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  • Nuovo Cinema ‘Politico’
  • Konrad Gar-Yeu Ng (bio)
Review of Michael Shapiro, Cinematic Political Thought: Narrating Race, Nation and Gender

Cinematic Political Thought: Narrating Race, Nation and Gender is the latest addition to Michael Shapiro’s growing archive. This polemical work engages with a multiplicity of worlds that emerge from political theory, international relations, cultural studies, gender studies, literary theory and cinematic aesthetics. Whereas most texts about politics and cinema materialize as a form of political cinema, Shapiro fashions a philosophic visual trajectory that departs from Deleuze’s work on cinema; I would like to highlight some of the scripts that run through Cinematic Political Thought.

By assuming the role of a Deleuzian historical-philosophical director, Shapiro orchestrates an “undoing of stories” (69). Following Immanuel Kant’s critical trajectory and temporal sensitivity, Shapiro adopts, assembles and inflects the glosses of Gilles Deleuze, Michel Foucault and Walter Benjamin to present a cinematic-genealogical reading of contemporary political tales. The idea is to direct an approach that is genealogical in scope and cinematic in method. For Shapiro, a genealogical attitude reorients questions of value and intelligibility; it shows “how valued aspects of life are shaped and represented and inquires into the implications of not only how but also when a difference with respect to value and meaning is articulated” (16). Genealogy attempts to find and disclose the relations of power that are taken for granted or hidden. Thus, the genealogical scope of Cinematic Political Thought is to map the ways in which the politics of meaning and value achieve intelligibility “at the expense of alternative possible modes of intelligibility” (17).

Cinema is complimentary to genealogy. Shapiro’s cinematic praxis is twofold. First, he analyzes films that exemplify aspects of his argument in an “uncommon” and unique way. The “cinematic,” in Cinematic Political Thought, is “a critical and disruptive thought enterprise rather than a mechanism of representation” (22). A cinematic style of critique recognizes the capacity of aesthetic technologies to rethink and reread contemporary political events. Shapiro contends that modern cinema, through its assemblage of camera shots, enacts a temporal rhythm that is critically more cognizant than an earlier cinematic attitude which privileged the spatiality of a situated viewpoint. The privileging of “instants” (the situated viewpoint) only follows character movements in film whereas the time image of modern cinema provides a liberated viewpoint:

[The] ‘time image’ constitutes a way of reading events that is more critical than mere perception. As long as the camera merely followed action, the image of time was indirect, presented as a consequence of motion. But the new ‘camera consciousness’ is no longer defined by the movements it is able to follow. This consciousness, articulated through modern cinema, has become sensitive to a model of time that is more critical than what such a derivative model supplies.


As such, cinematic political thought uses the temporality of assemblage to render practices in a given historical period contingent and unusual. The “now-time” of modern cinema enables a critical and historical attitude towards modalities of time and value. Thus, Shapiro reads film as a special kind of medium:

Through its various forms, [film] adds dimensions to the special angles of vision that a writer/director can offer. The film genre provides, for example, the possibility of resistance to official national stories, beyond what is imposed by the special vision of the diasporic director. By combining and staging encounters among different vernacular idioms and - through montage - allowing alternative cultural worlds to converge, the film can resist merely mapping the subjectivities organized by the character’s perceptions and produce what Deleuze calls time images.


The second cinematic aspect of Shapiro’s praxis is his cinematic style of writing. The “now-time” literary aesthetic in Cinematic Political Thought is informed by a Benjamin-Deleuzian recognition of the critical, temporal and literary possibilities of cinema. Benjamin offers epigrammatic insight for Shapiro’s cinematic style and in particular, Shapiro follows Benjamin’s notion of literary montages. Benjamin contends that writing can exhibit rather than express concepts such that it can juxtapose various images to “render the ‘time of the now’ from a critical, historically sensitive perspective” (6). Deleuze’s cinematic thinking widens the critical...

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