Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Film Studies

"One Single Mystery of Persons and Objects": The Erotics of Fragmentation in Au Hasard Balthazar

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Film Studies

"One Single Mystery of Persons and Objects": The Erotics of Fragmentation in Au Hasard Balthazar

Article excerpt

Résumé: Cette analyse détaillée d'Au hasard Balthazar (1966) de Robert Bresson explore la préoccupation du film pour l'immanence des sensations, inversant ainsi deux interprétations dominantes pour lesquelles le travail du cinéaste se comprend en termes de transcendance ascétique ou par le biais du formalisme. La lecture examine l'emploi du fragment en posant que la relation de la partie au tout, telle qu'elle est mise en place par le film, trace la voie d'un engagement affectif qui figure plutôt que représente l'érotique. Cette figuration permet l'émergence d'un genre différent de plaisir du texte qui ne repose ni sur l'identification au personnage ni sur l'absence de structure formelle déterminée, mais qui est issue de la surface sensuelle même du film et de la texture de son indétermination.

In place of a hermeneutics, we need an erotics of art."1 The final proposal of Susan Sontag's 1964 essay, "Against Interpretation," echoes outward from its firm entrenchment in the programmatic modernism of its day to warn contemporary writers of the violence that lurks within the critical enterprise. Sontag writes, "The modern style of interpretation excavates, and as it excavates, destroys; it digs 'behind' the text, to find a sub-text which is the true one."2 Today, despite the lessons of poststructuralism's textual plurality or postmodernism's refusal of depth, the hermeneutic machine continues its geological work of uncovering the essence behind appearance, and the latent behind the manifest, to posit the truth of a text as being hidden beneath its noisy surface. Texts are routinely made to do the work of theoretical paradigms external to them, reduced to little more than an illustration of this or that academic vogue. In this regard, one might think of the veritable industry of Zizekian readings (whether by the master himself or his epigones) of Hitchcock, Lynch, and others. As an alternative to such claustrophobic enclosures of reading, Sontag burrows up to the blinding light of the surface. What would an erotics of art look like? How might it be constitutive of a different kind of critical practice? For Sontag, certainly, there is the return to form. But formalism can run the risk of a critical violence equally harmful to that of hermeneutics, as its hermeticism seals off the text into contentless patterns of repetition and variation. It seems that a possible resolution might be found in taking Sontag's proposal of textual erotics seriously, and interrogating the concept of sensuousness, which recurs throughout "Against Interpretation." If one takes the task of criticism to be to "reveal the sensuous surface of art without mucking about in it,"3 thinking about eroticism and form together can perhaps provide a way to move beyond the reductive enclosures of both hermeneutics and formalism to question the ways in which a text might formally figure the erotic rather than merely represent it. To think not only what the form of a work ts, but what it does and the desire it produces might open a new space in which to consider the generation of a textual pleasure that would be grounded in the sensory, affective experience of the work of art and would be reducible neither to mechanisms of character or identification, nor to the vacancy of pattern.

To examine the state of criticism surrounding the films of Robert Bresson is to encounter both types of critical violence and reductionism that a textual erotics would seek to remedy. Despite the obdurate resistance of these films to the workings of metaphor, symbol, and biography, one finds constant attempts to cloister their sensuous surfaces with truths, be they deep or transcendent. Paul Schrader's Transcendental Style in Film: Ozu, Bresson, Dreyer insists on the sublimation of the material world in Bresson's films, transfiguring the films' enclosed spaces into a metaphor of "freedom and restraint... the fundamental body/soul dichotomy."4 Schrader's further assertion that Bresson engages in an "abjuration of the body"5 seems untenable after even a cursory viewing of a film such as Un Condamné à mort s'est échappé ou le vent souffle où il veut (1956). …

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