Film Studies For Free is delighted to inform its readers, today, about a really worthwhile podcast by Adrian Martin - a recording of a great talk he gave in the Provisional Insight Colloquium series at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, on July 18 2008, entitled 'Last Day Every Day: Figural Thinking in Auerbach, Kracauer, Benjamin and some others'.
In “A Philosophical Interpretation of Freud”, Paul Ricoeur (drawing upon Hegel) remarks: “The appropriation of a meaning constituted prior to me presupposes the movement of a subject drawn ahead of itself by a succession of ‘figures’, each of which finds its meaning in the ones which follow it.” The notion of the figural has recently become popular in European film theory and analysis, especially due to the work of Nicole Brenez – in which the figure stands for “the force … of everything that remains to be constituted” in a character, object, social relation or idea. Her use of the term refers back to magisterial work of German literary philologist Erich Auerbach (Mimesis), who decoded the religious interpretive system wherein all persons and events are grasped as significant only insofar as they prefigure their fulfilment on the ‘last day’ of divine judgement. Auerbach’s 1920s work on figuration in Dante was an important influence on his friend Walter Benjamin; and it was this ‘theological’ aspect of Benjamin’s thought that caught Kracauer’s attention, leading to the problematic of the redemption of worldly things. In this lecture I will trace the notion of figural thinking from Weimar then to Paris (and beyond) today, taking in writings by William Routt and Giorgio Agamben, as well as two filmmakers also touched by figural thinking: Josef von Sternberg and Douglas Sirk.
Adrian Martin is Senior Research Fellow in Film and Television Studies, Monash University (Melbourne, Australia). His books include What is Modern Cinema? (Uqbar 2008), Raul Ruiz: Magnificent Obsessions (Altamira 2004), The Mad Max Movies (Screensound/Currency 2003), Once Upon a Time in America (BFI 1998) and Phantasms (Penguin 1994), and he has regular columns in Film Quarterly (US), De Filmkrant (Holland) and Cahiers du cinéma España (Spain). He is the Co-editor of Movie Mutations (BFI 2003) and the Internet film magazine Rouge.