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"O Himmlisch Licht!" : cinema and the withdrawal of the gods (Straub-Huillet, Hölderlin, Godard, Brecht)

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  • Design
  • Literature
  • Philosophy
  • Political Science


In Godard's Le Mépris [Contempt, 1963], Fritz Lang, playing a fictional version of himself, evokes the complex relationship between cinema's future and the end of cinema by citing a famous verse from the German poet Friedrich Hölderlin, according to which what counts in respect of poetry is henceforth no longer the secret persistence of the gods, nor their covert proximity, but their enduring absence. This paper explores the implications of that insight as they come to affect first Godard's film, then the three films based on Hölderlin's works directed by Danièle Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub between 1986 and 1992: Der Tod des Empedokles [The Death of Empedocles]; Schwarze Sünde [Black Sin]; and Die Antigone des Sophokles nach der Hölderlinschen Übertragung für die Bühne bearbeitet von Brecht (Suhrkamp Verlag, 1948) [Sophocles’ Antigone Based on Hölderlin's Translation, as Adapted for the Stage by Brecht (published by Suhrkamp, 1948)]. At issue in all those films, and similarly in Straub and Huillet's 1974 film of Schoenberg's Moses und Aron, is the tension between the project or dream of sacrifice as a form of fusional politico-religious redemption and its very impossibility as such, attributable (among others) to the necessary subordination of film to spatio-temporal differentiation and, by that token, to what is irreducible to the visible and the invisible alike. Through careful analysis of Huillet and Straub's filmmaking strategy, the paper examines both the aesthetic and political consequences of their interruption of the logic of sacrifice, and seeks to show how the future of cinema is not reducible to the aesthetics of the spectacular but is inseparable from the promise of that which, before or beyond spectacle, has not yet ever been seen before.

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