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  • Mapping the Moving Image: Gesture, Thought and Cinema circa 1900
  • Jan Baetens
Mapping the Moving Image: Gesture, Thought and Cinema circa 1900 by Pasi Väliaho. Amsterdam University Press, Amsterdam, NL, 2010. Film Culture in Transition series, 256 pp., illus. ISBN: 978-90-8964-141-0; ISBN: 978-90-8964-140-3.

Mapping the Moving Image is without any doubt the most ambitious work on film theory that I have read recently. It opens, I believe, truly new perspectives for a better understanding of the medium's history—or rather, the medium's genealogy, because the theoretical framework engaged in this book is not that of empirical historical studies (as illustrated in certain types of audience and moviegoing studies) but that of Foucault's biopolitics, Deleuze's philosophy of becoming and Kittler's medium theory. The book ends symptomatically, with a dialogue with Sean Cubitt's postmodern film semiotics (see his work The Cinema Effect, 2004). Moreover, its last sentence before the concluding remarks is a critical homage to Stanley Cavell: "Cinema, then, is the world viewed anew" (p. 181). (This is a clear allusion to Cavell's masterwork The World Viewed, 1979, in which he defends a powerful yet quite traditional realist stance on cinema, in the tradition of André Bazin). All these references, to which one should add a permanent conversation with the best that has been said around the notion of cinema as cinema of attraction and around the cultural history of cinema, make it clear that the stakes of this publication are very high and that Väliaho has the aspiration to make it all anew. Perhaps not all the ideas discussed in this book are totally new in themselves, but their gathering and synoptic presentation certainly are. And perhaps not all the hypotheses are automatically convincing as well, but the sharpness and intelligence of the book's argumentation will seduce the most reluctant reader. In short, the impressive depth and breadth of Väliaho's work make Mapping the Moving Image a true event, which may become an important stepping-stone in the history of film theory.

In his reading of film's genealogy, Väliaho defends a number of hypotheses that imply a dramatic reinterpretation of how we see the emergence of the film medium. The most important, perhaps, is the idea that the basic context of film is neither optics nor theater but recording. For Väliaho, cinema is not an expanded version of previously elaborated forms of optical-mechanical reproduction. To put it more simply, it is not (only, or mainly) a remediation of photography as animated or moving photography (this shift also implies why Mapping the Moving Image does not dwell very much on the notion of gaze). Correspondingly, cinema is not the encounter of moving and projected images with the existent culture of theatrical and non-theatrical entertainment and performance, as a narrow interpretation of the concept of cinema of attraction may have suggested. Without, of course, rejecting the historical importance of these two aspects, Väliaho emphasizes on the contrary the relationship between the moving image and other techniques of recording "life" (such as illustrated for instance in the first attempts to establish psychology laboratories or the first examples of visual inscription of what is beyond the reach of our eyes and the normal use of our senses). Most importantly, what all these innovations disclose is a major crisis in the relationship between subject and object, whose frontiers become blurred, and in the age-old distinction between knowledge and self-knowledge, whose parting becomes questionable as well. The cinema is part of a larger cultural shift in the West, which led many to recognize that the division between inside and outside, (the former knowable through mental introspection, the latter knowable through sensory perception) and the link between both being guaranteed by the concept of representation did not hold. One could say that Väliaho radicalizes Jonathan Crary's work in Techniques of the Observer (1991), although he does so in a framework that is broader than the biopolitical stance taken by Crary. Cinema is a crucial aspect of this change, for the filmic moving image exemplifies a...


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