The primary objective of this two-part essay is to theorize the relationships between religious disenchantment, the autonomy of art, and the phenomenon of contingency. These connections are held to be vital for an understanding of modern aesthetics in general, and the possibility is put forth that they come to a head in the most modern of all the arts: cinema. In the first part, an account of the contemporary rift between the immanence of art and the transcendence of the divine announces the end of the absolute and the beginning of the reign of contingency – a liberating yet catastrophic turning point where artists are responsible for creating meaning with the full knowledge that all meaning is a creation. In the second part, the secular autonomy of art is fully realized in the medium of film, particularly in the camera machine whose first glimpse in time and space reveals a disenchanted world or “contingency in the flesh.” The medium of the moving image and its modes of experience at the turn of the century are here understood as ontologically determined or overdetermined by the great symbolic threat against the powers of human agency – the world in its own image as opposed to the world in our image. However, at the same time this material threat against our will to power is counteracted by the desire to control the shock and indeterminacy of cinematic contingency, a desire fulfilled at the expense of acknowledging the implications of the new anti-absolute.
- modern art
- cinematic ontology
Trevor Mowchun, “A Machine’s First Glimpse in Time and Space,” Evental Aesthetics 4, no. 2 (2015): 77-102.
On p. 94, “…but no single figure can emerge as necessary relative to others, perhaps as a consequence of the storm of relativity unleashed by consistency” should read “…but no single figure can emerge as necessary relative to others, perhaps as a consequence of the storm of relativity unleashed by contingency.“