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Stanley Cavell WHAT BECOMES OF THINGS ON FILM? And does this title express a genuine question? That is, does one accept the suggestion that there is a particular relation (or a particular system of relations, awaiting systematic study) that holds between things and their filmed projections, which is to say between the originals now absent from us (by screening) and the new originals now present to us (in photogenesis)—a relation to be thought of as something's becoming something (say as a caterpillar becomes a butterfly, or as a prisoner becomes a count, or as an emotion becomes conscious, or as after a long night it becomes light)? The title is, at any rate, the working formulation I have given myself for the guiding question of this discussion. Of the many issues and many levels of issue raised by the papers I have been invited to comment upon, I have picked two moments at which work of my own about film has been referred to, wishing to contribute to a conversation in the territory of film study. The first moment is one in which I am quoted (or Heidegger and I jointly quoted) as saying that "The cinematic image accentuates the conspicuousness, obtrusiveness and obstinacy of things." I am sorry to have given such an impression. The background of what I said —in the course of giving some examples of how thinking about films and thinking about philosophy have drawn upon one another in my work— was this: early in Being and Time, Heidegger characterizes the specific way in which the phenomenon occurs, in his terms, of the "worldhood of the world announcing itself"; it is a phenomenon in which a particular mode of sight or awareness is brought into play. What brings this mode of sight into play is a disruption of what Heidegger calls the "work-world," a disruption of the matters of course running among our tools, and the occupations they extend, and the environment which supports these occupations. It is upon the disruption of such matters of course (of a tool, say by its breaking; or of someone's occupation, say because of an injury; or of some absence of material) that the mode of sight then brought forth discovers objects in what Heidegger 249 250Philosophy and Literature notes as their conspicuousness, their obtrusiveness, and their obstinacy. Now the foreground of what I said was this: it struck me that this perception or apprehension of the things of our world is part of the grain of silent film comedy; and, more particularly, that Buster Keaton is the silent comic figure whose extraordinary works and whose extraordinary gaze, perhaps the fundamental feature of his character, illuminate and are illuminated by the consequent concept of the worldhood of the world announcing itself. While I take even this bare broaching of this idea to formulate one possibility of cinematic images of the things of our world, it is no more to be expected that all cinematic images carry this force, than it is to be expected that all are in the service of Keaton's species of comedy; any more than the idea of such images exhausts what there is to say about Keaton, orabout Heidegger, or about any further relations between them. What the idea ought to do is to help us to see and say at once what it is Keaton permits us to laugh about and what concretely the nature is of the mode of sight from which Heidegger begins his analysis of Being-in-the-world. This laughter is not defined, for example, by a Bergsonian suggestion that the human being has become machine-like, or vice versa. Keaton is as flexible, as resourceful, as Ulysses, and his giant machines do exactly what they might be expected to do under their circumstances. We have here to do with something about the human capacity for sight, or for sensuous awareness generally, something wë might express as our condemnation to project, to inhabit, a world that goes essentially beyond the delivery of our senses. This seems to be the single point of agreement throughout the history of epistemology, at least throughout the modern history of the...


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pp. 249-257
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