Carroll and deciphering philosophical texts.

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Ogonoski, Matthew


To take up Martin Lefebvre's question to Carroll - what is the difference between philosophical readings of film and a philosophical film? - Carroll's response was largely unsatisfying. I welcome his response to this posting as it will provide him more space and time with which to explain. 
It seems that the decisions between which texts are inherently philosophical and which readings are philosophical is most ambiguous. 
If films can themselves be philosophical in their construction, then I believe it not to be an unwarranted claim that people may also be philosophical in their construction. If this is accepted, we can claim that someone may be philosophical without their knowledge of being so. 
For example, a child is raised as a vehement machiavellian, which is not so far fetched when considering the place of competitive sports for adolescents and the unchecked cheating that occurs. To clarify, I'm drawing direct attention to Machiavelli's The Prince and his promotion that the individual do what is necessary to succeed, regardless of moral or ethical obligation, so long as the individual appears to be moral and ethical in the eye of the public. In the example of sports, any sort of unsportsman-like behavior is only punished if the player is caught in the act of cheating. Otherwise, their cheating may benefit their career significantly. This was the case a couple years ago with the doping scandals that plagued Major League Baseball. Up until the scandal was exposed, the players benefited greatly.
If an individual is raised with a particular philosophical slant, and they move on to create film, then they may indeed construct philosophical texts without their knowledge. 
So, let us hypothetically say that Wilder was a Machiavellian unaware of his philosophical roots. Wilder then made Sunset as a Machiavellian text without his knowledge of this fact.
This is particularly applicable to Sunset Boulevard if we consider the fact that these characters are willing to do whatever is necessary for their success. Of course, no one succeeds, and so it could be argued that Wilder is presenting an anti-Machiavellian film. However, for the purposes of this hypothetical example let us temporarily forget this factor, or at least accept the suggestion by one audience member that - however strange it may seem - Norma Desmond succeeds. 
Now this does not disprove Carroll's assertion that Sunset is a philosophical text. However, it does question the proposed ability to decipher between philosophical texts and philosophical readings of texts. 
Carroll gave the example of a few publishing houses that were producing books as ancillary products of popular Hollywood properties, such as "The Philosophy of (place film title here)." Of course, he determined these texts to be philosophical readings that were not bringing the philosophy out of the text, but simply applying a philosophy. 
However, if readings of a philosophical text are enacted by formal analysis, then how does the formal analysis of a philosophical reading differ? 
As you can gather by the hypothetical situation posed above, there is no way to determine if it is Wilder's film that is philosophical, or whether it is  simply the reading applied that is philosophical. 
In other words, and to return to the example, if a philosophical reading of Wilder's film identifies particular elements that determine the film's relevance to Machiavellian philosophy, how is that different from philosophical readings of other texts? Why does Wilder's film become a "philosophical film," where others do not? 
More concisely, and the question this entry would like answered, is how the formal analyses of texts can determine between philosophical films and films that simply have philosophical readings applied to them?

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