Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Reading Bazin's What is Cinema?: Foreword by Jean Renoir (Part 1)

In what appears to be a classical overturning of the Platonic idea(l) of that which is the state, Renoir starts off with a historicity that is, largely contingent upon the poet’s confirmation, largely poetic. Here, the poet, unlike Plato’s, doesn’t muddle up the representative doxa of the state;  she doesn’t insist on repeating the figure as eidos “merely” to highlight the paradoxical structure that is retained within; here, a commerce is established. As a consequence, in this “Renoir-ian” overturning, the poet [who is a bard, for, he sings: this in itself brings out a crucial (literary) historical configuration vis-à-vis when the institution of poetry entered writing and diversified purely into writing, the Bardic tradition gradually collapsing, perhaps, with print becoming a more and more popular mode of artistic representation and so on], is not exiled away from the kingdom. Quite the opposite, the poet is not just an alibi or a witness, for, frequently, “the singer was greater than the object of his singing”, thus rendering her existence in the object’s (i.e. the king’s) state, in the object-ive state, toward a hyperbolic, pure functionality. The poet is, to condense her “bare life” (notwithstanding the occasionally great king, who indeed elevates the poet out of this “objective” circumcision), her existential facticity, an administrative-discursive trope, a tool-being for the kings “to believe in their greatness”. This, in more than one ways brings to the fore the ontogenetic structure of poiesis (i.e. the essential function of the poet) which, as Heidegger shows, has a remarkable contiguity with techne (the technological, functional itself) in its originary meaning. Sticking to this originary understanding of the two words, poiesis and tekhne, in the Renoir-ian state, thus, where the poet facilitates and truly guarantees the king’s “greatness”, a logical tautology is established: “the poet is a poet”.
            Of course, for Renoir, this deliberate poetic facticity doesn’t occur to the poet via a post-facto mandate of the king (even though he is “the object”). There is no force of law which binds the poet to this function. Further, it is not that the poet is to be included in the commerce of historically validating the king’s greatness, (and through its implied performance) his kingship, solely due to having been the king’s subject. In fact, there is hardly any complex, mutually aporetic condition (i.e. the king is great because the poet—the poet is poet because the king; an analogy which figures in almost every “post-structuralist” critique of the “lawlessness of law-as-such”) toward the being-poetic of the poet. It is in fact the poet who is “there” to legitimize the king as king. “ [T]here were poets to confirm their belief in their greatness”. There is, it seems, an almost theological primordiality to the being-there of the poets. Unlike the platonic state which is rendered impossible by the poet, here, the poet is, as it were, its sine qua non.
            Still, all of this held true when “kings were kings”. Which is to imply two things-
i.                    that the poetic function, the originary tautology which we derived at, “the poet is a poet” is no more existent, even though, it seems that this poetic existence is very much what Renoir would have liked. And, more pressingly-
ii.                  that kings are no more kings. Even though they are kings, they no more are: a crucial-critical split has occurred.
How do we process these double splits vis-à-vis Renoir’s conclusive analogy-
“[F]or that king of our time, the cinema, has likewise its poet (i.e. Bazin). A modest fellow, sickly, slowly and prematurely dying, he it was who gave the patent of royalty to the cinema just as the poets of the past had crowned their kings. That king on whose brow he has placed a crown of glory is all the greater for having been stripped by him of the falsely glittering robes that hampered its progress. It is, thanks to him, a royal personage rendered healthy, cleansed of its parasites, fined down-a king of quality-that our grandchildren will delight to come upon. And in that same moment they will also discover its poet. They will discover Andre Bazin, discover too, as I have discovered, that only too often, the singer has once more risen above the object of his song.”

Firstly, we discover that cinema, the king, is perpetually, and even more so now, having lost its poet, Bazin, in enormous crisis. Its kingship or, rather, kingness, its “patent of royalty” being conferred solely through the poetic gesture of being crowned by him, “rendered healthy, cleansed of its parasites, fined down“ because of him, it is now not just in a moment of quality, but also finality (given the death of Bazin), an absolution, not unlike the totalizing Spirit (geist) of Hegel, which manifested itself in the modern state of Prussia in his lifetime. The poet is dead, and the king is no more king. Written at the time when elsewhere¸ “the death of cinema” was being pronounced, it is as if the deaths of the poet and the king have co-incided in this absolute synthesis. It can only be these “two death” which will get recognized by our grandchildren. However, there will hardly be an elegy or mourning song for the death of the king, i.e. cinema. For, at the same moment, at the exact point of time wherein our grandchildren (contingently) discover cinema, they will also discover its poet, Bazin, who, indeed, is cinema’s pre-condition, its sine qua non to exist as cinema. This is perhaps the effect that is sought when Bazin re-members an ontological question, “what is cinema?”, as a proper name to his text, What is Cinema?   

To reflect, perhaps we must look at the structure of Renoir’s analogy. The analogy is indeed quite complex in (at least) a two-fold manner. Firstly, to charter the precise historical moment which Renoir takes as his objective fantasy, that is the time when the poets crowned the kings. Renoir mentions the poet Francois Villon (1431-Circa. 1463) to be a mark of the poetic-structure he describes. [Villon himself disappeared in 1463, his death thus remaining a speculative (im)possibility, and one can perhaps see how Villon indeed gets effected as the mysterious undead that Renoir would have wanted Bazin to be.] But we can sense that the clue to Renoir’s argument is in the historical middle-Ages, more precisely the mid 15th Century.
 What was the configuration of the aesthetic and the political at this crucial point of time? How was poesis seen vis-à-vis techne at that particular point, and in turn, through then contemporary aesthetic and political registers? What was the status of cinema as an art at that point in time [and here we are moving with an axiomatic understanding, not unlike that of Bazin (something which we are pre-empting and will discuss in length later), that the “birth of cinema” is far more originary than its contingent, technological actualization in the late 19th century], and how does its status as the sovereign (as king) get located via this precise historical site? Secondly, we have to closely and rigorously analyze the ontico-ontological configuration of the four “things” that are taken as constitutive of the analogy, i.e. “king”, “poet”, “Cinema” and “Bazin” as well as that of “analogy” itself.
We have already established a parallel track, it seems, that is too remote and detached from the study of Bazin’s text “in itself”. So we will conclude for now with these preliminary questions left hanging.
In the next part we shall look at the concluding part of the Foreword, wherein, Renoir intensify’s his critical stance regarding the end of cinema through an intriguing sci-fi-esque scenario.    

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