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  • The White Screen Circa 1900—On the Moving Image as Potentiality of Thought
  • Pasi Väliaho (bio)

Léonce Perret's 1912 film Le mystère des Roches de Kador presents one of the most beautiful shots in the early history of cinema: the female protagonist, Suzanne, shrinks away from a white screen filled with light in front of her and eventually faints (see Figure 1). In the film's story, Suzanne has fallen into an amnesic and catatonic state due to a traumatic experience of a shooting incident taken place at a rough seashore, where Suzanne's cousin who is jealously in love with her has attempted to shoot her fiancé. She is treated by a Professor Williams with a "new cinematographic method in psychotherapy," which consists of restaging and recording the traumatic event and then showing the film to the patient. The scene in question displays the screening of the film, after which Suzanne becomes cured and regains her capacity to speak, recollect, and act. Most importantly, Suzanne recovers her "faculty" of language, a faculty that in the history of Western thought has been approached as that of articulate and meaningful speech essentially characterizing the "living being that has logos" (to zôon logon ekhon) (e.g., Aristotle 2002, De Interpretatione 16a27-29).

The shot itself, however, is interesting in its muteness or speechlessness; it lacks communication, and what actually occurs is action between agency and pure passiveness. On the other hand, what is essential is how Suzanne recoils after the film ends and the projector illuminates the screen, and consequently, there is nothing to be seen but bare "imagelessness." Just as there are no words, in a sense images are also absent (or, rather, what the actual image attempts to bring forth is the absence of any image). What does Suzanne then "see"? Kador suggests that she faces her own forgetting.1 In the story, Suzanne has been passed out during the original traumatic event due to a sleeping [End Page 40] potion her cousin has put in her tea. Therefore, she does not have actual perceptions or memory traces about the event. Rather, those memories come into existence only afterwards through the filmic repetition of the event. This means that Professor William's film itself is Suzanne's memory about the event she has never consciously experienced. The film does not function as the mere retention of personally experienced past events but as the impersonal and non-subjective "tracing" of her memory—as the other inside her, one that she would never have been able to recollect. In this way, the film yields forgetting in the sense that there is nothing to remember, and the white screen eventually displays Suzanne's amnesia. What Suzanne is exposed to is her amnesia.

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Figure 1.

Le mystère des Roches de Kador, a film by Léonce Perret. Production Gaumont, 1912. Collection Musée Gaumont.

Thereby, the scene in Kador proposes how logos in fact essentially relates to the absence of any mnemic content, any actual image or word. Ultimately, this absence points to death, not, however, as bare negation but in the sense of a fissure in time that opens up to the transcendental that exceeds pure presence, to another dimension distant and diverging from—yet intrinsic to and implicated in—the immediately given.2 In the white screen, Suzanne is eventually exposed to her own death, to that [End Page 41] which exceeds presentation in actual words, images and sounds. Martin Heidegger notes how death and language are fundamentally connected with each other, as "experiencing" (erfahren) death seems to be constitutive of the living being that has logos in contrast to animals which can neither experience death as death nor speak (215). "Having logos" is thus freed from the objectivity or the subjectivity of the empirical and relates to a metaphysical dimension. In this respect, however, it should not be regarded as being in opposition to memory as such.3 Accordingly, in Kador the immemorial white screen of death in fact encircles Suzanne's very potentiality to remember, in other words, pure memory. The filmic simulation of Suzanne's recollections...


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