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  • The Posthuman Bazin?
  • Chaorong Hua (bio)
André Bazin's Film Theory: Art, Science, Religion by Angela Dalle Vacche. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019. 240 pages. $125 hardcover, $34.95 paper; also available in e-book.

Another book on André Bazin came out recently.1 I will not conceal my sheer admiration when I learned that this particular monograph was a result of ten years' work based on the entire oeuvre of Bazin's archive, all accomplished before the publication of his Écrits complets in 2018 (xi). The book attempts and perhaps has indeed managed to provide one of the most comprehensive syntheses of Bazin's film theory so far. In this ambitious study of Bazin, Angela Dalle Vacche approaches this most famous of film critics from three major perspectives: art, science, and religion. Each perspective constitutes the focus of a separate chapter. Such a setup makes it possible to read Bazin as a systematic theorist instead of someone who jots down his fragmentary thoughts all over the place. The theorist Bazin and the critic Bazin are thus united, and the thematic issues of these three areas are proven to be consistent throughout his writings. Especially exciting is Dalle Vacche's move to transform our general conception about Bazin by unpacking the significant but often insufficiently treated aspects (as well as intertextual references to the broader intellectual sphere of his time) in his writings. In addition, the book includes an up-to-date compilation of important primary and secondary sources for further studies of Bazin. [End Page 447] All of these will make the book an essential read for scholars and students who care about Bazin or cinema in general.

At the core of this 240-page volume lies a paradox: Bazin's seemingly nonhumanistic understanding of photography coexists with his strong belief in ethical humanism (especially manifest in his endorsement of a certain form of realism). Previous scholarship on Bazin has not yet come to an agreement on how to reconcile this gap.

Ever since Brian Henderson claimed that "Bazin's ontological work and his historical work [i.e., his realistic criticisms] appear virtually as separate and opposed systems operating within the same body of thought"2 and that such an "opposition … is the central feature of Bazin's work," scholars have debated and struggled with this gap.3 Dudley Andrew was also aware that this gap was still largely present when he was writing in 2016 that Bazin's "humanism was tempered by his appetite for science, by his interest in the way the world works without man at its center."4 In his influential 2006 essay, Daniel Morgan made an ambitious attempt to work through this impasse through the lens of Stanley Cavell. By focusing on the textual statement that "the image is the model" and turning Bazin's ontology into the Cavellian "acknowledgment," Morgan managed to reconcile Bazin's ontology with his realism to a certain degree, painting a relatively coherent picture of Bazin as a classical humanist through and through. But the result was not as satisfactory, for Morgan seems to have willingly glossed over one of the key contradictory parts of the essay: the automatic nature of photography.5

Dalle Vacche takes up this challenge. Her new book employs an almost facsimile cover of the original French Qu'est-ce que le cinéma? with the photograph of Bazin and his cat as well as the color combination of black and purplish pink, seemingly making a statement about its interpretive authority with a sense of finality to the long debate. Her argument is equally strong and apparently undefeatable: André Bazin's ontology and film theory is antianthropocentric. However, Dalle Vacche does recognize the importance and urgency of human ethics for Bazin and admits that the question "what is cinema?" addresses "what a human is and why cinema is indispensable for humankind" (3). For the purpose of her argument, Dalle Vacche has made some efforts to stress Bazin's scientific orientation when depicting his biographic life. The great film critic and theorist's interests in biology, geology, chemistry, physics (especially quantum physics), and mathematics are made explicit in chapter 3, which is dedicated to the topic...