Apocalypse-Cinema: 2012 and Other Ends of the World

Apocalypse-Cinema: 2012 and Other Ends of the World

Translated by Will Bishop
Copyright Date: 2015
Published by: Fordham University Press
Pages: 192
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  • Book Info
    Apocalypse-Cinema: 2012 and Other Ends of the World
    Book Description:

    Apocalypse-cinema is not only the end of time that has so often been staged as spectacle in films like 2012, The Day After Tomorrow, and The Terminator. By looking at blockbusters that play with general annihilation while also paying close attention to films like Melancholia, Cloverfield, Blade Runner, and Twelve Monkeys, this book suggests that in the apocalyptic genre, film gnaws at its own limit. Apocalypse-cinema is, at the same time and with the same double blow, the end of the world and the end of the film. It is the consummation and the (self-)consumption of cinema, in the form of an acinema that Lyotard evoked as the nihilistic horizon of filmic economy. The innumerable countdowns, dazzling radiations, freeze-overs, and seismic cracks and crevices are but other names and pretexts for staging film itself, with its economy of time and its rewinds, its overexposed images and fades to white, its freeze-frames and digital touch-ups. The apocalyptic genre is not just one genre among others: It plays with the very conditions of possibility of cinema. And it bears witness to the fact that, every time, in each and every film, what Jean-Luc Nancy called the cine-world is exposed on the verge of disappearing. In a Postface specially written for the English edition, Szendy extends his argument into a debate with speculative materialism. Apocalypse-cinema, he argues, announces itself as cinders that question the "ultratestimonial" structure of the filmic gaze. The cine-eye, he argues, eludes the correlationism and anthropomorphic structure that speculative materialists have placed under critique, allowing only the ashes it bears to be heard.

    eISBN: 978-0-8232-6484-1
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. FOREWORD: One Sun Too Many
    (pp. ix-xxii)
    Samuel Weber

    The apocalypse is in fashion. Ever since Hiroshima and Nagasaki, when it first became evident that human beings had acquired the power to destroy life on earth, and to destroy it in a spectacular and rapid manner, apocalyptic thoughts and images have increasingly proliferated and, at least in certain parts of the world—a world soon to be “globalized”— progressively fascinated what was once called the popular imagination. No wonder, then, that the most popular medium of the post–Second World War period—cinema—and today its audiovisual successor should have become the vehicle for deploying visions of the end...

  4. CHAPTER 1 Melancholia, or The After-All
    (pp. 1-4)

    I am in front of the black screen.

    In the black screen.

    I disappeared at the same time the last image did. I melted into darkness. I, too, exploded, and my remains have been dispersed into the universal night.

    I am the darkness. I no longer am.

    This is what, speechless, I was saying to myself—this is whateach onesays to himself or herself, I think, without the words or breath to say so—in that ever so brief and yet infinitely distended instant that, at the end of Lars von Trier’sMelancholia(2011), separates the last image...

  5. CHAPTER 2 The Last Man on Earth, or Film as Countdown
    (pp. 5-14)

    I am writing these pages in the United States, certainly the biggest producer of apocalyptic images in the world. America is the place where the genre its French fans call “apo” has flourished. You can feel it on every street corner; imagery of the end is everywhere.¹

    Yesterday, February 13, 2012, I bought the most recent edition of that indescribable weekly rag calledSun Magazine(not to be confused with the respectable monthlyThe Sun). Under the gaudy name of the newspaper, if one gets close enough to make out the small print, one can read: “God Bless America®.” But...

  6. CHAPTER 3 Cloverfield, or The Holocaust of the Date
    (pp. 15-22)

    An anthology of different ways of staging or showing the date stamps of filmic images would have to give pride of place toCloverfield(Matt Reeves, 2008), from the many time-codes that are superimposed before the opening credits even roll—as if to mark in advance the palimpsestic nature of the film getting ready to start—to the embedding of the date and time (amateur video–style):APR 27 6:41 AM, we read as an electronic seal stamped onto the first shots, when Rob (Michael Stahl-David) and Beth (Odette Yustman) wake up from the night they spent together and get...

  7. CHAPTER 4 Terminator, or The Arche-Traveling Shot
    (pp. 23-30)

    All of it: This is no doubt what so many so-called apocalyptic films deal with, each in its own way. But they do so bit by bit, step by step.

    When destruction is propagated on screen like a wave that goes from thing to thing, what would like to appear, that which is seeking to lend itself to sight, is the way one thing refers to another. In other words, the interlacing of things, the fabric of their relations with and references to one another. In short, what we call aworld.

    That things hold onto one another, or thanks...

  8. CHAPTER 5 2012, or Pyrotechnics
    (pp. 31-40)

    “Tools turn out to be damaged,” writes Heidegger inBeing and Time(§16).¹

    After the scene of relentless wrecking that we just saw between Terminators and humans, I reread this sentence as euphemism and litotes.

    But it is precisely once it is kaput, Heidegger continues, that the tool is noticed as such (if it worked, it would on the contrary be forgotten; it would be perfectly transitive and thus transparent). When it doesn’t work, you can tell: “In adisruption of reference—in being unusable for . . .—the reference becomes explicit.” And what then starts blinking, what lights...

  9. CHAPTER 6 A.I., or The Freeze
    (pp. 41-50)

    In the eighth episode of the ninth season of the famous animated seriesSouth Park, one finds an excellent algebraic formula for the narrative logic of disaster movies. After Stan and Cartman’s antics cause a flood by bursting a dam, global warming is blamed. An emergency meeting is called, over the course of which a scientist explains that “this is only the beginning.” And he is asked when the expected devastation will take place. “My colleagues in the scientific community are still running tests but we think it may happen . . . the day after tomorrow.” There are screams,...

  10. CHAPTER 7 Pause, for Inventory (the “Apo”)
    (pp. 51-56)

    Nietzsche—whom, like Kant, we might sometimes read as a science-fiction scriptwriter—also imagined a scene for the end of the world through glaciation:

    Once upon a time, in some out of the way corner of that universe which is dispersed into numberless twinkling solar systems, there was a star upon which clever beasts invented knowing. That was the most arrogant and mendacious minute of “world history,” but nevertheless, it was only a minute. After nature had drawn a few breaths, the star cooled and congealed [erstarrte das Gestirn], and the clever beasts had to die.—One might invent such...

  11. CHAPTER 8 Watchmen, or The Layering of the Cineworld
    (pp. 57-68)

    Let me start again.

    Before getting us lost in the drawers of the central filing system of genres and among all the categories in which films run and compete in their race to the end of the cineworld, we were fascinatedly watching the cosmic conflagration of two planets that closes the prologue toMelancholia.

    This collision was already seen in the 1951When Worlds Collide. But in that film it was a version that now seems toned down, prodded toward a “happy ending,” since in the film humanity is able at the last minute to construct a spatial Noah’s Ark...

  12. CHAPTER 9 Sunshine, or The Black-and-White Radiography
    (pp. 69-80)

    When Dr. Manhattan is teleported into the studios of the showFace to Face, where he has been invited, the producer mumbles that “this blue is too light for television” but that there is, unfortunately, “not enough time for makeup.

    Dr. Manhattan is in effect a kind of pop allegory for the blinding hypervisibility of nuclear energy. His name, as you know, is an allusion to the Manhattan Project, the American research program that made possible the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Over the course of the talk show, we learn that the nice azure-colored giant literally irradiates through his...

  13. CHAPTER 10 Blade Runner, or The Interworlds
    (pp. 81-86)

    Let’s open an eye from the end of the world (of the film).

    Or rather: Let’s open itafter all, remembering that passage fromThe World as Will and Representationwhere Schopenhauer affirms that “the suns and the planets without an eye to see them” are nothing, for “the existence of the whole world still remains dependent on the opening of that first eye, even if it only belonged to an insect.”¹ So the world would thus exist only when facing someone, only when it exists for a gaze that opens onto it or that opens it to itself? Could...

  14. CHAPTER 11 Twelve Monkeys, or The Pipes of the Apocalypse
    (pp. 87-100)

    “Between two worlds,” writes Cicero in hisDe divinatione(I, XVII): This is where, he says, Epicurus situated the house of the gods. And inLives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophersby Diogenes Laertius, practically the only ancient source through which Epicurus’s writings have survived for us, we find a reproduction of hisLetter to Pythocles, where we can read a definition of a world (kosmos) and a hypothesis about its formation or birth:

    The world is a collection of things embraced by the heavens, containing the stars, the earth, and all visible objects [panta phainomena]. This collection, separated from...

  15. CHAPTER 12 The Road, or The Language of a Drowned Era
    (pp. 101-106)

    In one of the first postapocalyptic science-fiction novels written by James Ballard, in the 1962The Drowned World, Lieutenant Hardman undergoes strange experiments performed by Dr. Bodkin, who is working with Kerans, the protagonist, to study the slow regression of living beings toward the reptilian era of Trias. A stifling tropical climate in effect reigns over our entire planet. The big capitals, like London, are plunged underwater. And humans, when they dream, return toward what Ballard calls “the archeopsychic past,” in other words they move back through the layers of the “metabiological” unconscious, which has kept the memory of the...

  16. CHAPTER 13 The Blob, or The Bubble
    (pp. 107-122)

    “Doom!” exclaims D. H. Lawrence when he finishes his mad reading of Melville’s novelMoby-Dick.¹ The word returns two, three, four times in a row, like a death-knell for a drowned world:

    Doom! Doom! Doom! Something seems to whisper it in the very dark trees of America. Doom! (153)

    To readdoomas loss, condemnation, or ruin would not be enough. The end of the world (doomsday) resonates in this dismal word: It’s the apocalypse. “Doom of what?” asks Lawrence. What is condemned? What is this world that is in the midst of finishing and being swallowed up by the...

  17. POSTFACE Il n’y a pas de hors-film, or Cinema and Its Cinders
    (pp. 123-136)

    Il n’y a pas de hors-texte”: We know the fate and misfortune of this statement that appears under Derrida’s pen for the first time in 1967 inDe la grammatologie. And its first English translation by Gayatri Spivak—“There is nothing outside the text”—probably did nothing to make things any easier.¹

    Why then run the risk of making things even worse by diverting this statement, which has almost become a bad sales pitch for deconstruction, toward the filmic image? Why place an attempt to think cinema, or more generally film, under the sign of this formulation already overburdened with...

  18. NOTES
    (pp. 137-156)
    (pp. 157-159)