Shaviro’s Redux of The Cinematic Body

It’s rare for academics who work in the realm of critical theory, or poststructuralist theory, or other such things in the humanities, even to polemicize against cognitivism: either because they are naively unaware of its institutional power, or because they (rightly) feel that it is too intellectually flimsy even to be worth arguing against. I think that this sort of attitude — in which The Cinematic Body shares — points up, both our failure to pay attention to the broader social, political, and institutional coordinates of our debates, and to the futility of polemics per se when confronted with the exercise of power and authority in ways that are not matters of, and that indeed are not even subject to, polemic and debate.

For all these reasons, it now seems to me that the polemics which play so prominent a role in The Cinematic Body lack pertinence. This is a matter, not just of particular arguments or assertions, but more crucially of the book’s tone or style. The Cinematic Body has a certain air of self-congratulatory celebration, a smug pride at being so (supposedly) radical and transgressive and subversive, that I now find exceedingly unpleasant. Today I would not presume to enthuse over “ecstatic complicity at the convulsive point of danger and violence” (61), as I do in a discussion of Dario Argento’s Terror at the Opera. And I certainly would not dare to assert that this particular film, or film in general, has a “radical potential to subvert social hierarchies and decompose relations of power” (65). Lines such as these can only have been the result of a lamentable confusion between aesthetics and politics; and also between action and passion, and between labor and jouissance. For films quite evidently don’t have this sort of “revolutionary” or “subversive” potential at all. To claim that they do diminishes them aesthetically, even as it trivializes politics. Today I love Dario Argento’s films as much as I ever did, and certainly as much as I did when I was writing The Cinematic Body. But I would not claim that Argento’s beautiful, terrifying violence has any political efficacy whatsoever.

– Steven Shaviro, “The Cinematic Body Redux

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2 Responses to Shaviro’s Redux of The Cinematic Body

  1. jean says:

    Could you aid me a bit and explain what is meant by “cognitivism” in this passage?

    Thanks, if so.

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