"The international emergence of Aleksandr Sokurov was perhaps inevitable, but no less welcome for all that. He is but one of a whole international generation--a word not taken in the biological or chronological sense--of great auteurs, who seem to renew the claims of high modernism in a period in which that aesthetic and its institutional preconditions seem extinct. Any festival program supplies a short list: Bela Tarr, Abbas Kiarostami, Victor Erice, Tsai Ming-liang, Raoul Ruiz, Theo Angelopoulos, Alexei Gherman, Alexander Kluge, Manoel de Oliveira, even Peter Greenaway. These figures certainly have some of the aura of Bergman or Fellini, Antonioni or Bresson, although they did not have to break the ground broken by those predecessors (and thus might better be termed late modernists rather than modernists tout court); they are also a good deal more unreadable (or "writerly") and difficult, boring and demanding than those more popular modernist figures and are in that sense comparable to the more extreme and enigmatic literary modernists (Stein, Pound, the Joyce of Finnegans Wake, Raymond Roussel, the Mallarmé of Le Livre, Duchamp, and so on) rather than the stereotypically accessible ones (Mann, Proust, the Joyce of Ulysses, Kafka). A case could certainly be made for the nonsynchrony of the dialectic of film modernism with respect to literary or fine arts modernisms; and in that case Sokurov and the new auteurs would be the nonsynchronous equivalents of an immediate post-World War II literature. But these new figures do share one modification of the modern with their new-wave forebears: the desacralization of the cinematographic art, the waning from this very insistently art cinema of the religion of art that had reassured its earlier modernist practicioners. Yet, as we shall see, this confidence in (or additiction to) cinematographic production as an activity in its own right that needs no external or transcendental justification is not enough to rescue the works themselves from a typical modernist autoreferentiality; indeed, it explains the latter and justifies this cinema's structural need to justify its own existence."
-- Fredric Jameson, the opening paragraph of "History and Elegy in Sokurov" (Critical Inquiry 33, Autumn 2006)
People have long noted how cinema & cinephilia employ certain truisms in an effort to fortify itself or bolster its sense of exceptionalism (a youngest-child syndrome?). "Cinematic" is a compliment in some circles when people would balk at describing a novel as "novelistic." Wasn't it Nicole Brenez who, in her letter in the first round of Movie Mutations correspondence, said she's never seen a film that's made her turn away from the cinema? Well--what of it? Are we to understand that, deep down, to turn away from one's livelihood is a very real possibility? (That is, is there just a tiny seed of defensiveness in Brenez's comment?) Can anyone think of an instance in which, say, an art historian said that she'd never seen a painting that made her want to stop looking at paintings? What makes people say these kinds of things about films?
That's one of the refreshing things about Fredric Jameson's magisterial, sometimes byzantine dabblings in high-level film criticism and the like; there's no sense that he ever needs to justify his interest in films on personal terms. Consequently one can't imagine him giving into some of the weaker impulses that maybe don't do justice to us awestruck hardcore cinephiles: the impulse to centralize the cinema. This impulse is "fine" from the point of view of a hobbyist-consumer; but it makes cultural criticism through the consideration of cinema very difficult. (This is why so many of my film critical heroes seem to be pointing with one hand ever deeper into the films, trends, authors they examine, but using their other hand to point always outward: this includes militant Brenez, gonzo-humanist Möller, Adrian Martin--well, readers here know the list already.)
Speaking of Martin (from one of his letters to James Naremore, published in Movie Mutations):
"In the mid 80s, the celebrated Australian cultural historian and critic Sylvia Lawson wrote a searching piece called 'Pireces of a Cultural Geography.' [Note to self: Track this piece down, already. --ZC] It offers an account of a month or so in which Sylvia attended a number of different public forums that piqued her interest--one was a film conference, another was an art world seminar, and the last a political forum. Sylvia records her impression that, while some of the faces in the crowd--and even some of the speakers on the panels--recur, there is a strong sense of non-overlap between these pieces of cultural terrain: they simply don't communicate with each other. Each one becomes a kind of box, with its own history, its own language, its own concerns. They each become tribal centres, massively self-generating and self-sustaining--like all institutions, I guess. And even when individuals with wide interests and open, synthesising minds like Sylvia travel from one to the next, they experience a kind of alienation, as if they have to reorient, reconfigure, even reinvent themselves upon entering each new space."
Now part of all this is my own personal desire for mastery (and world domination). I envy a certain fluency of "cultural spheres" that some people are able to practice. But I also fear there's a greater and greater niche-formation happening, culturally, largely predicating one one's "interests" (which means, to an extent at least, what you buy) and that the mastery of multiple niches is going to mean less and less a cultural roundedness and fluidity, a balance of energies, and more and more a status as good "smart" consumer, a balance of the checking & credit accounts. (When I say meaning "less and less" and "more and more," I want to be careful here--I'm not attempting an historical evaluation, what I'm really expressing are the evolution of my anxieties, the way I understand these things...)