PRINT May 1974


Dark Glasses and Bifocals

Stanley Cavell, The World Viewed, Reflections on the Ontology of Film (New York: The Viking Press, 1971), 174 pages, softbound.

Stephen Koch, Star-Gazer, Andy Warhol’s World and His Films (New York: Praeger Publishers, Inc.), 155 pages, 51 black-and-white illustrations, hardbound.

HOLDING IN CHECK THE ADAGE about books and their covers, I find myself fascinated by the very look of the two works lying before me. The cover of the one called The World Viewed is white with very thin, very decorous lettering. A handdrawn eye, with half its pupil black-and-white and the other half prismatically colored, separates its major title from the smaller, but similarly reticent lettering of the subhead, which reads. “Reflections on the Ontology of Film”; and then after a small space comes, “Stanley Cavell,” the name of its author. The cover of the other book is chaotic and inelegant—an art director’s attempt at a logo of glitter. “Star-Gazer by Stephen Koch” blinks out in an imitation of Art Déco lettering and halfway down the dust jacket the gray field of the page breaks messily into a halftone image of the book’s subject, as we see Andy Warhol stationed behind a tripod-mounted camera, the photograph shot from a low angle so that one can make out above him the stamped metal ceiling of the sprawling studio he called “The Factory.”

Underlining that opposition between the appearance these two books project—the one a studied seriousness, the other a self-conscious vulgarism—is the further distinction between their titles. The World Viewed, with its anglicized reference to Weltanschauung (or world view) bespeaks its author’s ambition to locate a discussion of film within a universe of philosophic discourse; while Star-Gazer echoes a world of pop culture inhabited by magazines with names like Silver Screen. Both titles allude to the activity of viewing: of looking on at something from a fixed distance: of the sensation of peering out from darkness onto a world of light. Yet, despite the similarity of subject they define, the titles still confront us with an opposition of manner: the one establishing its credentials with a kind of gentlewoman’s discretion; the other brassily announcing its intention to be working an altogether different side of the street.

So it may seem perverse or merely willful to want to discuss these two books in the same space. It may seem that they are artifacts of too entirely different a type: the one a study of general, esthetic intent; the other a specific monograph on a single body of work. Yet I do not think so. To me, these two works reciprocally illuminate one another.

For one thing, both writers have scripted the same protagonist as a major, metaphorical agent within the text of their respective works. In both books the character of the dandy, as he is incarnated by Baudelaire, is given a central role. Stephen Koch uses Baudelaire’s description to weave a net in which to catch Warhol’s esthetic persona, the strings of which he can tighten into a structuralist analysis of the operation of the films his subject has made. Stanley Cavell invokes the same protagonist, first projecting his type onto the mythic creatures who inhabited Hollywood’s now past filmic world, and then raising it to an ontological status in which the conditions of film viewing—all film viewing—are defined. For the dandy, in Baudelaire’s words, is “the passionate spectator” whose special talent is “to see the world, to be at the centre of the world, and yet to remain hidden from the world.” Baudelaire spells out the strategies of the dandy as the capacity to cause astonishment without ever being astonished: “The character of the dandy’s beauty consists above all in the cold appearance which comes from the unshakable resolution not to be moved; one might say the latent fire which makes itself felt, and which might, but does not wish to, shine forth.” In this latency and coldness is a style of isolation, and of removal. Dandyism is thus a way of looking at the world which is defined by absence, its whole reason for being drawn from estrangement as a psychic goal. It is a mode of being physically present to the spectacle of life but at the same time being psychologically withdrawn, and in this sense, absent from it.

For Koch, Warhol manipulates this absence, elevating it into a structural voyeurism through which the significance of his films comes into being, while Cavell philosophically strips this mode of absence of its sexual component, neutralizing it into “the ontological status of the viewer” understood as a condition of invisibility—as the one who sees but is himself unseen. Now, the reasons for Koch’s attention to the dandy are entirely unproblematic. He is an author who is circling in on the givens of an esthetic object—or set of objects—wishing to discover and project the kinds of transactions that object manifests. So he need; Baudelaire and his dandy, and he needs Duchamp, and he uses them both. But the reasons for Cavell’s interest in the dandy are more in need of examination, for they raise the question of which world it is that is being viewed in The World Viewed.

There is a certain kind of restlessness in Cavell’s book. A sense of distraction hovers over it like the attitude of a man watching TV who keeps flipping from one station to another. This makes it difficult to focus on any single argument and say with confidence that that is the argument of the work. Yet this book, full of digressions and asides, does leave a certain narrative impression which goes as follows. In opposition to painting, which itself is a world, photography is always of the world: its boundaries establish the image as a fragment cropped from that continuous expanse which is the world’s own extension. As a submedium of photography, film shares this task of making a world visible to its viewers. The history of film is characterized by its confidence that it could do so, unselfconsciously. And it is this unselfconscious projection of its own world as a microcosm of the larger, real world, that Hollywood constructed—what Cavell refers to as the “mythic cycles” of its various genres—confident that the gangster films, the westerns, the love stories, the very personalities of the “stars” could embody an entire world of modernity. (It is at this point that Cavell’s chapter titles start quoting from the headings of Baudelaire’s essay “The Painter of Modern Life” and Humphrey Bogart enters as “The Dandy.”) Yet by the late 1950s, for reasons that are unclear, this confidence recedes, and along with it the viewer’s conviction in Hollywood’s capacity to screen a world for him. Through the crevice of this waning confidence and conviction comes the modernist dilemma, spelling the end to an age of innocence. And with it comes the question of “what specifically movies have to acknowledge, what it is that would not exist [for film] unless admittedly by it, what it is that the movie can no longer safely assume, but must declare, in order not to risk denying.” Responding to his query, Cavell writes, “My answer was that it must acknowledge what is always to be acknowledged, its own limits: in this case, its outsideness to its world, and my absence from it.”

An awareness of the medium’s limits as a precondition for a modernist sensibility, and a declaration of those limits as a procedural demand for film, are at the core of his analysis. Cavell’s reasons for locating these limits within the paired notions of outsideness and absence are inscribed in his contention that the only way in which the film image differs from reality is “that the projected world does not exist (now),” that the technology of recording and projection opens up a temporal divide between the reality that was filmed and the reality to which the viewer has access—that is, the reality screened. It is in this temporal division that the viewer’s invisibility is lodged, setting up the condition that what is present to him is literally past and that its pastness is what guarantees his absence from it. The viewer’s temporal removal is paralleled by the camera’s spatial outsideness to the scene: the fact that the filming camera can never be included in the recorded spectacle except by a number of self-conscious devices. (That this temporal removal and distance are grounds for what is still only a “potential” modernist situation comes from Cavell’s contention that film’s “modernist fate is not yet sealed”—that unlike the other visual arts, it may be able to remain viable without giving itself fully to a searching, modernist self-questioning.)

The question that occupies the last chapter of The World Viewed is the one of how to acknowledge the limits of film that have been described. And the answer that Cavell seems most enthusiastic about centers on the issue of synchronous sound, or rather, on the possibilities of desynchronizing word and image within the film’s reality. He mentions slow motion, freeze frames, and flash inserts, as visual strategies to which language cannot technically be synchronized. He points to these as means which have been used, particularly by Antonioni, Resnais, and Truffaut, to make significant those moments in which aspects of the self’s experience are seen as being “beyond the reach of words.” The body, portrayed through gestures which resist the accompaniment of speech, essentializes the exclusive properties of film, proclaiming it as a medium in which meaning is revealed most immediately to vision.

To many readers, much of this narrative may come as something of a shock. For starters, there is that piece about the early history of film and its unselfconsciousness. One is not talking about Groucho’s mugging at the camera or the various in-jokes that stars make to each other on film—nor is Cavell. He thinks of that kind of self-consciousness as merely establishing the extent of Hollywood’s confidence in itself as a world—in which there is room, as in any other, for irony and self-parody. He is speaking of a much deeper, more theoretically based freedom from self-critical examination. And to this end he writes:

Movies from their beginning avoided (I do not say answered) modernism’s perplexities of consciousness, its absolute condemnation to seriousness. Media based upon successions of automatic world projections do not, for example, have to establish presentness to and of the world: the world is there. They do not have to deny or confront their audiences: they are screened. And they do not have to defeat or declare the artist’s presence: the object was always out of his hands.

To those readers who are knowledgeable about Soviet film of the 1920s, who are aware of Eisenstein’s excruciation about the ways in which the world is “there” for film and his ambition to awaken the consciousness of his viewers by means of the variability of that “thereness,” who are as well conversant with Vertov’s films and the ways in which they both confront and account for their audiences, that passage must read as an extreme curiosity. And the point of calling attention to it is not to insist that everyone who writes on film be first and foremost a historian of it, but to ask whether one can construct an “ontology of film” in which its conditions and limits are set out without knowing about (or “acknowledging”) the serious engagements with those conditions and those limits that have gone on in the past and are going on in the present.

In this latter regard, the termination of Cavell’s narrative is strange in a way that is symmetrical with its beginning. The response to the explicit dilemma of acknowledgment is placed in the hands of the “new wave” directors of the early 1960s, and this in a book that is written in 1971. The entire modernist enterprise of American independent cinema is thus treated as though it never existed.

The price paid for this (seemingly) willed ignorance is revealed at many places in Cavell’s text. One of those is in that passage on the unsayable in which the filmmaker shows “experience beyond the reach of words.” “It is conveyed,” Cavell explains, “by freeing the motion of the body for its own lucidity.”1 He adds:

The body’s lucidity is not dependent upon slowing and flashing and freezing it and juxtaposing it to itself over cuts and superimpositions. It was always part of the grain of film that, however studied the lines and set the business, the movement of the actors was essentially improvised. . . . They could all go one way or another. Our resources are given, but their application to each new crossroads is an improvisation of meaning, out of the present.

And then, paralleling this condition with that absence to the event which is the viewer’s own, he writes, “In a movie house, the barrier to the stars is time.” And at this point the bell on the register rings in the mind of a reader who is at all broadly literate in the film of the 1960s. For, although Cavell is addressing certain European narrative film, that passage points most unwittingly to a filmmaker who appears nowhere in Cavell’s text. That filmmaker is Andy Warhol.

It is Warhol’s film that presents the body as being perpetually “there,” instated by the camera’s watchfulness, its obduracy unmanipulated by the shifting and splicing of any editorial moves. It is Warhol’s film that stakes everything on the lucidity of the body, that reveals its movements as unscripted and improvisatory—and yet, beyond that demonstration, shows that the range of experience which cues those actions and movements occupies a realm which is out of reach of that camera and the audience that sees through it. It is Warhol’s film—specifically those of his silent period—that articulates the message that “the barrier to the stars is time.” For example, Sleep, which records the sleeper at 24 frames a second, but scripts its projection at 16. And through this peculiar use of slow motion, it is Warhol’s film that meditates on the extreme dissociation between the self-enclosed temporality of the sleeper and the audience’s time through which it must be endured. For “its time and ours,” Stephen Koch writes of Sleep, “are not melded but irresolvably contrasted, and the operation of that contrast from minute to minute gives the film its life.”

That one comes to see Sleep so clearly as a formally brilliant response to issues of temporality and otherness is due to the extraordinary exposition given to it by Stephen Koch in Star-Gazer. The passages devoted to Warhol’s silent films—films like Sleep and Kiss and Eat—contain some of the most exemplary critical writing that I have encountered. Moving across the convoluted terrain of Warhol’s sensibility, with a dogged and beautifully slow persistence, they are written with an ease and fluidity that draws the reader effortlessly around their quarry in circles that grow smaller and tighter as they proceed.

It is not just the drag placed on the film’s speed as it moves past the gate of the projector that increases the audience’s distance from the action it witnesses; that distance is captured as well by the utter stillness of Warhol’s camera. In the six hours of Sleep’s running time, there are only a very few different camera setups,only a minimal number of new angles taken by the immobile camera on the sleeping subject. Which means that the film’s audience is trapped into accepting as its own the relentless fixity of the camera’s unmoving watchfulness. In that motionless watching, the activity of the human gaze is slowed and stopped, until, as Koch writes, “the sighting, darting vivacity of the [human] gaze becomes a stare.” And he adds, “it is a stare of distance, indifference, of mechanically complete attention and absolute contactlessness.” It is a stare which renders the normal presence of vision to its subject into something else which is an absence, a refusal to allow contact to become the object of vision. “There is a machine,” Koch writes, “—one of Warhol’s beloved machines—that performs and mimics that function, serving as both its reality and metaphor. It is the movie camera.” And in using the camera’s mechanical vision, which is the real meaning of its absence and otherness from the reality it photographs, to double for the “affect-less gaze” of the voyeur—the one who purposely absents himself—Warhol reifies the distance between audience and object.

On the screen in Sleep these two metaphors of distance—the camera’s otherness to its subject’s space, and the projection’s separateness from the subject’s time—meet and fuse. And in their fusion is the coming into being of an image of absolute stillness, forced into consciousness with the relentless purity of an abstraction. “Throughout, time remains itself, steadily flowing past at the speed of the clock, in the rhythm of the breath, of the heartbeat. And yet, every movement made by Warhol’s nude carries us deeper into his accentuated meditation on the stillness of sleep.”

One of the effects of that stillness is to unmake and undo that mode of participation which is the normal effect of film narrative.

Even if one only glances at the image from time to time, it plunges one into a cinematic profundity; in a single stroke that image effects a complete transformation of all the temporal modes ordinarily associated with looking at a movie. The knot of attention is untied, and its strands are laid out before us anew . . . The audience’s participation in the image is never allowed to fall into the slot of that other temporal reality— that acceleration and deceleration of the audience’s temporal sense created by narrative fantasy or conventionally edited structure, as in almost any other film one can think of.

In disallowing the participation in narrative, in the illusionistic strategies of anticipation and culmination into which the viewer could project and lose himself, Sleep returns the spectator to his isolation and distance. Rendering narrative inoperative, Warhol dismantles participatory fantasy (“the movies”) and in its place instates an image of the absolute otherness and privacy of the dreamer, filming someone for whom “the experience of time has been radically, metabolically made other, rendered private, changed.”

Narrowing in on the very subject of Sleep, Koch asks:

What is sleep, after all, but the metabolic transformation of the entire experience of time, our nightly release from the clock’s prison, filled and flashing with the dreaming motions of the mind and yet an immobility, a quietude in which seconds and hours are confounded.

The final meaning of our identification with the camera and its watchfulness is to fully experience the human presence wrapped completely in an awesome otherness. And at the same time it is to experience a kind of metaphoric dissolve from an image of the body into an image of landscape: a movement that swings from privacy backwards onto a broad expanse of anonymity. It is to realize that the modes of that sleeping otherness are the modes of depersonalization. “In sleep, as in the orgasm, the personality veers toward the impersonality of a universally shared experience. The life one sees in this film is abstraction on the vitalism of the personality.”

As Star-Gazer moves over the cinematic expanse of Warhol’s career, describing Warhol’s working methods, and his relation to the demimonde which he persistently filmed, it tracks the progress of an esthetic of decadence. It is in order to uncover the resources of this decadence for meaning—for the meaning of these films which Koch identifies with a “moving and even profound perceptual abstraction”—that the book has recourse to Baudelaire’s dandy.

Now there is a big difference between a book that sees Warhol as the reinstatement of the dandy, in his affectless gaze, his voyeuristic removal, his sadomasochistic strategies, his total decadence, and a book that sees the dandy in Humphrey Bogart and “the jaded detectives and private eyes of the past generation.” Cavell’s dandy is not someone who has gone through to the end of culture and slipped past it, but rather one for whom culture has never really been an issue. And this difference is, in fine, symbolic of the much larger difference that separates Star-Gazer from The World Viewed. Because the dandy really is one who has gone through and rejected an entire world of culture. For Warhol, that world is the culture of the narrative film. In this sense Warhol joins with other filmmakers (Godard, to name one) for whom the narrative convention is something that lulls consciousness, blinding it to the literalness of experience on which it is caught. This is part of the thesis of Star-Gazer.

While, for The World Viewed, with all its talk of ontologies and modernisms, film is held relentlessly hostage to a convention of narrative from within which it can only make a series of self-referential asides. The difference between the methodology of these two works is that Koch has lived within the sensibility of an artist to plumb the depth of its experience and to emerge with a profile of a modernist consciousness, and the works through which that consciousness is projected. In contrast to this, Cavell has tried to find the limits of a medium, believing that a modernist sensibility is given by those limits. But that is the wrong way round. A modernist sensibility pushes a medium to its limits, creating an image of itself in them. And in advance of this the limits are unknown. Indeed, the limits are given their contour in conjunction with the process by which the imagination turns round on itself in order to capture its—as well as the world’s—own image. This is the significance of Annette Michelson’s opening remarks in her essay on Michael Snow:

There is a metaphor recurrent in contemporary discourse on the nature of consciousness: that of cinema. And there are cinematic works which present themselves as analogues of consciousness in its constitutive and reflexive modes, as though inquiry into the nature and processes of experience had found in this century’s art form, a striking, a uniquely direct presentational mode. The illusionism of the new, temporal art reflects and occasions reflection upon the conditions of knowledge; it facilitates a critical focus upon the immediacy of experience in the flow of time(Artforum, June, 1971).

The failure of The World Viewed is the failure of its author to see that film is not necessarily circumscribed by narrative, not ontologically given by convention. This failure is the price paid for not attending to works of a cinematic avant-garde—whether that avant-garde manifested itself in Russia in the 1920s or in the United States and Canada in the 1960s. For that avant-garde, in having kept faith with the consciousness it possessed, has remade what can seriously be meant by “film.”

In so stating my objections to The World Viewed, I realize that I seem to be making an “empiricist” criticism of Cavell’s analytic procedures: one that he might feel himself to have refuted, although in another context. What I mean here is that the methods employed by Cavell in The World Viewed share some of the assumptions of Ordinary Language Philosophy in that Cavell wishes to let the general propositions of his work rest on his own highly idiosyncratic experience of film (“I am often referring to films I have seen only once, some as long as thirty years ago . . . I am as interested in how a memory went wrong as in why the memories that are right occur when they do”), counting on the fact that that idiosyncrasy is only a seeming one. For Cavell takes his own (limited) exposure to carry a generalizable experience of Film—of what it is like to view it, to be an audience for it, to absorb and describe the phenomenological dimensions of its power. In holding that belief in the intrinsic generality of his own experience, he is operating under the procedures of Ordinary Language Philosophy in which the philosopher, in characterizing the way a particular word is used within the language, tests his claims against the way he, himself, uses that word. And although in the characteristic phrasing of those claims, the philosopher writes, “When we say . . . we mean . . .” he is of course not taking a poll to find out if everyone who speaks that language really uses the word that way, but rather consulting his own usage, as a native speaker. (Thus a philosopher might speak of what “we” normally mean when we speak of an act as “voluntary” in order to uncover the confusion of using an opposition between the terms “voluntary” and “involuntary” in debating a notion like free will.)

In the title essay or Must We Mean What We Say?, an earlier collection of his writings (New York, 1969), Cavell turned back an empiricist attack on the procedures of Ordinary Language Philosophy—one that objected to the use of the universal claim voiced in that pronoun “we,” when obviously there was no attempt to gather empirical evidence on which to base the claim. And clearly Cavell’s argument in “Must We Mean What We say?”—that “native speakers of English . . . do not, in general, need evidence for what is said in the language; they are the source of such evidence”—is indisputable. As is his further argument that such philosophic claims, while they are obviously not made in the analytic form we usually understand by propositions of logic, have about them that aspect of necessity which we usually connect with analyticity. They are, then, if not exactly logical in nature, something which might be called grammatical. And in that recourse to the concept of a grammar, Cavell, with other Ordinary Language Philosophers, turns to the later work of Wittgenstein in the Philosophical Investigations.

It is the shadowy presence of Wittgenstein operating behind Cavell’s language in The World Viewed that seems to guide his effort to elevate what some readers might take to be an autobiographic account of moviegoing into a work which is presented as an effort to essentialize film as a medium, discovering its limits and indeed its ontology. But it is exactly at this point, where the book begins to make general claims for its author’s experience, that a recognizable sense of stupefaction takes over in the reader—a sensation familiar to most critics conversant with the literature of contemporary esthetics. Because in that literature statements are often made about “what we mean by the concept painting, or sculpture . . . or art.” And the critic, coming across that “we,” usually snaps the book shut with some very unkind epithets about the presumptuousness of that “we.” This is not because the critic is either churlish or unsubtle. Rather, it is because the contemporary critic senses a radical disjunction between a language and its uses and a work of art and its uses. For if (ordinary) language is what forms a native speaker’s world, surrounding him as it were by the totality of his natural habitat, that modern art which makes claims upon a serious critic (or upon other artists) is radically unnaturalized. It is, in fact, part of that extraordinary attempt of a consciousness to state the terms of its own autonomy—to invent de novo an image of its own uniqueness and particularity, while claiming for that image the possibility that there might be grounds from which others might incorporate it. Incorporate, but never fully appropriate it; for unlike language, they cannot speak it.

The sensation of having been awed/moved/comforted . . . by something utterly foreign and, at the same time, puzzlingly intelligible is one that is common to people who have engaged in being an audience for advanced art. For these people, someone who has not engaged with that order of experience cannot presume to describe the phenomenological conditions of it. It is as if a non-native speaker were at work, characterizing “what we say.”

This quality of shadow play, in which Wittgenstein and Ordinary Language Philosophy act behind the scenes of The World Viewed, forms another part of the way that this book is the complement and opposite of Star-Gazer. For, just as Cavell has recourse to his particular procedural sources, Koch depends on sources of his own. In Koch’s case this source happens to be Sartre—in particular Sartre’s essay on Baudelaire.2

Indeed, the themes that Koch describes in Warhol’s work are closely modeled on the direction which Sartre gives to these same thematic currents in his study of the poet. Sartre analyzes the importance of the gaze for Baudelaire: the gaze in which was contained the self-reflexive attempt of the poet to see himself as an object. Or again, Sartre describes Baudelaire’s satanism and his dandyism as two different strategies to rebel against bourgeois, Catholic morality, while continuing to remain locked within its terms. And while the conclusions that Sartre draws from this characterization—conclusions that Baudelaire conducted his life as a strategy to escape from facing up to his own freedom—may sound like an accusation, the goal of Sartre’s essay has nothing to do with reprobation or censure. Rather, Sartre is defining the nature of Baudelaire’s work by grasping the poet’s consciousness, from within.

This is the sense in which Sartre’s essay has served as a model for Koch’s book on Warhol. For beyond the obvious thematic correlations, there is the parallel of method. It is clear that Koch has resorted to Sartre’s book as a procedural model in the task of depicting an esthetic consciousness. If Koch has wished to do this, it seems to be out of the belief that modern art succeeds by an act of appropriation. And this appropriation occurs at the moment when a particular artist transforms an aspect of his given medium into a radical metaphor for the operations of his own consciousness.

The method at work in Star-Gazer is, then, one of attempting to reconstruct the consciousness of a particular artist through the combined evidence of his mode of existence and the sensuous objects—the films—which solidify that existence into a state of being. In order to achieve this, the book shifts back and forth between the formal mechanics of the films and the thematic preoccupations of their author. These are the themes of decadent sexuality, demonic possession, the endistancing stare, and finally, death. Koch shows the way these themes are instantiated first in the silent works for which Warhol has full responsibility as author, then through the chaotic and improvised sound-films for which he gradually ceded responsibility, and finally through their own self-parody in the scripted, commercialized productions made, under Warhol’s name, by Paul Morrissey.

One of the problems which preoccupies Koch in the last sections of Star-Gazer is just this esthetic decline of Warhol as a filmmaker, this self-imposed betrayal by his subject of his own gifts. If Koch is both troubled and interested by this decline, it is because it too has parallels with that other artistic career, Baudelaire’s, of whom Sartre writes:

Few existences have been more stagnant than his. For him the die was already cast at the age of twenty-one. Everything had stopped. He had had his chance and lost for ever. By 1846 he had spent half his capital, written most of his poems, contracted the venereal disease which slowly rotted him . . . He fell to pieces rather than evolved. Year after year we find him just the same, simply older, gloomier, his mind less rich and less alert, his body more battered.3

As a postscript to the comparative nature of the above remarks and the relative criticism contained within them, I want to say that Cavell has not always thought of modernist works as entailed by the kind of positivist notion of limits set forth in The World Viewed. In a brilliant essay on Beckett’s Endgame entitled “Ending the Waiting Game” (in Must We Mean What We Say?), there is no talk of modernism or of the limiting conditions of theater. Instead, Cavell reveals the meaning of Beckett’s entirely modernist strategy of literalizing language—of taking literally idioms, clichés, and, above all, curses. In writing of the relationship around which the play is built, Cavell says:

But any relationship of absorbing importance will form a world, as the personality does. And a critical change in either will change the world. The world of the happy man is different from the world of the unhappy man, says Wittgenstein in the Tractatus. And the world of the child is different from the world of the grown-up, and that of the sick from that of the well, and the mad from the un-mad. This is why a profound change in consciousness presents itself as a revelation, why it is so difficult, why its anticipation will seem the destruction of the world: even where it is a happy change, a world is always lost.

Exactly. The limits of a consciousness bounded by a narrative relation to temporality forms a world. As that world is wrenched apart and reshaped at the behest of a consciousness no longer contained within the old one, no longer accurately reflected through it, the medium for projecting that world is changed. Which means, of course, that the ontology of film is still to be written.

––Rosalind Krauss



1. For Cavell, “the body’s lucidity” is a concept that turns on his idea that unscripted, spontaneous acts are touchstones of meaning: “To act without performing . . . that has been the explicit wish of human action since Kierkegaard and Nietzsche summed up Protestantism”; and that this meaning is located within the province of sight and therefore of film: “A world of sound is a world of immediate connection; a world of sight is a world of immediate intelligibility. . . .”

2. Annette Michelson called my attention to this paired and reciprocal relationship.

3. Baudelaire, Martin Turnell, ed., New York, New Directions, 1950, pp. 163–65.