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  • Blanchot and the Moving Image: Fascination and Spectatorship by Calum Watt
  • Michael Holland
Blanchot and the Moving Image: Fascination and Spectatorship. By Calum Watt. (Moving Image, 8.) Cambridge: Legenda, 2017. xi + 185 pp., ill.

One of the striking things to emerge from Calum Watt's impressive study is the extent to which contemporary discussion of the art of film draws on Maurice Blanchot's thought. This gives rise to what he calls the 'animating paradox' (p. 4) behind his book: the fact that an author exclusively devoted to literature should turn out to offer both film theorists and filmmakers the means to reflect on and conceptualize the art of film. His detailed research reveals the considerable attention paid to Blanchot by cinema theorists such as Marie-Claire Ropars-Wuilleumier and Raymond Bellour, and philosophers such as Jacques Rancière and Gilles Deleuze, who wrote in Cinéma 2: 'Ce que Blanchot diagnostique dans la littérature se retrouve partout éminemment dans le cinéma' (cited p. 94). However, Watt's purpose is not to distil his own theory of film from Blanchot's writing ('there can be no such thing as a Blanchotian approach to film', he says, p. 23), but rather to 'think film at the same time as pursuing the thought of Blanchot' (p. 14). Throughout his study Watt remains refreshingly impatient with the limitations of much thinking about film, using Blanchot's categories to reveal the limitations of various theoretical approaches. In the process, not only does he ambitiously offer 'a reflection on the direction of film studies' themselves (p. 168): he persuasively identifies in Blanchot's writing a 'filmic imaginary' that gives it its originality and in whose light key notions such as fascination acquire greater significance. After an introductory survey of some of the biographical and literary connections between Blanchot and film using Derrida's account of Blanchot's L'Instant de ma mort (1994) as its starting point, Chapter 1 sets out the key terms that will serve as relays between Blanchot's thought and film: fascination, désœuvrement, disaster, and the primal scene, all of which derive from Blanchot's highly original understanding of the imaginary in both his fiction and his thought. Chapter 2 examines Blanchot's 'subterranean presence' (p. 86) in Jean-Luc Godard's films, in particular Histoire(s) du cinéma (1988-98), with particular reference to the myth of Orpheus. Chapter 3 is devoted to Satantango (1994) by Béla Tarr, who, unlike Godard, does not refer directly to Blanchot in his films, but whose use of the long take establishes a relation to time that can be understood in Blanchotian terms. Chapter 4 brings in Emmanuel Levinas alongside Blanchot for a reading of Gaspar Noé's 'problem film' Irréversible (2002) centred on the question of the Other, which rescues the film from recuperation by ethics, either negatively or positively, by examining the role played by 'the passive relation of fascination we enter into before the image' (p. 159). Each of the three films Watt examines, he says, 'presents an unorthodox conception of time', and provides an instance of the way, according to Blanchot's thinking, 'the image constantly announces in one way or another an annulment of time as linear, irreversible progression' (p. 158). Occasional obscurities and the [End Page 632] misattribution of a poem by Holderlin hardly detract from the groundbreaking qualities of this study, which does justice independently to each of its subjects.

Michael Holland
St Hugh's College, Oxford


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