André Bazin's Eternal Returns: An Ontological Revision

Film-Philosophy 25 (1):42-61 (2021)
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The recent publication of André Bazin's Écrits complets, an enormous two-volume edition of 3000 pages which increases ten-fold Bazin's available corpus, provides opportunities for renewed reflection on, and possibly for substantial revisions of, this key figure in film theory. On the basis of several essays, I propose a drastic rereading of Bazin's most explicitly philosophical notion of “ontology.” This all too familiar notion, long settled into a rather dust-laden couple nonetheless retains its fascination. Rather than attempting to provide a systematic reworking of this couple along well established lines, particularly those defined by realism and indexicality, this article proposes to shift the notion of ontology in Bazin from its determination as actual existence toward a more radical concept of ontology based on the notion of mimesis, particularly as articulated, in a Heideggerian mode, by Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe. This more properly ontological concept, also paradoxically and radically improper, is shown to be at work already in Bazin's texts, and it allows us to see that far from simplistically naturalizing photographic technology, Bazin does the contrary: he technicizes nature. If Bazin says that the photograph is a flower or a snowflake, he also implies that, like photographs, these are likewise a kind of technical artifact, an auto-mimetic reproduction of nature. Bazin likewise refers to film as a kind of skin falling away from the body of History, an accumulating pellicule in which nature and history disturbingly merge. This shifted perspective on Bazin's thinking is extended further in reference to Georges Didi-Huberman on the highly mimetic creatures known as phasmids, insects that mimic their environement. I extend this into the dynamic notion of eternal return, an implicit dimension of Bazin's thinking, clarified here in reference to Giorgio Agamben and the “immemorial image” which, like Bazin's “Death Every Afternoon,” presents an eminently repeatable deathly image, an animated corpse-world that can be likened to hell.

Author's Profile

Jeff Fort
University of California, Davis


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