Film Philology: A conversation between Holt Meyer and Chris GoGwilt (Part I)
Why do literary critics turn to film? Why do films turn to literary texts? The dialogue that follows is preoccupied by this double-fold question of film and philology. As part of an ongoing conversation about the responsibilities of our respective academic fields—English studies and Slavic studies—this dialogue considers the relation between film and philology comparatively, historically, and theoretically. Comparatively: what does the relation of film to philology tell us about the interrelation between the fields of English studies and Slavic studies? Historically: can we track a relation between the eclipse of philology and the birth of cinema (and then again, the eclipse of cinema and the return to philology)? Theoretically, can we articulate the shared ground of film and philology?
The books of a number of important scholars in the humanities, the most prominent being Edward Said, whose posthumous Humanism and Democratic Criticism includes a chapter entitled “The Return to Philology,” and Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht, with his Powers of Philology: Dynamics of Textual Scholarship, draw attention to a return to the issue of “philology itself” as an object of study (in the double sense of philology’s studying and philology’s being studied).
The phenomenon of Dan Brown beginning with Digital Fortress and now most conspicuously with the Da Vinci Code in its book and film versions (though the book was arguably always already a “book version” of the film) suggests a ubiquitous dream of reading as pure deciphering, of breaking codes (thus unintentionally recalling Soviet “philological” models of the 50s based on cybernetics and automatic translation), i.e., as not reading at all.
The famous opening line to Adorno’s Negative Dialectics might now perhaps better be paraphrased with reference to philology, not philosophy: “Philology, which once seemed obsolete, lives on because the moment to realize it was missed”—and one might add, academic talk never ceases to seize the opportunity once again to fail at realizing its philological vocation and responsibility.
Adorno’s argument itself implicates philology in the problem of philosophy. He turns, in the very next sentence, to consider “the summary judgment that [philosophy] had merely interpreted the world”—a reprise of Marx’s “Theses on the Philosophy of Feuerbach” (the task is not only to interpret the world, but to change it). This uneasy relation of philology to philosophy is inscribed within the O.E.D. definition of “philology” in ways that belong to a different set of debates than those that follow here. We might just note here, though, that the insistent return of an obsolescent “philology”seems bound by definition to its own philological roots. Rendered “obsolete” for the duration of the 20th-century, ever since philology makes its appearance in the O.E.D. in June 1906 (when the fascicle “P” was published), sometime in the 1970s “philology” is reinstated retrospectively, at least in the “American” sense, recognized as always having been in use (at least in its academic meaning).
In the middle of our considerations are cinematic and media realizations of the “English-Slavic” literary figure Joseph Conrad, particularly his “English-Slavic” novel The Secret Agent, which seems to have given rise to the lion’s share of espionage media in the century after its appearance in novel-form in 1907. This becomes clear once again in media representations of the bizarre and unsettling case of the former Russian secret agent Litvinenko who some claim was murdered on direct orders of the Kremlin. A number of media sources have seemingly automatically hit upon the terrorist activities of “Mr. Vladimir,” the employee of an unnamed embassy in London who masterminds the sabotage activities of the novel’s protagonist Verloc, as a comparable, if not as a kind of model, case.
This in turn seems to be the most recent case of media re-makings of Conrad’s master plot whose purpose is in some way to come to terms with the diffuse and destabilizing phenomenon named by the currently omnipresent word “terror,” be it as an historical reconstruction of the novel (Christopher Hampton’s film version) or as a reframing on contemporary terms (as Hitchcock does in his 1930s adaptation known as Sabotage). But it can also provoke a reflection on the cultural self-positionings of all media efforts to “adapt,” “interpret” and/or “translate” the figures of Conrad into one or another kind of contemporaneity (including Francis Ford Coppola’s Vietnam applications of Heart of Darkness, but also the transposition of Conrad’s early short story “The Return” from England to France in Patrice Chéreau’s recent film Gabrielle).
Returning specifically to the repercussions and legacy of The Secret Agent, it seems that none of these “Conrad-adaptations” can avoid the “Slavic-English” nexus as a central node in the immense cultural-geopolitical representational network to which this text gave rise. It seems to us that it is precisely this “Slavic-English” nexus in the most recent media transpositions of the “English-Slavic” author’s novel which makes them relevant for the film and media section of ARTMargins.
One of the participants in the following colloquy, Chris GoGwilt of Fordham University, has already written on Conrad in his books The Invention of the WestThe Invention of the West: Joseph Conrad and the Double-Mapping of Europe and Empire (Stanford, 1995); The Fiction of Geopolitics : Afterimages of Culture, from Wilkie Collins to Alfred Hitchcock (Stanford, 2000). (1995) and The Fiction of Geopolitics (2000), connecting him to Hitchcock in the latter. The other, Holt Meyer of the University of Erfurt in Germany, has written on Hitchcock’s Foreign Correspondent“Hitchcocks Foreign Correspondent: Ein pure MacGuffin in den Meta- und Mega-Allegorien der American technology“, in: H. Drügh und V. Mergenthaler (Hg): Ich ist ein Agent. Ästhetische und politische Aspekte des Spionagefilms (Tübingen, 2005), 85-110; “Academic Self-witnessing Secrets or: Hitchcock’s (a) Professor” in: A. Lüdtke and R. Prass: Gelehrtenleben. Wissenschaftspraxis in der Neuzeit, Cologne (in print). and North by Northwest from the point of view of the representation of academics and cultural transfers, and has also co-edited a collection called Inventing Slavia (Prague 2005), addressing issues of Slavonic Philology and “Slavonicism”.
HM: Neither of us is really a film scholar. But let me suggest our starting by asking what a “film scholar” is. Once this question has been posed, one could continue on to the issue of what the relationship of “film scholarship” to “philology” is and then whether “film scholarship” is something films themselves (e.g. those of Hitchcock) perform. “Perform,” of course, in many different senses of the word.
CG: By pointing out that neither of us is really a film scholar you have already, of course, posed the question as to what a “film scholar” is. I’d like to double your question by asking the question of what a “philologist” really is, especially when it comes to talking about “films themselves.” Perhaps we could find a way to examine how film and philology hinge on the same scholarly, or disciplinary problem. Since Hitchcock’s films form a common point of reference for work that we’ve each already conducted (both separately and together), might we consider the example of Hitchcock; or, to offer a more specific frame of reference, might we consider the relevance of film for philology—or the secretly filmic agency of the letter—as this emerges from Conrad’s The Secret Agent, through Hitchcock’s Secret Agent (and/or Sabotage), up to Christopher Hampton’s Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent and beyond? We may both lay some scholarly claim to “philology” to the extent that this broad definition covers both of our fields, Slavic and English studies respectively. But we have also both found ourselves turning to film, and notably the films of Hitchcock, to investigate matters of English and Slavic philology. What does this philological turn toward film studies say about our respective fields?
HM: I think this last question about the philological turn toward film studies and our respective fields is in part posed and answered by a concept of “agent academic double talk,” a term we both developed to designate the form and the topic of our discussion. Let’s start with the term “double talk”: it addresses the question of sincerity, but also that of dialogue: dialogue of scholars, of disciplines, of media (e.g. film as a Doppelgänger of literature etc.). It also addresses fields which appear to double in the sense of “splitting in two”, in this case geopolitical and geographical mega-phantasmas like “East” and “West.”
The “double A” squeezed into the “double talk”, i.e. “Agent Academic,” sets the stage for a further specification of the doubling – this time less in the semantic than in the pragmatic sense: we here now are as academics (as academics always already are), agents of something and someone, and are at the same time acting. “Academic double talk” (both as duplicity and as dialogue) is also implicated by this. A key problem here is the issue of how authorship in literature and film is being radically relativized in the latter. Film thus seems to incorporate the peripheral and problematic status of “author intention,” which literary scholarship of the 20h century (parallel to the history of film itself) has worked out. But our own “double authorship” in this double interview is also implicated by the double “Agent-Academic,” as well as the “Double-Agent”–Academic as general conditions of “talk” — in this case English-language talk (do I have some “Eastern” translation in the back of my head while writing this’?).
As for the examples you have mentioned, I think they are ideal for broaching the question of philology, since the three films “Hitchcock’s Secret Agent – Hitchcock’s Sabotage – Hampton’s The Secret Agent” form a triangle around Conrad, approaching the problem of “philologically sound” media translation from various sides.
Being in the field of remakes and “redoings,” one could also consider things like Anthony Pages’s 1979 remake of The Lady Vanishes (remaining in the spy realm), or even Gus Van Sant’s Psycho-copy of 1998 (leaving the spy realm, but sticking with the alien uncanny and broaching the subject of the conditions redoing itself, also from the point of view of philology).
But let us stick to the elegant triangle you have suggested. The titles themselves (Secret Agent – Sabotage) put forth the issue of what a secret agent is and how this is related to sabotage (you have written on this in your book The Fiction of Geopolitics), and at the same time. Conrad’s text and its time address the agents and agencies of modernity. This takes on particular contours in later modernism’s confrontation with the aftermath of WWI and the seizure of power in the Russian Empire by the Bolsheviks (I have written on this in two longer articles on Nabokov, more specifically on The Eye and The Gift“’Please, Azef, tell us who is this man?’: Nabokovs Agentendiskurse im Zeichen einer Fraktur und Unterscheidbarkeit der Stimmfaktur oder: Voice over” in G. Witte, B. Obermayr u.a.: faktur und fraktur: Gestörte ästhetische Präsenz in Avantgarde und Spätavantgarde (Wien, 2006) (Wiener Slawistischer Almanach, Sonderband Nr. 63) S. 301-342; “Die ver-gebliche (Über)Gabe des Geheimagenten: Trauer, Spionage und Wertschöpfung im 2. Kapitel von Nabokovs Dar [Die Gabe] “, in R. Grübel u. Gun-Britt Kohler: Gabe und Opfer in der russischen Literatur und Kultur der Moderne (Oldenburg, 2006), 417-442.). Hitchcock’s films of the 30s as a datum post quem for the material actually discussed must be seen in this politico-aesthetico-historical context.
And so we have the figures of the Russian embassy and its agents in Hitchcock’s Sabotage and Hampton’s The Secret Agent; this is a territory and a constellation where both of our disciplines can meet and at the same time reflect on the territory which serves as the “headquarters” of the (literary and/or media) signs we study (these two “headquarters” certainly meet in a Russian diplomatic post in London, and the “time coming out of joint” due to an attack on Greenwich is a sign of the destabilization of these headquarters in a particular period). When you rightly ask the specific question as to the “philological turn toward film studies” from the point of view of our respective disciplines, I reply that the “sign territory” (with its respective “territorial sign posts”) which we are responsible for and the signs we produce in acting out this responsibility must be viewed in their mediality. In the case of the examples you mentioned, we are dealing with the transfer of a narrative scheme to the written word and to filmic techniques. But what is this narrative scheme beyond the media material which “serves as its manifestation”?
CG: You raise far more questions than I can possibly do justice to in response. I’ll want to take up your point about our responsibilities for and to “mediality” by proposing we theorize—or perhaps merely hypothesize—what might constitute the basic element in common between the media of philology and the media of film.
You single out one particular location—an Embassy—as a point of reference (or “headquarters”) for the differences we might share, so we might begin looking there.
This “territory” and “constellation” where “both our disciplines can meet” is the site of a conspiracy, the place of a terrorist plot. It’s worth emphasizing that this plot (the pretext for Conrad’s, Hitchcock’s, and Hampton’s versions) is made possible, in Conrad’s work, by having its execution turn on the film-technology developed by the Professor for his bomb-making: “the principle of the pneumatic instantaneous shutter for a camera lens.”Joseph Conrad, The Secret Agent: A Simple Tale (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), 66. In the first of our triangulated secret agent pretexts, Conrad’s The Secret Agent, the Assistant Commissioner tracks this plot (your “narrative scheme beyond the media material which ‘serves as its manifestation’”) down to its source in the figure of Mr. Vladimir.
Mr. Vladimir is presumed to be “First Secretary” of the Russian Embassy, but there’s some uncertainty about nationalities here. Conrad’s text never makes this explicit (although the name Vladimir strongly implies Russia). Hitchcock’s Sabotage follows Conrad in keeping “who’s behind it” a mystery (although one might want to pay closer attention to the way the movie deploys Eastern European stereotypes, especially through facial features). Hampton’s makes the presumption explicit by repeatedly referring to the Russian Embassy (however much that national representation may be undermined by the casting of Eddie Izzard as Russia’s “First Secretary”). It may be important to trace the uncertainty about Russian and Slavic designations that attends all these Anglophone texts, films, and scores. As I’ve discussed elsewhere, this uncertainty is inscribed in the authorial sign, and signature, of “Joseph Conrad.” How does this uncertainty reveal the relation of text to film—how, indeed, might it reveal that text-film interrelation to be inscribed within a particular, Conradian economy of correspondence between Slavic and English?
In the confrontation between these two figures, the Assistant Commissioner points out that the English police have “stopped at the limits of our territory”—to which Mr Vladimir responds, “So this instructive crime was planned abroad …. You admit it was planned abroad?” (227-8). The response that follows—and the way it is parsed by the narrator—seems to me to provide the locus classicus for our problem of philology, film, and the relation between Slavic and English studies:
“Theoretically. Theoretically only, on foreign territory; abroad only by a fiction,” said the Assistant Commissioner, alluding to the character of Embassies which are supposed to be part and parcel of the country to which they belong. (228)
The Assistant Commissioner’s Embassy riddle resolves the whole double-agent plot in an exemplary instance of double academic talk—Vladimir’s insistence that the terrorist attack was planned “abroad” is doubled by the Assistant Commissioner’s insistence that “foreign territory” be understood “theoretically only” and that “abroad” be understood only as “a fiction.” This academic distinction is itself bound to the different charges accorded to, or levelled against, “theory” and “fiction” respectively, and to different degrees within our own disciplinary fields. (I might cite Paul de Man, you might cite Roman Jakobson.) Even before going on to consider in what sense this riddle of territoriality prefigures Hitchcock’s re-screening of Conrad’s secret agent plot, or Hampton’s TV-re-screening of Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent, it’s worth repeating that this exchange, in chapter X, is already a reframing of the serial version that appeared in the American periodical Ridgway’s: A Militant Weekly for God and Country between October and December of 1906. The nature of Conrad’s attempt to master the plot of his own text, even as it is appearing in serial form, has certain close affinities with the work of screenplay and movie editing.Cf. the following passages from Conrad’s letters: “Ridgways are sending me their rag. It’s awful—and it don’t matter in the least. I see they are ‘editing’ the stuff pretty severely. I am doing the knifing scene over again” (from 22 or 29 October 1906); and “A piece of literary work may be defined in twenty ways. The people who are serializing the Secret Agent in the U.S. now have found their own definition. They described it (on posters) as “A Tale of Diplomatic Intrigue and Anarchist Treachery.” But they don’t do it on my authority and that’s all I care for. … I confess that in my eyes the story is a fairly successful (and sincere) piece of ironic treatment applied to a special subject … And it is based on the inside knowledge of a certain event in the history of active anarchism. But otherwise it is purely the work of imagination. It has no social or philosophical intention. It is, I humbly hope, not devoid of artistic value. It may even have some moral significance. It is also Conrad’s writing….” (from 2 November 1906). I’d contend that the exchange between the Assistant Commissioner and Mr. Vladimir is itself an attempt to come to terms, retrospectively, with the combined cinematographic and philological materiality, or “mediality,” of its text.
In the narrator’s parsing of the Assistant Commissioner’s territorial riddle about Embassies, we might look for the material basis of both philology and film. The “character” of Embassies (note that this is not any one Embassy, but theoretically any Embassy) is said to be “part and parcel of the country to which they belong.” This “part and parcel” both explains and performs the problem of representation, signification, and also “mediality,” which you identify in the topos of the Embassy. In fact, you write of the Russian Embassy and its agents, and you also refer to its signification across that tangle, or triangle, of texts ascribed—with varying degrees of authority—to the authorship of Joseph Conrad. As a hypothesis let me suggest that the rhetorical function of this part and parcel points to the problematic materiality of signification that links and separates film and philology.
First, the phrase foregrounds a problem of representation: the particular political representation of one country (e.g. Russia) to another (e.g. Britain); but also the problem of an order of national representations: a fiction of geopolitics, a theory of mimesis). Then again the phrase functions at the level of signification, insinuating the accent, or look, of foreignness in the standoff between Assistant Commissioner and Vladimir: in what sense, indeed, are they part and parcel of the countries/Empires for which they stand? Last but not least, the phrase operates at the level of “mediality”—simultaneously as phonogram and photogram: the philological unit of the phrase, as grounding “Englishness” (twice over), also underscores the (im)possibility of a false accenting of “Englishness” (especially from a(n) (im)possible Slavic voicing), an inside voicing (invoice), or insider (“inciter”) voice. In what sense does this level of “mediality” inscribe in the text an agency of voice, and voice of agency that itself works like the “single grapheme” ?, phonograph and photogram of The Secret Agent’s agent provocateur?See Garrett Stewart, Between Film and Screen: Modernism’s Photo Synthesis (Chicago: U Chicago P, 1999), 286; and see The Secret Agent, 27. This vanishing material mark, or disappearing elementary particle (“part” of speech, or “parcel” of text for interpretation, or “part and parcel” of a wider philological, cultural, media whole) belongs neither to the Assistant Commissioner’s voice nor to that of Mr. Vladimir, stemming as it does from the narrator’s intermediary voice. It is, rather, part and parcel of the Conradian signature, neither “English” nor “Slavic.”
It’s easy enough, I think, to see how the phrase signals a riddle of territoriality. Even setting aside the ambiguity as to whether “the country to which they belong” refers primarily to Russia or England—presuming, that is, that it refers to Russia—the peculiar effect of the phrase is to subordinate the “country” (Russia) to the Embassy that represents Russia. Because of the rhetorical contortion of part to whole, the Embassy assumes an integrity—and specifically a territorial integrity—not granted to the country for which it stands. I won’t go into the details of this particular phrase “part and parcel” except to note that it seems to retain something of the archaic sense once accorded to the English word “part” considered (according to the O.E.D.) “An element or constituent of some quality or action, considered by itself (and with no stress on its merely being a part).” It’s the two words together, and in sequence, of course, that signals the specifically territorial, legal-sounding integrity accorded the space of the Embassy.
But I think this eminently philological riddle only works as such through the cinematographic distortion to which it is already submitted in Conrad’s text. We need to read it as part of an elementary film-sequence (part…parcel), a sequence of images (the image of part followed by the image of parcel—both, by the way, entirely complicated word- or sound-images, I’m sure you’ll agree) that is also a series of linguistic inflections. Conrad’s text submits the English phrase part and parcel to an operation that simultaneously performs and requires both philological and film study. Here, at any rate, is one version of the hypothesis, which would propose to read this part and parcel as, itself, the materiality of mediality.
HM: I would like to respond to your eminently (post, meta)philological remarks on Conrad’s text (1907) by jumping over Hitchcock’s Sabotage (1936) to Hampton’s Secret Agent (1996), though of course not blotting out the view of Sabotage taken in while jumping over it. I would like to show that a possible suspicion that Conrad is “aiding and abetting” (my analogy to “part and parcel”) you in a flight from film scholarship is ungrounded, and that you address precisely the mediality of Conrad’s text itself.
I repeat: taking your Conrad of 1907 (happy anniversary!) to jump over Hitchcock’s English 1936 and wind up at Hampton’s English 1996 (I can’t help thinking about the years 2086 and/or 2116 which would be rough arithmetic continuations of this series – 30-60-90 or 30-60-120). Hampton’s English 1996 viewed from our transcontinental 2006 (does that mean after 9/11? after Clinton? after the triumph of the www?).
The question I would ask here is to what degree an “accurate” film or tv-version (which Hampton was 10 years ago and probably still is) is “philologically better” than something like Hitch’s Sabotage (as you described it in your 2000 book The Fiction of Geopolitics). This in turn bringsup the issue of philology of the novel and its (institutional) media. One could ask for instance to what degree Theories like those of Bakhtin and Lukacs instrumentalize the novel for a philosophical program (polyphony, Marxist analysis of the bourgeois) and thus are not really Theories of the novel, but rather that which one in German would call a Fortschreibung (i.e. continuation, but also “fort” in the sense of “away,” writing away the novel for one’s own agenda). But, at the same time, what is philology’s own agenda, how can it not be contaminated, tainted or “distorted”? Was there ever a time or place when philology was not infected with “something else,” even in the case of Jakobson, who had “russkij filolog” (Russian philologist) inscribed onto his (American) grave?
Could philology ever “aid and abet” (like Jakobson’s “horrible Harry” and your/Conrad’s/the quoted Assistant Commissioner’s “part and parcel” has and alliterating persuasiveness to it) literature (for) itself – particularly in the case of the novel?And, at the same time and, so to speak, with the same breath I ask: is Hampton being “more just” or “more philological” by retaining the names and details of Conrad’s text? Is this casting of Depardieu as Ossipon particularly philological due to some kind of “European” accent which makes everything more “philologically authentic”? But what about Eddie Izzard as Mr. Vladimir and Robin Williams as “The Professor“? Are those contributions to “philological accuracy”? More than casting the Viennese Oskar Homolka as Verloc in Sabotage? What is this (voicing) aspect of film “doing with literature”? Is the illustration and sound-tracking performing some kind of philological role? Is one film performing more or less “sabotage” to the text and thus being less “philological”?
And, most importantly, am I being “more philological” with respect to film by analyzing this particular level or technique of meaning production (it, after all, involving words, the stuff of philology)? Having asked all this, now I will attempt to approach closer to your points.
Yes, you’re right, my reference to the “Russian embassy” is misleading and unnecessarily closes doors which Conrad’s text leaves open. The open affiliation of “Mr. Vladimir” brings us back to the question – your question – of the (“national”) philological responsibility for the writings attributed to a certain Józef Teodor Nalecz Konrad Korzeniowski and the media transpositions of these writings (including “Conrad’s own and also the academics”).
And what about the “russkij filolog” Jakobson, particularly when he started working on English material (whatever that might be, e.g. in the case of the Catholic [and thus somehow “un-British” G.M. Hopkins)? And here we are not far from the “American material” in Sabotage (Disney cartoons being shown in Verloc’s movie theater) of the more or less (or less as more) Catholic Hitchcock, which you have also brilliantly analyzed in your book.
The name “Vladimir” is of an oddly curious importance. It is closely associated with Russia, St. Vladimir being a significant figure in the pantheon of Russian saints. It is the specifically Russian version of a name which exists in Polish as Wolodzimierz. The marking of the sponsors of the act of terror at the center of the narrative as clearly Russian without explicitly stating national identity is a very interesting phenomenon. The language (material) of the name speaks for itself. This can be viewed as a philological act, at least as a piece of onomastics. Given the fact that Conrad, as you pointed out in one of our conversations, gave his first son the decidedly “Slavonic” or even Russian sounding name Borys (in Russian Boris), but that is something you as a Conrad scholar can no doubt explain better than I can.
I now turn to the riddles you mentioned – i.e. in the context of your reference to the “Embassy riddle” as the “riddle of territoriality,” and the “territorial riddle about Embassies” as a “philological riddle.” What about the “riddle of philology” “itself,” that is to say to the riddle of philology’s responsibilities for a particular field of objects, signs etc., e.g. for a part (and parcel?) of group of things which is determined to be the material of a particular discipline. In the back of my mind I have, of course, Foucault’s work with the issues of knowledge and the archive, but also the media image of people burning down a Scandinavian “extraterritorial” thing called “embassy” due to an odd combination of other media images and words which some philologist might feel responsible for and some non-philological newspaper simply produced and distributed, thus crossing a line in the rules of depiction which a particular religion, viewing itself and universal and omnipresent, sets forth with pedantic “philological precision.”
But let us return to the case at hand. With your “part and parcel” you rightly have in a way gotten very philological in your approach to the mediality of Conrad readings and transpositions. In this vein, let me add a meta-philological meta-thought (to be more exact, make explicit the point you are clearly implicitly making, especially when you speak of the “problematic materiality of signification that links and separates film and philology”); one might also call it an “image”: “disciplines” as embassies whose foreignness is determined by their being “theoretical,” i.e. their not being practical or poietic, but rather theoretical endeavors (good old Aristotle etc.). To put in another way, scientific disciplines are by right of being theoretically theoretical not involved, but rather “only observing.” Being an agent who observes. But as we know from our preoccupation with secret agents (not only Conrad’s), the problem of secret agents is their incapability of “getting involved” (see Thornhill/Kaplan and Kendall in North by Northwest)l i.e., they do not “observe the rules.”
But this is true of the film archive itself. Look at the “system” of film archiving in the United States. For decades, and to this day, it has been done by the studios themselves. This was particularly the case in the times when film was not the object of a discipline, or perhaps a “philology.” Film was something archived by its own agents.
The same question can be asked about film that I asked about literature: where is the place where film can be “simply objectively observed for that which it is”? Is there another standard apart from the philological one? And if not, what does this mean? And where we are is in the context of something one might call a “history of philology” (in Germany there is something called “Filmphilologie.” Almost ten years ago the Munich professor Klaus Kanzog edited a textbook called Einfuehrung in die Filmphilologie, and courses with this title are offered regularly in German universities by people who might have used to call themselves “philologians” in disciplines (once) known as “philologies.” There is also a book edited by Martin M. Winkler called Classical Myth and Culture in the Cinema (Oxford 2001), which is described in the Bryn Mawr Classical Review (2001.12.13) as part of a “history of Film Philology.” This place, a “classical review,” is certainly not without significance, even irony….
What is the status of this discourse with respect to “theory”? And “theory” in which discipline? And what does this have to do with the riddle of philology ‘itself’? Let me now approach even closer to the concrete (language and film) material you referred to here. Your wonderful quotewith “part and parcel” (which gave me philological cause to address the problem of thing “being theoretical”) is both a piece of material within the object of “philological study” and an instrument for studying a “philological institution” academically talking about film as being a kind of “foreign embassy.”
Here I would pick up on quoting material from Conrad’s personal correspondence referring to a media configuration (periodicals, American editors assigning titles to his own writing and this defining “literary work”) and to something which he calls “pure … imagination”–but in both cases related to the term “work.”The literary “work” and the “work of imagination” are not theory. They “take part” (“constituent of some quality or action”) in something, claim in some way to be synecdochal.
And then you refer to “cinematographic distortion” and speak in the same chain of sentences of an “an operation that simultaneously performs and requires both philological and film study.” But where is theory, and is it a “part” of something else, or is it only the “work of imagination”?
As Natascha Drubek-Meyer points out in a number of recent studies, and also in her forthcoming book on Media Orders of Light, theory is etymologically the act of visual viewing. And so the transposition of Conrad’s words into film is in a way “theorizing” in (philologically?) “original” sense of the word. It literally “makes visible,” turns (into) evidence. Again: is this analogous to philology or a potential object of philological study? It seems that the former option (film = philology) cannot be completely erased, thus placing “theory” itself into an extremely ambiguous place within the assessment of narrative fiction which one might view as the “work” of philology. Is “film theory” a tautology?
No, in some sense the “filming” of a narrative text will always already have been a “distortion,” the subversive (sabotaging) work of some kind of “foreign embassy” (I am thinking of your audio-blot here and trying to fit it in, maybe you will do that for me…).
Allow me in closing to bring up one of the points you couldn’t respond to from my last utterance. Is there structure to all this “working” and “imaging” of something “Russian,” some “Vladimir” who doesn’t necessarily have to be Russian (whatever that means; the name exists in Czech, for instance)? Inadvertently I think of the Vladimir Nabokov quote in the OED definition of the knight’s move – translated from the Russian novel “Dar” (The Gift). And can this structure “get theoretical” to the extent of being able to be transposed, just as Anthony Pages’ 1979 remake of the Lady Vanishes shifts from the fictional East Central European Brandika (what do its embassies look like?) to Nazi Germany, thus collapsing Hitchcock’s “European structure” played off the English-British (cricket!) to a national (socialist) and/or imperial(ist) unit about to concretely go to war with Britain and “the British” (empire). At the same time the film reduced the role of musicology (theory? music philology?) to almost zero. “Brandika” and the open affiliation of “Mr. Vladimir” in their relationship to England and/as to Britain seem to be analogous here (does this somehow cross with Annie Ondra’s dubbed English voice in Blackmail?). I ask myself if I am somehow responsible for this Brandika-Vladimir complex which crosses the media border and some “cultural border” but seems to have the same structure…. This seems to be a philological and post-philological, maybe the philological riddle.
Chris GoGwilt is Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Fordham University, New York, USA.