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Harmony and Dissent

Film and Avant-garde Art Movements in the Early Twentieth Century

R. Bruce Elder

Publication Year: 2010

R. Bruce Elder argues that the authors of many of the manifestoes that announced in such lively ways the appearance of yet another artistic movement shared a common aspiration: they proposed to reformulate the visual, literary, and performing arts so that they might take on attributes of the cinema. The cinema, Elder argues, became, in the early decades of the twentieth century, a pivotal artistic force around which a remarkable variety and number of aesthetic forms took shape.

To demonstrate this, Elder begins with a wide-ranging discussion that opens up some broad topics concerning modernity’s cognitive (and perceptual) regime, with a view to establishing that a crisis within that regime engendered some peculiar, and highly questionable, epistemological beliefs and enthusiasms. Through this discussion, Elder advances the startling claim that a crisis of cognition precipitated by modernity engendered, by way of response, a peculiar sort of “pneumatic (spiritual) epistemology.” Elder then shows that early ideas of the cinema were strongly influenced by this pneumatic epistemology and uses this conception of the cinema to explain its pivotal role in shaping two key moments in early-twentieth-century art: the quest to bring forth a pure, “objectless” (non-representational) art and Russian Suprematism, Constructivism, and Productivism.

Published by: Wilfrid Laurier University Press

Series: Film and Media Studies

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. v-vii

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pp. ix-xxix

Let us begin with a potted taxonomy of vanguard movements in early twentieth-century art so extreme that it amounts to a parody. Some avant-garde movements seem coolly rational, committed to principles of harmony and to means of social reform that arise from those principles; others seem to proffer riotous...

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pp. xxxi-xxxiii

To say that the arts no longer occupy a central place in the North American mind is to state the obvious. Dreams fostered by commerce’s romance with technology have long since supplanted the arts in North Americans’ imaginations. Historical forces that arose in the Renaissance and acquired additional strength...


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1. The Philosophical and Occult Background to the Absolute Film

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pp. 3-38

The development of photography and film was a response to the crisis of vision that by the early nineteenth century had reached alarming intensity. The camera served as a prosthetic for vision: it allowed us to see, and therefore to understand, what the human eye cannot see unaided. It contributed to the effort...

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2. Modernism and the Absolute Film

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pp. 39-201

There is a long prehistory to the Absolute Film.We might note the following influences on it: light sculpture; scroll painting; various devices for producing colours to accompany musical pieces (“coloured-light organs” being the best known); various forms for fixing movement on a static surface; and kinetic...


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3. Spiritual Interests in Late Nineteenth-Century and Early Twentieth-Century Russia

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pp. 205-223

Russia at the beginning of the twentieth century was a cauldron of political and artistic causes. Ferment had been developing on all fronts since the middle of the previous century. Aileen Kelly, introducing Sir Isaiah Berlin’s exemplary writings on the Russian political philosophy of the nineteenth...

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4. Symbolism and Its Legacies

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pp. 225-263

Solovyov’s and Berdyaev’s ideas have parallels in Russian Symbolism, a movement that interested most of the artists who would take part in the Suprematist, Futurist, Cubo-Futurist, Neo-Primitivist, Constructivist, and Cubo-Constructivist movements. The parallels run deep: for example, like the Symbolists...

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5. Constructivism: Between Productivism and Suprematism

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pp. 265-277

The Constructivist movement emerged around 1913 in the work of Vladimir Yevgrafovich Tatlin (1885–1953). Tatlin took as his starting point the three-dimensional Cubist constructions of Picasso and Braque. In 1915 he exhibited a collection of painterly reliefs and corner reliefs. In these works he abandoned...

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6. Eisenstein, Constructivism, and the Dialectic

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pp. 279-436

That, then, is a capsule description of the theory of dialectical materialism—it describes, in a particularly rich fashion, the relations among technology, history, social formations, and ideology. The Constructivists treated dialectical materialism, a theory of history, as though it were mainly a prescription...

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Concluding Unscientific Postscript

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pp. 439-442

The impetus so evident in the first decades of the twentieth century, to bring forth a new art that would eschew representation, and to do without any depicted objects, has been widely understood as a movement of purification: any element or any formal device that was not rooted in the nature of material...

Appendix: Viking Eggeling’s Diagonal-Symphonie: An Analysis

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pp. 445-464


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pp. 465-480

E-ISBN-13: 9781554580866
Print-ISBN-13: 9781554580286

Page Count: 516
Publication Year: 2010

Series Title: Film and Media Studies