answers to Fred's questions

From: David Tetzlaff (email suppressed)
Date: Wed Feb 08 2006 - 17:49:14 PST


I'm taking your questions to be sincere. If they were merely rhetorical,
you can hit DELETE now. They're big questions and full answers would take
up too much bandwidth (of which I take up a lot already), but let me
venture some partial and sincere replies, at least.

(A sometimes spirited defense against a couple of your attacks follows,
and then an intended olive branch.)

> I might then ask you what do you love?

In experimental film: The End, Hold Me While I'm Naked, a lot of Conner,
Nostalgia, Critical Mass, Rose Hobart, Christmas on Earth... among others.

In narrative film: Coppola, Taxi Driver, Herzog, Hitchcock, Z and State of
Seige, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, noir, and Howard Hawks, absolutely

In documentary: Gates of Heaven, Great Ecstacy of the Sculptor Steiner,
Seventeen, Salesman, Harlan County....

In music: 'garage,' 'punk' pretty much anything with three chords and a
bad attitude, early Who, Big Star ...

In non-fiction: Lester Bangs, Hunter S. Thompson...

Most of this stuff has moved me very deeply.

You'll note I didn't have any entries for film theory or criticism. It's
not a love kind of thing.

> If
> there's a post of yours I missed that answers this, kindly direct me to
> it.

I've mentioned Maclaine and Frampton a number times on this list, tried to
get some discussion going about the aesthetics of Maclaine especially here
to no avail, praised your fine essay on Maclaine and thanked you for
making it available on your website. I can't dig any of my specific posts
on these things out of the search function on the Frameworks archive, and
I don't have access to my sent mail from my sickbed. I specifically recall
one post where I described Frampton's films (the two noted above anyway)
as very emotional to me, which I recall you found puzzling, as you seemed
to take his work, as many people seem to, in a more purely intellectual
vein (i don't know if 'intellectual' is the right term exactly, but
something like that.)

> I find myself wondering, why are you involved in film?

Lots of different reasons. 'Art' is very important to me (though I would
seem to approach it differently than you do) but also more prosaic matters
of 'communication,' and, I would hope this is obvious from my posts, I
think moving pictures are a big factor in cultural politics, so I have a
strong interest in critical studies and ideology analysis.

> What do you think is the point of
> seeing, and studying, film?

There are many. But 'art appreciation' and traditional aesthetics are only
one part of the picture for me.

> Do you see it primarily as a vehicle for
> investigating postmodern theory?

No, that's more an approach for TV, and multiplex spectacle crap like
Lucas/Speilberg, (to give a partial answer about the unasked question of
what I hate.)

> Or doing sociology or philosophy?

I think both social issues and philosophical issues ought to be a part of
well-rounded film studies, yeah. My enthusiam for Benjamin, for example,
is well in evidence in my posts. Anyway, you seem to imply that pomo or
sociology are mutually exclusive with whatever the proper point of seeing
and studying film is... self-discovery, spiritual expansion, ????
Honestly, it's all these things to me, and I don't see the theory part and
the sensorium cleansing part or even the ocassional ecstacy as necessarily
contradictory. I do not, however, attempt to do scholarship on things I
love. The potential for sacrilege is too high, and I can't put what I feel
and think about Herzog, e.g. into words without sounding like a fool to
myself and realizing that my language is hopelessly inadequate to my

Film is, in short, the whole world: good and evil, sacred and profane and
every shade in between. Why would anyone want to devote their atention to
anything else? :-) It just warrants so many diferent kinds of attention...

Since the direct answers may not be that revealing, I'll try to expound a

My attitude toward a lot of experimental film, including a lot of the work
I teach, is complicated, but definitely not a reltionship of love. Some
combination of estrangement, respect, and fascination or questioning. For
example, I don't really even like that much of Brakhage, but it's
interesting as all hell to me along a mulltitude of planes, (and the
manipulation of light is one of the least of these for me.) I don't love
Snow (I wierdly at least 'like' <--> a lot), or Anger or Riddles of the
Sphinx, but I couldn't imagine leaving them out of my course. Some of the
fims are intruiging puzzles I doubt I'll ever figure out. That's not love,
but it's not theory either.

My experimental class, of all the different stuff i teach, (and I think a
big part of my perspective is that I am not a specialist, but very much a
generalist) is where we do the least 'theory,' To me, the class is about
pushing the students to dig inside themselves and explore new ways of
self-expression, and expanding their ways of seeing. This makes it unlike
the other classes I teach, which emphasize other things (e.g.
understanding conventions) and an important complement to them I think.

One reason I make more posts here touching on theory and cultural studies
is because other people don't. In amongst the high-theory crowd, at SCMS
e.g. (which I rarely attend) I'm probably seen as pushing some other
agenda of 'creativity' or something... I'm more eclectic than I may appear
here because of the context here.

My aesthetics ARE very informed by popular culture, but mainly
disreputable arguably 'outsider' stuff c.f. the Lester Bangs refernce
above. This, along with my fundamentally marxist take on politics and
philosophy makes me deeply suspicious of Romaticism, individualism, and
great man theories of all sorts.

Also, I have spent most of my time in the arts in collaborative and
interpretive artforms (I started in Theater) where one artist is always
re-interpreting something originally created by someone else, and the
'author's intent', much to the exasperation of playwrights and
screenwriters, is not granted a particularly high status. Perhaps that's
one of the reason's I gravitate toward found footage work, and and other
appropriationist artforms that have multiple layers of authorship in
tension w. one another. While I realize that experimental films are often
made by people who are trying to escape the larger culture and act as
'individuals', I don't see that this absolutely necessitates bringing in a
new set of aesthetic or critical principles at the expense of other
perspectives that would come from, say, drama or 'punk'.

Now, to a few of your objections to my post/me.

I was absolutely sincere in that I did NOT call you or anyone else a
fascist. First, nothing that any of us writes here is determinative of any
sort of personal identity. The things we write are, first and foremost,
just words on a screen, the meanings of which are only partially under our
control. One may write some words that are nice, mean, beautiful, ugly,
inspiringly liberatory or yes even fascist without _being_ any one of
those things as a human being at some deeper level of equivalence. Second,
my use of the term was quite clearly figurative. I said 'in politics, we
call this fascism'. But we weren't talking politics except as metaphor. So
whatever 'aesthetic fascism' might be, it's not political fascism. Nor did
I mean to suggest that you (or anyone else flying nthe respect-the-artist
flag) is narrowminded in your taste or in the modes of film you
appreciate, c.f. your remarks about Conrad and liking very different
things for very different reasons. I do understand and appreciate that.
However, you do tend to give the powerful impression that your reasons for
appreciating each particular thing are THE reasons for appreciating it,
and you do tend to warrant your views by recourse to notions of the
individual genius of the author.

Hmm. I think I can disagree with these things without being

(The fact that you can not distinguish my critique of a broad discourse on
Frameworks from a personal attack on you is simply evidence for my
argumnet that you are stuck in a problematic 'the work is the author' box
and the intentional fallacy.)

You say you are in favor of all possible models for art making. Me too.
Where we differ is that I am for many (not all) possible models of
art-receiving, art-interpreting, art-using. If you think this devalues the
artist as a human being and their struggles, I can only say that I don't
think it does, and ask why you would place the humanity and struggles of
the artist so high above the humanity and struggles of someone who comes
away from the art with a different POV? I don't see anything here
different from the Romatic cult of the artist (though I think your post
states that positon with a good deal of elegance and passion, which I do
honestly respect, btw). If _i've_ missed where your philosophy and
aesthetics differ from the Romantic tradition, please point _me_ to the
appropriate citations.

You claim for yourself along with the AG artists you love a kind of
beat-bohemian outsider anti-establisnment status. Well, I buy it for them,
but what I'm hearing from you, Fred, is a lot of conservative blather
about the glories of the individual, and caricature versions of any
dissent from this as 'collectivising' (well, Kerouac wasn't above
redbaiting, but the discourse makes me think more about HUAC) and a
postmodern totalizing meat-grinder that levels all taste, distinction,
blah blah blah. I can get this crap from Roger Kimball or D'nesh D'Souza
or Bill Bennet, so I really don't need it hauled up on Frameworks. Like
these Bushie bullies, you have some fantasy that academic leftists are
'the establishment'. Watch the O'Reilly Factor and get a clue.

You wrote:

> And they were most often marginal outsiders, ignored or even
> ridiculed by the establishment of which you are so much a part. Indeed,
> the things they said, in film and in words, were so far out of the
> mainstream that when I first came on the scene in 1963, I observed that
> most people had no idea what to make of them. The things you write, by
> contrast, can be heard in almost any college film program today -- and
> could have been heard there 20 or more years ago too.

1) the discourses you and Sitney and others have used to write about these
works are completely within the mainstream of conservative literary
criticism and English departments circa 1963, only the _object_ of your
discusions would have been considered outre. There is nothing 'outsider'
about Romaticism or extreme individualism. (Read The Hearts of Men by
Barbara Ehrenreich for a good analysis of the (largely) unintended
ideological elements within the Beats.)

2) You are WAY OVER THE LINE in branding ME (the human being) part of any
establishment, academic or otherwise. You have no idea who I am, what I
have lived through, what struggles I have engaged, what prices I have paid
for them, who I have made as enemies and why. FYI, within the ivory walls
I am considered a misfit, troublemaker, 'loose cannon' cum psycho.
Somebody could even write a great-man history of my academic 'career'
presenting me as romantic rebel, the outsider so iconoclastic no one has
ever known what to make of me. (I _identify_ with Maclaine and Frampton to
some degree.. no I am not now and have never beena tweaker...) I (or
should i say my discursive construct) would completely reject such an
interpretation of my career, as I consider my deep alientation from the
establishment(s) to be a matter of something like History, not conjured up
out of my 'free will' or any of the other odd concepts H.M Enzensberger
(theorist and poet) referred to as "armchair idealism, a sort of
metaphysical do-it-yourself."...

Now if you want to make the argument that much of what I have just said,
as discourse, has too many connections with the theoretical positions
which may be argued to define the 'establishment' in certain corners of
academia (MLA or SCMS or this or that journal), and that this discourse is
damaging to the transcendent magical essence of Art, well, you might have
a point, something to debate rather than fight over. But leave ME out of
it. Because, Mr. Camper, when it comes to my life, my humanity, you know
nothing, and you are talking out of your asshole.

Okay, could it be that maybe we've both gotten the macho
agreesive/defensive shit out of the way? Could we maybe try to start a
more positive discussion, say, maybe about some films that several of us
love, comparing notes about where our passions have common ground and
where they go in different directions, starting from the same object? Is
that possible? Anybody? Anybody want to discuss fascination, or perhaps
productive estrangement, as a mode of engagement with the avant garde?

For info on FrameWorks, contact Pip Chodorov at <email suppressed>.