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December 1993


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Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Thu, 2 Dec 1993 09:42:59 -0500
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"Cinema and the Postmodern" -- okay, I'm going to ask the obvious,
because I fear we have all been taken to the Emporer's tailors.
The postmodern WHAT?   Have we reached a point in intellectual discourse
where we no longer need nouns?  Or is it implied that we will all fill
in our own?  (your noun here).
The postmodern CONDITION?  The postmodern SENSIBILITY?
The postmodern ETHOS?      "THINGS Postmodern"?
As nebulous as these are, they are more precise -- and better English --
than "the postmodern."   The state of the English language is precisely
what is at issue.  What passes for profound theoretical insight today
is all too often merely a cynical (or desperate) manipulation of language
to give the appearance of complex thought.
I see the problem as having originated in attempts to translate into
English the Althusserian "problematique."  With little thought, it became
in English "the problematic," and soon it was simply chic to use
adjectives as nouns -- regardless of the fact that this type of discourse
has no substance.  It was FUN!  And no one had to be precise any longer.
The burden of thinking clearly and concretely was lifted!
What a relief!   And we could sound 'French' too.
A scant few have pointed to the smoke and mirrors:
Kevin Robins and Kevin McDonnell in their 1980 essay, "Marxist Cultural
Theory: the Althusserian Smokescreen";
E.P. Thompson, of course, in his classic 1978 diatribe,
"The Poverty of Theory";
Noel Carroll in his 1983 piece, "Address to the Heathen," and, more
recently, in his book MYSTIFYING MOVIES.  If you're out there, Noel,
thank you.
To talk of "cinema and the postmodern" is to use English words,
but NOT (and I daresay intentionally) to form an English sentence,
or a completed thought.  Am I splitting hairs?  It may seem that way,
but I think you all know that this tendency to evade meaning is
running rampant, and that it has even developed a kind rationalization:
i.e. that 'meaning' is unstable, that there is no 'meaning,'
that we should therefore enjoy the 'play' of language, the free play
of signifiers, and stop trying to mean -- STOP MAKING SENSE.
It is one of the most elaborate cop-outs ever concocted,
and its appeal is obvious.  To strive for the kind of clarity which
Orwell exemplified is difficult indeed.  Thank you Mr. Derrida for
relieving us of the necessity.
All this over a noun?  Perhaps if they'd called it "Cinema and
What would have been wrong with "Cinema and Postmodernism"?
(answer: not pretentious enough)
        -- Derek Bouse