Stan Brakhage, the Realm Buster

Stan Brakhage, the Realm Buster

Stan Brakhage, the Realm Buster

Stan Brakhage, the Realm Buster


Stan Brakhage's body of work counts as one of the most important within post-war avant-garde cinema, and yet it has rarely been given the attention it deserves. Over the years, though, diverse and original reflections have developed, distancing his figure little by little from critical categories. This collection of newly commissioned essays, plus some important reprinted work, queries some of the consensus on Brakhage's films. In particular, many of these essays revolve around the controversial issues of representation and perception.

This project sets out from the assumption that Brakhage's art is articulated primarily through opposing tensions, which donate his figure and films an extraordinary depth, even as they evince fleetingness, elusivity and paradoxicality. This collection aims not only to clarify aspects of Brakhage's art, but also to show how his work is involved in a constant mediation between antinomies and opposites. At the same time, his art presents a multifaceted object endlessly posing new questions to the viewer, for which no point of entry or perspective is preferred in respect to the others. Acknowledging this, this volume hopes that the experience of his films will be revitalised.

Featuring topics as diverse as the technical and semantic ambiguity of blacks, the fissures in mimetic representation of the 'it' within the 'itself' of an image, the film-maker as practical psychologist through cognitive theories, the critique of ocularcentrism by mingling sight with other senses such as touch, films that can actually philosophise in a Wittgensteinian way, political guilt and collusion in aesthetic forms, a disjunctive, reflexive, and phenomenological temporality realising Deleuze's image-time, and the echoes of Ezra Pound and pneumophantasmology in the quest of art as spiritual revelation; this book addresses not only scholars, but also is a thorough and thought-provoking introduction for the uninitiated.

Contributors include:


If the character of a given problem is its insolubility, then we solve the problem by representing
its insolubility.

In approaching the figure of Stan Brakhage, the critic is often impelled to undertake the task of defining his cinema rather loosely, in an effort to divine its artistic, historical, political, or other, coordinates. This may represent some kind of standard and reasonable approach, but in Brakhage’s specific case, it is necessitated by a reaction to the fluid nature of his films, and to the ambiguous and uncertain situation in which they put the viewer. the controversial, sometimes enigmatic, frequently paradoxical, and contradictory nature of his art has been often noticed – most explicit on this is Fred Camper, whose phrase might be directed at any and all of the film-maker’s oeuvre: ‘For almost any generalizing statement one might make about a major Brakhage film, some form of its opposite is also true’. the crucial point is that often such opposites do not invalidate each other, especially when they were willingly sought after by Brakhage, who was either looking for a balance or for an utopian harmony between contraries. Thus the paradox which Camper underlines is that the law of non-contradiction does not apply to Brakhage’s art:

… his greatest films … have a synoptic, almost “oceanic” quality. This results in part from
the fact that Brakhage doesn’t arrange the oppositions as pieces of some intellectual puzzle;
rather, they are presented as signposts of extremes which allow the filmmaker to articulate the
gap between them by including a variety of expressions situated at various intermediate

Camper went on to argue that Brakhage’s films ‘undermine any answers the viewer might obtain from the film with a barrage of new questions’. Brakhage himself confirmed his positive stance towards the contradictory and the paradoxical when, in a lecture on Gertrude Stein, in 1990, he argued that a too simple truth ‘is bound to be a lie, considering the complex nature of Being’, and that ‘[t]he Paradoxical’ is ‘a way to get at Complex Truth’. This idea of multiplicity as a distinctive and ultimate character of reality, though, did not originate in Stein, but was one of the cornerstones of Romantic philosophy, a movement of . . .

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