Response to Julien's LEFEBVRE’S AND CARROLL’S COMBATIVE DIALECTICS

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Auteur(s): 
Lefebvre, Martin

 

 I'm not sure why Julien centers his comment on the brief response I gave to a question (regarding Bordwell and hermeneutics) since my talk was not about about interpretation but about the epistemological legitimacy of theory and, especially, aesthetic theory in the cinema. In any case, if one looks at Bordwell's historical poetics project, one sees that he describes what might be characterized as the habits (norms) films exhibit — reconstructively refering those habits back  to (infered) purposes (as signs of those purposes) supposedly held by filmmakers with regards mostly to narrative/narration as a key determining factor (though not the only one). Different filmmakers serve the purpose of telling a story differently, whence distinctions in film style. In my response I merely meant to say that this approach is a classic hermeneutical perspective. For instance, it requires that one search for everything that might have influenced the filmmakers' choices: narrative determinations; financial determinations; artistic determinations (or influences); etc. The idea is to account for what is on the screen by FINDING REASONS for it (chiefly) in the filmmaker (it is him -- not the zeitgeist -- that makes films, says Bordwell). Bordwell is looking for the most "direct" reasons -- he calls them "proximate causes" (technically speaking they are not causes, but reasons; see Wittgenstein, for instance on causes and reasons) -- that affect the filmmaker's choices. Though historical poetics is willing to consider various purposes, the default purpose in fiction filmmaking, for Bordwell, is narrative (telling a story). The point is to answer such questions as: Why did the filmmaker shoot the scnene in a high or low angle or in long take? To some extent one might say that what is being explained here is the filmmaker's behavior — not the film's — based initially on the evidence of the film. Bordwell draws hypotheses regarding the reasons for the appearance of some 'stylistic trait'. These hypotheses, in turn, rely on general conceptions that are not discussed or demonstrated because they are understood to rely on commonsense (the filmmakers, it is presumed, is a rational agent -- and one needs to reconstruct, i.e., interpret, the process of this rational behavoir [see von Wright's Explanation and Understanding for a good discussion on reconstructive rationality]. But how exactly does this reconstruction function? What are its limits? For instance, how is one to decide whether one "proximate cause"[aka reason]  lies in the filmmaker's biography, or elsewhere? How exactly is one to decide what counts as a proximate cause?
 
Of course the only thing that historical poetics can predict is that a filmmaker will either follow a norm or not follow a norm. In short, the goal of the approach consists in:
 
1. Describe how films look -- how they behave cinematically;
 
2. Offer hypotheses to account for that behavior by accounting (reconstructing or INTERPRETING) the filmmaker's behaviour as "causally" determined by considering various determinations of his behaviour.
 
The obvious price to pay for this approach is to restrict the account of cinema to technique/technical matters and to the material patterning of the cinematic process [EFFICIENT CAUSALITY], all the while downplaying the hermeneutic or reconstructive aspect and the questions the latter raises. What is discovered is normative not law-like. Norms do not bind. And this is clearly the domain of hermeneutical inquiry (as opposed to nomological inquiry in the hard sciences).
 
My only issue with this is that if one doesn't understand that this is a hermeneutical project (all history -- in the full sense of the term -- is hermeneutical -- among late 20th century authors on  this see Ricoeur), one can start believing that they're doing something else -- something epistemologically more grounded (whatever that means) than "interpretation" (in the large sense of the word). Furthermore, in referring the shooting of a dinner scene to determinants that have likely influenced the filmmaker, one is obviously not accounting for what is going on "in" said scene -- which may also be accounted for hermeneutically.
 
Toward the end of his blog entry Julian raises the issue of rationality that I mentioned in relation to Peirce. This is a complicated point but the basic of it is quite simple. Rationality is synonymous with control, in the sense of critique. Thought or conduct is rational if they can be critiqued. Thought is a process of association of ideas and reasoning is the process of controlling the association of ideas. Logic offers a critique of reasoning. But what is the basis of this critique? It critiques reasoning on the basis of reasoning's ability to make valid inferences (inferences are associations of ideas). But what is the goal of valid inferences? Why would we want to make valid inferences or control our thinking in this way? The goal is the achievement of belief unassailable by doubt -- a somewhat deflationary conception of truth. This, in fact is the ideal of logic, the basis on which the critique of reasoning rests. But where does this goal come from? How are such goals formed in the first place anyway? These questions led Peirce to realize that "underneath" logic rests ethics and aesthetics (that logic requires ethics and aesthetics) -- though aesthetics as understood here isn't limited to art and artistic matters (this is late development in the history of aesthetics). If logic theoretically investigates what we ought to think (or reason), ethics theoretically investigates what we ought to do and aesthetics theoretically investigates what we ought to feel (i.e. it investigates what goals we ought to cherish as admirable in themselves). The point of my talk was to show aesthetic considerations are a key part of a unified epistemology (have a look at my essay: "Peirce's Esthetics: A Taste for Signs in Art" in the Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society, Volume 43, Number 2, Spring 2007, pp. 319-344).
 
Martin

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