13 September 2018, 10-12, Janus (University of Turku, Minerva, Kaivokatu 12)
by COLIN DAVIS, ROYAL HOLLOWAY, UNIVERSITY OF LONDON &UNIVERSITY OF TURKU
Behind the question ‘But is it art?’ lie other questions: what values, prejudices and cultural norms do we bring to play when we distinguish between art and non-art, or high art and low art, good art and bad art? What does it matter, what is at stake when we throw doubt on a work’s artistic status or worth? Heidegger’s essay ‘The Origin of the Work of Art’ epitomises a deeply-rooted Western respect for major art works whilst also formulating an exceptionally strong version of that respect. For him, great art speaks, if we know how to listen to it; and what it reveals when it speaks is truth. He demonstrates this through his interpretation of a painting by Van Gogh. Art, and pre-eminently poetry, turn out to be comparable in standing to the highest achievements of thought. But what of the art forms which Heidegger does not appear to revere, especially narrative forms such as film? In a Heideggerian perspective, can a film aspire to rank alongside the greatest works of art and poetry? As a technological innovation, it does not seem to share the qualities which Heidegger finds in great art. A sequence from an early film directed by Jean Renoir allows a discussion of these issues, and it offers its own response to Heidegger’s implicit critique.
Colin Davis is Professor of French and Comparative Literature at Royal Holloway, University of London, UK, and Visiting Professor in the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Turku. His research focuses mainly on connections between literature, film and philosophy, with particular interests in the modern French novel, ethics, ethical criticism, philosophical approaches to literature and film, hermeneutics, literary theory, cultural memory, trauma studies and Holocaust literature. His books include Critical Excess: Overreading in Derrida, Deleuze, Levinas, Žižek and Cavell (Stanford University Press, 2010), Postwar Renoir: Film and the Memory of Violence (Routledge, 2012), Traces of War: Interpreting Ethics and Trauma in Twentieth-Century French Writing (Liverpool University Press, 2018) and Storytelling and Ethics: Literature, Visual Arts and Power of Narrative (co-edited with Hanna Meretoja, Routledge, 2018).