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Rec Room: Rebecca Bates: Literature and Cinematography

June 13, 2010


Rebecca Bates.jpgEighty-seven years ago, Viktor Shklovsky, exiled to Berlin from his Mother Russia, wrote a short work predicting the future of the motion picture and its impact on art as a whole. Last week, Literature and Cinematography finally made its way to my shelves via one of those rogue, half-priced book carts near Central Park.

Encountering this odd book is like viewing a snapshot of the past. Shklovsky knows cinema in its infancy, when jerky silent films were novel and Charlie Chaplin—who Shklovsky likens to the stock characters of ancient Greek comedy—reigned supreme. But for Shklovsky, this new mode of entertainment is a monster to be feared. He dubs it “extraneous to art,” mere spectacle, a beast that relies solely on plot with little character exposition. And while such a polemic is no longer entirely relevant, I couldn’t help noticing the terrifying accuracy of one prediction: “One separate branch of the thriller that is sure to develop is the American film geared toward special effects, with acrobatic numbers and minimal focus on acting” (Avatar anyone?).

However, the more powerful sections of this tract have nothing to do with cinema at all. Rather, they detail Shklovsky’s personal philosophy, which speaks to us beyond his own epoch. More than an outdated critique of film, Literature and Cinematography is Shklovsky’s public plea, begging us to ensure that daily life itself does not become extraneous to art. We must defamiliarize ourselves, he urges. We must never be satisfied with rote and habit, never become insular, never allow the world to simply be recognizable—not in 1923, and certainly not now. No, certainly not now, in our time of express trains and hurried electronic exchanges:

“We live in a poor and enclosed world. We do not feel the world in which we live, just as we do not feel the clothes we wear. We fly through the world as Jules Verne’s heroes fly ‘through the atmosphere in a cannonball.’ But our cannonball has no windows.”


Bio: Rebecca Bates is Guernica‘s blog intern. Read her last recommendation of the book A Common Pornography “here”:http://www.guernicamag.com/blog/1778/rec_room_rebecca_bates_a_commo/.

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One comment for Rec Room: Rebecca Bates: Literature and Cinematography

  1. Comment by Michael James on June 14, 2010 at 8:20 am

    This is great. Loving the cannonball quote. Reminds me of Nietzsche’s saying that, as generalities are always the enemy of truth, we have to reorient ourselves with respect to particularities so much so that every day seems foreign compared to the one before it, even if we are, as Bates suggests, taking the same express trains and making the same electronic exchanges.

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