Thursday, February 11, 2010

Quote of the Day

"In fact, a critique of formalism needs to render inadequate an implicit distinction in much current theory between form and content. Using the codes of narrative and realism, a film like Z (Costa-Gavras, 1969) will be said to be recuperated within a reactionary tradition, while a film like Godard's Ici et ailleurs (1976), which is self-reflexively "about" the ways it can be about the PLO, will be said to be progressive at a more advanced level. But no human practice is a collection of formal codes on the one hand and contents ont he other: any particular practice, any textual system, is a combination and mutual displacement of elements into a new semiotic arrangement whose elements cannot be extracted except in an artificial and distorting way. A wave good-bye in a film derives its meaning not only from the social connotations of waving but also from the place of waving in the semiotic practice in the specific text of the film. Z, for example, is not a film with the same old cinematic forms presenting a new content to the necessarily same old end or effect, but a unique text in which the meaning of elements exists in terms of their place in the text where it is impossible to isolate elements as content or form. To take a more immediate example, while a television show like All in the Family used, and repeated, many of the available specific codes of television storytelling (for example, consistent screen direction; definable beginnings, middles, and ends) and so could be said to adhere to an old system of representation, the very introduction of new elements—even if they are elements nonspecific to television (for example, the image of the bigot, the working class accent)—changes that old system; the presence of a new accent on television, for example, becomes part of the textual system, gives the show part of its meaning in a way that is not distinguishable as content or as form. This, however, is not to claim that this new textual system, simply by being new, is in any way inherently subversive of the old. Every message, by not being some other message, is again a differance, a meaning which differs (is like the preexisting) but differs (is unlike the preexistening); the effect of any partcular semiotic arrangement is never given in advance to a text by its adherence (or not) to prior codes, but can only exist in relation to the specific interaction of that text's codical arrangement with other codes (specific and nonspecific) and in the relation of the specific textual system to the whole social semiotics of an historical moment."

—Dana Polan, The Political Language of Film and the Avant-Gard (1985)


celinejulie said...

Hey, Zach! I'm passing a blogger award to you. :-)

ZC said...

Thanks Jit, that's very kind of you!