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Mystifying Movies: Fads and Fallacies in Contemporary Film Theory, by Noel Carroll; ? & 258 pp. New York: Columbia University Press, 1988, $30.00. Discussed by Kenneth Marc Harris With academic appointments in philosophy and in theater and with respectable publications in other areas in addition to these, Noël Carroll has demonstrated wide-ranging expertise, but it is in film theory, the subject of two of his three books, that he is most widely known. This second and more interesting of the two books on film theory, however, also establishes him as a leading figure in yet another genre, one that may become almost as fashionable. The genre lacks a name but possesses a long pedigree. Those who labor in it have traditionally been British (and later American) scholars, critics on "men of letters" who make it their business to debunk the literary and esthetic propositions emanating perennially from Continental , particularly French, theorists and their cross-Channel (and later transatlantic) imitators. What the philosophes would pass off as established rules or general laws, the debunkers expose as little more than arbitrary and aprioristic presumptions. Or, as Dr. Johnson, a distinguished early practitioner of the genre, puts it in Rambler 158, using language that might appear with little modification in the work of his current successors, the "rules" promulgated by "European scholars," rather than having "attained the certainty and stability of science . . . will be found, upon examination, [to be] authorised only by themselves" and "selected such as happened to occur to their own reflection." Opposed to such dubious practices, of course, is Anglo-Saxon empiricism, Philosophy and Literature, © 1991, 15: 129-138 130Philosophy and Literature not to mention good plain common sense. The intellectual Hundred Years' War rages on to this day, most heatedly in literary studies, where a major offensive against the hyper-theorists and Francophiles was launched a decade or so ago by conservatives such as E. D. Hirsch, Jr., Geoffrey Strickland, René Wellek, and Frederick C. Crews. Carroll assumes that most adherents of contemporary film theory have their origin in the Francophile camp of contemporary literary theory, and for Carroll that association alone is enough to cast suspicion upon them. Referring explicitly to admirers ofJean-Louis Baudry and Roland Barthes in a programmatic early passage in Mystifying Movies, he indicts "many contemporary film theorists, especially those with backgrounds in literature," for confusing "contemporary belles-lettres" with "scientific and philosophical reasoning." In view of this dubious mixing of the literary and the philosophical/scientific—it "is one of the most egregious problems in contemporary film theory"—Carroll feels he is more than justified in adopting throughout his book an "extremely detailed, literal-minded, and argumentative style." Stern measures against the perpetrators are indeed "mandated" on account of "their penchant for belletristic expression, including slippery analogies and metaphors." In sum, they "must be shown that they are using the wrong tools for the task at hand" (p. 32). Having thus brought the charges and spelled out the procedures for handling offenders, Carroll rounds up the usual suspects. First there is a chapter on Baudry and Christian Metz, whose semiotic-cum-psychoanalytic variations on the commonplace analogy between film techniques and certain mental processes, above all dreaming, are no less slippery in Carroll's judgment than the many earlier attempts to make a similar connection, stretching all the way back to Hugo Munsterberg's venerable The Photoplay: A Psychological Study (1916). Another pair of Frenchmen, Louis Althusser and Jacques Lacan, are featured in the second chapter because together they constitute the "paradigm" for what, according to Carroll, "contemporary film theorists . . . take as their central task." That task is explaining how films foster in spectators "the faith that they are free and unified" as individual subjects: Althusser provides the dictum that "the primary operation of ideology is subject construction" and Lacan supplies a description of the psychological mechanism utilized by ideology for going about the construction of subjects (p. 72). Carroll not only swings his wrecking ball against the foundations of both Althusserian Marxism and Lacanian psychoanalysis , he also demolishes the notion that ideology is a major factor in Kenneth Marc Harris131 maintenance of the status quo in the first place and proposes to...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 129-138
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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