Curiously, given the materialism of her approach evident in the passage quoted above , Deren sharply divided film off from having any of the cognitive possibilities of science. Instead, laying the basis for the later avant-garde of the s and s, she saw the role of film as constructing a ritualistic experience intoxicated with a playful manipulation and disruption of cinematic conventions match on action, point of view shot, temporal continuity and so forth. Practitioners had often posed their play with artistic form as a search for modes of expression suitable to a modern world of urban living, mass culture, technologies of communication and social convulsions.
In film the theory and practice of Sergei Eisenstein and Dziga Vertov blazed a trail for developing film forms that could deal with the collective dynamics of social life. But despite this referential orientation within what is sometimes called political modernism, no theoretical synthesis emerged in this period which could do three things simultaneously: 1 articulate a theory of realism from a position that was more than the advocacy of a particular approach or method surrealism, constructivism, montage, etc ; 2 provide a substantive account of the nature of the real against which any example of realism must be judged ; and 3 identify the problems involved in producing realist art in the age of advanced capitalism.
The latter had not only produced a very comprehensive critique of naturalism in literature, but he was also hostile to the sort of modernist currents that provided Brecht with much of his inspiration. Within film studies the s saw a sharp turn away from the concept of realism. Any distinctions between realism and naturalism were collapsed, and any sense of realism itself as a complex and differentiated tradition was erased. The sort of avant-garde critique of realism made by Maya Deren returned with a vengeance, now underpinned by a heady brew of structuralism, post-structuralism, psychoanalysis and sometimes Althusserian Marxism.
Realist aesthetics, it was argued, encouraged a naive belief in the ability of the camera and of film to present an unmediated access to the real and, with this, uncritical modes of identification with characters whether fictional or real social actors in documentary. This critique was certainly a strand of thought in the political modernism of the s and s.
By contrast the avant-garde approach of the s separated the question of form off from its broader social context. For example, even in 28 Weeks Later there are modifications and subversions of conventions and audience expectations that might be the occasion for a critical awareness of the mediated nature of representation in general. After the initial opening, where we see Don leaving his wife, the audience expects some sort of narrative arc of redemption for this character.
But that is rather brutally put paid to a little later on. This refusal to follow through on the expected story structure is similar to the kind of playful unravelling of narrative conventions in a Godard film of the s. By the s the rejection of realist aesthetics had become a rejection of realism as a philosophical proposition with the rise of postmodernism.
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Within such a worldview any notion of shared interests, a shared world, or grounds for a meaningful dialogue between identities became difficult to sustain. Despite the decline of postmodernism, the concept of realism has yet to recover from the intellectual assault it sustained. This should not be an acceptable situation for Marxists, however, for whom the concept of realism remains central as a philosophical principle. On aesthetic matters, realism does not hold quite the same universal applicability. It may, for example, be less relevant to a lot of music or poetry.
But in film and in the novel , where storytelling of an extremely diverse sort predominates, realism deserves the priority which Marxists have traditionally accorded it. And so what follow are 11 theses on realism and then some elaborations in an attempt to provide some ammunition for the left on the question of realism. Realism is the exploration of aspects of the conflict-ridden and contradictory nature of social relationships.
Realism must overcome the socially determined limitations on cognition and feeling that inevitably impact on its own form and content. Form is the conversion into aesthetics of what are socially and historically conditioned ways of seeing.
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The history of forms expands the repertoire available for potential realist culture, but no form offers any guarantees of realist work. Critiques and affirmations of particular forms may be more or less valid in particular instances and contexts, but no analysis of such forms can be assumed to be universally and timelessly appropriate; but neither can it be assumed that the reproduction of forms, with or without modification, in any new context, automatically repudiates earlier critiques or confirms earlier affirmations.
The content of realism may stretch from the personal and the intimate all the way to the epochal, historical and global. Realism interrogates the dogmas of the day as they are propagated, honed and defended by dominant social interests in every sphere of life. Realism expands the critical faculties of the public sphere and any instance of it is ultimately part of a broader collective praxis.
Realism requires developing the mediations interlinkages between social agents intersubjectivity and between social agents and the circumstances they find themselves in their object world. Thesis I. This defines realism in relation to an aim—the exploration, with some degree of complexity, of social relations—and immediately insists that the central feature of social relations that ought to occupy realism is their conflict-ridden and contradictory nature. The absence of conflict and the erasure of contradiction must be viewed, from the realist position, as problematic.
Conflict and contradiction are distinct if interlinked terms: the former refers to frictions between social agents individuals and groups while the latter refers to the way social practices and the conflicts they generate between agents become internalised within those agents, thus dividing them against themselves as well as others this in particular is where the richness of drama is often to be found. The social relations in question here—and the ones out of which and in response to which realism in the modern epoch emerges at first in literature —are of course capitalist.
Developing a theme that has run through much Marxist cultural theory in the 20th century, Voronsky argues that art has the potential of retuning our perceptions of life that have become dulled by the routines and habits of an alienated world. It is also central to artistic realism.
Thesis II. Realism explores the relationship between consciousness thinking and, as consciousness is embodied, feeling and consciousness of the social conditions our social being, as Marx put it shaping our consciousness. It is worth underscoring that affect is as important as cognition, since to separate the one from the other is to collapse once more into a disembodied consciousness, whereas the whole point of realism is to reconnect mind and body, the latter being the first material condition of existence for consciousness, even as it is entwined with the wider material conditions of social relations.
Yet the trace of some cognitive caveats that the standard Hollywood film has to negotiate is evident in the fact that our primary figures of identification the cop, the teacher, the soldier are usually distanced from the institutions and bureaucracies they are located in. A more realistic representation would look for a rebalancing of the relation between cognition and feeling, liberating the latter from sentimentalism, but certainly not eradicating feeling.
Thesis III. If realism is grounded in an exploration of the conflict-ridden and contradictory nature of social relations, and if it explores the relationship between consciousness and those relations, then it must also overcome the limitations which social being has imparted to culture itself.
I prossimi eventi
This overcoming is to be found at both the level of content and here the extension of representation to new, hitherto invisible or forgotten, marginalised or culturally disempowered social agents has been a significant feature of realism and naturalism and form. Thesis IV. Such ways of seeing are the conversion into a particular medium of ways of seeing that are grounded in technology including the technology of the medium itself , social relations, political conjunctures and philosophy. In one scene we see the bomb bay doors open over Japan, but instead of bombs falling out numbers are superimposed, dropping through the sky to the land below.
This is an example of a way of seeing that is critical of how others McNamara and the war machine see. But the previous theses tell us that ways of seeing may convert precisely those structured impediments to understanding that are part and parcel of ways of being. But every form, including the star system, is always potentially a site of struggle, as the example of 28 Weeks Later suggests. Every cut in a film makes a choice not only about what to see, but how to see comprehend what we have just seen and will see. In an interview with one large-scale US wine producer and his wife next to his swimming pool, we hear how they designed their garden and bought their trees, shrubs and bushes from Italy.
Thesis V. Discussions of form that separate it from content and from the historical context constitute a fetishisation of form that short circuits our critical faculties rather than fostering them. Within the West conventions that have reproduced certain spatio-temporal understandings, causal linkages and often fairly thin and conventionalised character motivations have laid undisputed claim to the mantle of realist art.
Within cinema Hollywood is often the yardstick against which realism is defined. But what has tended to happen is that the use of a particular style, such as grainy film stock, hand held cameras, and zoom lens, has often been enough to convince critics that this or that film fiction or documentary has grasped the social and historical dynamics it deals with. Similarly, the Dogme 95 manifesto famously identified a ten-point set of rules that were intended to be antithetical to the overly elaborate big budget studio production. These rules were to be adhered to with an ironic determination every bit as rigidly as Hollywood sticks to its rules and conventions.
The form allows the film to attack its subject matter with a ferocity appropriate to the content, reinventing the country house genre along the way. Thesis VI. Once life-likeness, however variably defined in accord with prevailing cinematic fashions, has ceased to be a reliable criterion for realism, then the vast and diverse and unfolding history of forms becomes available to realism. One day perhaps the game aesthetics of Run Lola Run Tom Tykwer, , with its repetition-with-slight-difference narrative structure and Polaroid snapshots of the future trajectories of marginal characters Lola makes contact with on her running mission, will be harnessed to a story about the random and arbitrary outcomes of a market economy out of control.
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Certainly the film hints tantalisingly at how its formal strategies are bursting out of the straitjacket of the irreversible linear narrative structure. But as it is, Run Lola Run can hardly be credited with much in the way of cognitive reach.
But with Syriana , directed by Steven Gaghan, the screenwriter of Traffic , and produced by Steven Soderberg, a modified version of these formal strategies achieves considerably more as an example of realist cinema. Here the multiple strands are more strongly connected, not necessarily in terms of characters meeting each other but in terms of the consequences of their actions.
Those actions are in turn grounded not in their personal moralities good or bad but in their location within the institutions, organisations and structures of global capitalism. Finally, whereas Traffic was overly focused on the white American elites, this film traverses the spectrum of class and geography, charting the narrative trajectory of a young man from Pakistan working in the Middle East, getting shafted by a Western oil company, beaten up by the police of a generic Middle Eastern dictatorship, and becoming gradually seduced into an act of terrorism by Islamic fundamentalists.
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For this film it appears to be bad apples that are the problem, whereas for Syriana , it is the barrel itself. Thesis VII. There is a long history of debates about realism. There is the critique of naturalism which itself has been open to a wide range of definitions , the critique of illusionism, the critique of the classical narrative, the Brechtian critique, surrealism as a critique and critiques of its critique , Third Cinema and so forth.
Such debates provide important resources for us today. A constant balancing act has to be attempted between a radical historicism, which would say that these forms and their critiques are only valid within their particular contexts, and the temptation to mechanically apply a given critique of forms to new contexts and practices. Continuing my quest to untangle people's confusions about Eliezer's metaethics I've started to wonder if maybe some people have the intuition that the orthogonality thesis is at odds with moral realism.
I personally have a very hard time seeing why anyone would think that, perhaps in part because of my experience in philosophy of religion. Theistic apologists would love to be able to say, "moral realism, therefore a sufficiently intelligent being would also be good. But they mostly don't even try to argue that, for whatever reason.
Varieties of philosophical realism
You did see philosophers claiming things like that back in the bad old days before Kant, which raises the question of what's changed. I suspect the reason is fairly mundane, though: before Kant roughly , it was not only dangerous to be an atheist, it was dangerous to question that the existence of God could be proven through reason because it would get you suspected of being an atheist.
It was even dangerous to advocated philosophical views that might possibly undermine the standard arguments for the existence of God. That guaranteed that philosophers could used whatever half-baked premises they wanted in constructing arguments for the existence of God, and have little fear of being contradicted.