Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Martine Beugnet & the cinema of transgression

I was reviewing the list of influences on Coffin Joe and it got me thinking more generally about transgression and the need to complicate the gender blindness that can follow on from uncritical use of this concept. I thought one promising starting point would be to get hold of Martine Beugnet's book on the so-called "new French extremity", entitled Cinema and sensation: French film and the art of transgression. Derridata, have you encountered this book in your travels, and if so, do you feel it departs in any significant ways from Shaviro's The Cinematic Body? Methodologically, does it follow the default setting of the continental philosophy blogosphere of performing deep readings of canonical texts and applying them in an analytically suspect way to this cultural phenomenon, or does it really contextualise them social theoretically so that they are saying something about life in France at the beginning of the 21st century?

Given the biological themes of this blog, it is hard to ignore her starting point that film is a "medium of the senses". I like the description of the book though how it claims to move from the cinematic apparatus itself to broader social issues:

"Martine Beugnet focuses on the crucial and fertile overlaps that occur between experimental and mainstream cinema. Her book draws on the writings of Deleuze, Merleau-Ponty, and Bataille, among others, but first and foremost, she develops her arguments from the films themselves, from the comprehensive description of specific sequences, techniques, and motifs that allows us to engage with the works as material events and as thinking processes. In turn, she demonstrates how the films, envisaged as forms of embodied thought, offer alternative ways of approaching today’s most burning sociocultural debates—from the growing supremacy of technology, to globalization, exile, and exclusion".

I'm intrigued by the prospect of encompassing "today's most burning sociocultural debates", particularly how the foregrounding of globalization would seem to intimate the applicability of her critical approach to comparable studies of other films as epiphenomena of cultural transgression. I don't know the extent to which she undertakes a feminist analysis that is reflexive enough to epistemologically qualify Bataille's contribution in light of the formative influence of his companion Laure (as per, for example, Michel Surya's Georges Bataille: An Intellectual Biography).

But I do know that when I start to think about this topic I admit to feeling a lot like I imagine Herbert Marcuse did in Eros & Civilization, shyly tiptoeing past the cavalcade of perversions he attempted to introduce on account of their [alleged] radical emancipatory potential. For me, reading or thinking about such possibilities demands something like Martine Beugenet's approach: I treat the reading as a material event. If I am repulsed by it I admit I will have a hard time moving forward by articulating why I feel that way, letalone changing my reaction, irrespective of whether a prima facie political reason can be advanced to try to convince me otherwise. So my test in the first instance is gauging how you respond to these kinds of positions. Be sure to drill down to the comments in that post about bell hooks before you try to reach any decisions about your receptiveness to transgression. Another affirmative perspective can be found here, along with the aforementioned Shaviro's extreme take on its biological ramifications, thanks to a reading of Michel Foucault. Transgressors would no doubt sneer at the idea of opposition (claiming it presupposes transgression), but a representative example is Ashley Tauchert's Against Transgression. Closer to my own social theoretical views are Anthony Elliott's objections to queer theory more generally (of which transgression forms a subset), which can be found in his Concepts of the Self.

But I'll finish up here by leaving it to some examples of transgressive filmmaking to serve as a litmus test. That is my only justification for posting them here. I fear they are treading some dangerous misogynistic territory, so I advise extreme caution in case anyone else chooses to watch them (especially the second half of the final clip). But the test for me is whether the advocates of transgression would be willing to redeem even these activities, letalone their filmic representation, or do they agree that limits and distinctions occasionally have to be drawn because some things are simply beyond the pale? By the same token, how much latitude must be given in light of the fact that there is a diverse range of cultural logics, or are they merely accentuated for the reasons Beugnet adduces i.e. an explosion of difference in response to globalization?

Graphic Sexual Horror is an interesting case though because it documents political censure of a bondage website by an administration under the Patriot Act that was itself willing to use torture as an interrogation technique, in addition to the greed of the website's creator (and its effect on his "models"), so I certainly don't wish to imply that the issues are always cut and dried. It would be interesting to compare the motivations of that webmaster with those of the Japanese maker of genki porn. In the latter case the documentary makes little effort to establish how representative such an extreme genre is, letalone attempt to challenge any justification behind it.

My only point then in regard to each is that Beugnet's book might help me to get a better critical perspective on what is at stake in these kinds of debates, thus also hopefully making it unnecessary to automatically appeal to Videodrome as sole evidence of a transgressive "postmodern" media culture.

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