Tuesday, January 1, 2013

LOLA and Adrian Martin's "Last Day Every Day"

The online film magazine LOLA, which is edited by Adrian Martin and Girish Shambu, is now publishing its third issue. The first issue is entitled 'Histories', the second 'Devils' and the latest one is called 'Masks' and where the highlight so far is Hail Holy Motors, which is a round-table on the Leos Carax film. As usual the full issue will slowly be published in its entirety over the coming weeks. The online film-zine outlet is a natural extension for film blogger Girish Shambu who also runs a film-blog that is catered towards cinephiles where he posts his observations about films and the literature and lists links to recent insightful film-related articles.

Adrian Martin (Rouge) has also recently published a new book: Last Day Every Day: Figural Thinking from Auerbach and Kracauer to Agamben and Brenez (Punctum Books). The book consists of a short thirty-page essay, based on a talk first delivered at a Siegfried Kracauer colloquium, and is about the idea of the figure which runs through the history of cinema as elaborated by the authors mentioned in the book's title. Martin writes in his signature belletristic prose that mixes an encyclopedic knowledge of film along with philosophy and a Benjaminian knowledge of the bibliographies of its many subjects.

It seems like Kracauer is enjoying a revival in the world of film publishing as, asides from Last Day Every Day, there have been two new books published about him: Siegfried Kracauer’s American Writings and Culture in the Anteroom (which are excellently reviewed by Jim Hoberman at The Nation).

Martin, who writes about his cinephile background in his dialogue with James Naremore in Movie Mutations, is the ideal writer to examine the idea of the "figure" that appears in the writing of the French film-critic Nicole Brenez, especially as he has translated her book on Abel Ferrara.

“In the word figure, as Brenez uses it", according to Martin,
there is exactly what you would figure there should be in it: a notion of drawing or tracing, as in figural or plastic art, a creative shaping rather than a simple mechanical reproduction; an idea of the body, but not only the human body, because there are unhuman figures, object-figures, abstract figures, many kinds of figures; and there is a figuring out, a continual essaying or experimentation. 
For Martin there is a connection between Brenez's usage of the term figure and that of the German-born literary philologist Erich Auerbach, which he describes as a "major source for her theory of the figure." To explain Auerbach's account of the figure, Martin explains, "figuration is a system of prophecy: how certain events or people in the Old Testament, for example, prophesize (or prefigure) events to come in the New Testament." Martin further explains,
Figural prophecy implies the interpretation of one worldly event through another; the first signifies the second, the second fulfils the first. Both remain historical events; yet both, looked at in this way, have something provisional and incomplete about them; they point to one another and both point to something in the future, something still to come, which will be the actual, real, and definitive event.
This is where Martin references Kracauer and his book The Detective Novel, (unpublished in his life, and now only available in French). About it Martin notes,
Kracauer conjures the existence of two spheres which exist in a deformed or inverted mirror relation: the sphere of humans, in their earthly society, and the "superior" realm, which, following Kierkegaard, Kracauer explicitly  calls the religious sphere. […] In a logic that is well known to students of Kracauer, the ruthlessly rationalized, industrialized, bureaucratized world of contemporary society offers a pathetic, degraded reflection of the perfect world, the divine sphere: it is the inauthentic reflection of the authentic, a world without tragedy, the sublime or the ecstatic.
Martin argues that this dual figural set-up can be seen in the films of other figures of the Weimar Republic, Josef von Sternberg (The Blue Angel) and Douglas Sirk (The Tarnished Angel) where "all the characters, in dramatic terms, will continue to twist and turn in these positions, established (like a ritual, medieval figural procession) at the very start."

As Martin notes, Brenez did not directly derive nor appropriate the term figure from Auerbach and in the book's post-scripts Brenez comments upon Martin’s essay and the latin roots of the term and succinctly concludes, “it's the films themselves, in their singularity, that are enriching the method - so the more they are singular and unique, the more they will offer to the knowledge of figurality.”

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