PRINT October 1978

Modernist Cinema: The History Lessons of Straub and Huillet

LONG THOUGHT A HIGHER THING than history, poetry in the 19th century begins to seek a ground in history. Poetry was the higher thing, for Aristotle, because it can express the universal, whereas history is bound to the particular. A historian, he explained, is obliged to tell us about a sea battle simply because it happened, little connected as it may be with other events which happened elsewhere and which have to be included in a historical account. A poet, on the other hand, can leave out the sea battle if he doesn’t think it relevant to his subject, licensed as he is to set aside particulars in order to make the right connections and get at the essentials. In this view, advanced in the fourth century B.C. and still widely held, art occupies a privileged position apart from life, a realm of beauty and truth above life’s confusions and contingencies.

But only at a time when life was simpler,

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