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July 2003, Week 3


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Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Fri, 18 Jul 2003 09:44:16 -0400
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the conversation initiated [provoked?] by the weddle
piece has taken the expected turn with lots of outraged
voices raised to defend the integrity, validity [and--it at
times seems--sanctity] of the theoretical enterprise [not at
all surprising since many of us are as deeply committed
to theory as priests are to their own sets of beliefs] . . . some
of the arguments have amounted to little more than angry
finger pointing, but some have been very thoughtful  and
virtually all have said many valid things

but in all of the conversation i detect precious little effort
to understand weddle's p.o.v. or to see whether there might
not be some validity in it -- and i think that to the extent that
theory is [or should be] an effort to examine the foundational
principles of some enterprise, reading weddle as seriously as
we read jameson [at least for starters]  might not be unwise

a couple of specific points:  yes, of course weddle has almost
no understanding of theory--indeed his whole point is that none
of it makes any sense to him  . . . so accusing him of confusing
one kind of theory with another is hardly to the point

next, weddle writes as an industry insider, so again to accuse him
of being that is not to argue against him but simply to confirm
his own point which is that being an industry insider doesn't require
theory, and may in fact undermine one's chances of success there
in just the same way that being a marxist would likely not help one
advance professionally in that branch of the american business
world we call government . . . maybe hollywood ought to change
[i'm very sympathetic to some versions of that argument] but if
weddle's daughter simply wants an education that will help her
advance professionally not in academe but in american cinema
then it's hard to see how her father is wrong . . . the unnamed
"friend with a doctorate in british history" is probably right when
he declaims scornfully  "Wanta know about film in the real world? Talk to
a guy who's been head of Spelling Television!"

third, in at least one respect weddle says more than he knows:
our same british friend piles onto weddle with the accusation
that he has an "obsession with Marxism"  and that  "It's just
ridiculous to contend that all film theory is Marxist, but this is what
he does -- it's all, he suggests, a conspiracy rooted in the New Left."
 . . .  no doubt that contention  is largely invalid -- if that is
in fact what weddle contends . . . still, it's essential to keep
in mind as we think through these far from settled matters
that the theoretical moment we currently are living in [or
perhaps beginning to emerge from] has been very much
fueled by leftist politics, or by related versions of the "false
consciousness" argument favored by psychoanalytic or feminist
critics . . . i would go so far as to say that almost all of the
most powerful theoretical work of the past two generations
has been part of an effort to uncover the transparent and
thus hidden machinery shaping our political, sexual, cinematic,
and ultimately linguistic practices

now it may well be that this political-social program is much
more important than anything one might say about cinema
AS cinema -- that it is only by historicizing and contextualizing
and [thus] theorizing cinema that it becomes worthy of our
careful [academic] attention;  i'm actually VERY sympathetic to
that claim -- but that does not mean that nothing else is worth
doing . . .  truth is that though i have no interest in being a
movie industry insider, i myself -- as an unreconstructed formalist--
find the [hidden] political agenda of so much theory unnerving
. . .  what i would really  like to see is a theory of cinema grounded
in [and growing out of] not a desire for social justice but an attempt
to sort out just what sort of thing cinema is and how -- in all its
multifarious aspects -- it works

is short-- weddle is obviously wrong about lots of things, hardly
surprising since his point is that much of what he's talking about
makes no sense to him . . . but he's also right about some
crucial things -- including [unfortunately] the way in which
many students respond to being taught theory . . .  more
important, he's an example of the way in which a leftist
driven body of thought has [once again??] become oblivious
to the actual situation of the people for whom it would propose
to speak . . . i suppose one could say that most of the attacks
on weddle's  piece have been versions of the old "false
consciousness" argument . . . while i'm not quite sure what
"true consciousness" would be like i'm pretty sure that reiterating
that perhaps true accusation may make us feel better about
what we do but otherwise does little to forward anyone's
real agendas


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