagery and values of Italian Catholicism. Like most people on the left in Italy in the 1950s he was strongly anti-clerical (not surprising given the profoundly reactionary role played by the Catholic Church in Italy in the period) and it is only in his poetry that another side of him appears — an identification with suffering as experienced by the oppressed and potentially embodied in the figure of Christ. Then in 1958 the election of Pope John XXIII was a massive force for change — in Italian society, in the Church, and in Pasolini himself. Catholicism became something to engage with — as myth (in the noble sense of the word), as culture, as ideology, as a political force that was not necessarily quite so reactionary as it had been or seemed to be throughout most of preceding Italian history.
For the philosopher Jacques Rancière, France’s strange presidential election campaign is no surprise. He thinks that a French system that entrusts all power to professional politicians mechanically churns out candidates who claim to represent a "clean break." Éric Aeschimann spoke to Rancière for the 9–15 March 2017 edition of L’Obs. Translated by David Broder.
Emmanuel Macron at a March 2017 press conference.
From François Hollande’s decision not to stand, to François Fillon’s legal woes, the current presidential campaign has been a succession of dramatic twists. And you, Jacques Rancière, are a unique observer of this spectacle. For years you have denounced the impasses of representative democracy, which you see as incapable of producing a genuine democracy. How would you analyse what is happening?
"Representative democracy" is a more than ambiguous term. It conveys the false idea of an already-constituted people that expresses itself by choosing its representatives. Yet the people is not a given that pre-exists the political process: rather, it is the result of this process. This or that political system creates this or that people, rather than the other way around. Besides, the representative system is founded on the idea that there is a class in society that represents the general interests of society. In the minds of the American founding fathers, that was the class of enlightened landowners. This system creates a people that identifies its legitimate representatives as coming from within this class, periodically reconfirming as much at the ballot box. The representative system gradually became an affair for professionals, who then reproduced themselves. But in so doing this system generated its own reverse, the mythical idea of a people not represented by these professionals and aspiring to provide itself with representatives who really do incarnate it. This is the piece of theatre — of constantly declining quality — that each election now reproduces.
Hamid Dabashi's forthcoming book, Iran Without Borders, offers a cultural history of Iran which aims to dismantle the dominant narrative of a country torn between a traditionalist ruling regime and a secular urban population. In contrast to this, Dabashi charts the cosmopolitan influences that have been present in Iranian life and culture for many centuries now, and which have helped to forge the Iran we have today. One of the leading representatives of this cosmopolitan Iranian culture was the great filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami, who died on July 4th.