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Refractions of Reality: Philosophy and the Moving Image by John Mullarkey

Posted: Saturday 07 Aug 2010
by LGS 1 comments

Why is film becoming increasingly important to philosophers? Is it because it can be a helpful tool in teaching philosophy, in illustrating it? Or is it because film can also think for itself, because it can create its own philosophy? In fact, a popular claim amongst film-philosophers is that film is no mere handmaiden to philosophy, that it does more than simply illustrate philosophical texts: rather, film itself can philosophise in direct audio-visual terms. Approaches that purport to grant to film the possibility of being more than illustrative can be found in the subtractive ontology of Alain Badiou, the Wittgensteinian analyses of Stanley Cavell, and the materialist semiotics of Gilles Deleuze. In each case there is a claim that film can think in its own way. Too often, however, when philosophers claim to find indigenous philosophical value in film, it is only on account of refracting it through their own thought: film philosophises because it accords with a favoured kind of extant philosophy.

Refractions of Reality: Philosophy and the Moving Image is the first book to examine all the central issues surrounding the vexed relationship between the film-image and philosophy. In it, John Mullarkey tackles the work of particular philosophers and theorists (Zizek, Deleuze, Cavell, Bordwell, Badiou, Branigan, Rancière, Frampton, and many others) as well as general philosophical positions (Analytical and Continental, Cognitivist and Culturalist, Psychoanalytic and Phenomenological). Moreover, he also offers an incisive analysis and explanation of several prominent forms of film theorising, providing a meta- logical account of their mutual advantages and deficiencies that will prove immensely useful to anyone interested in the details of particular theories of film presently circulating, as well as correcting, revising, and re- visioning the field of film theory as a whole.

Throughout, Mullarkey asks whether the reduction of film to text is unavoidable. In particular: must philosophy (and theory) always transform film into pre-texts for illustration? What would it take to imagine how film might itself theorise without reducing it to standard forms of thought and philosophy? Finally, and fundamentally, must we change our definition of philosophy and even of thought itself in order to accommodate the specificities that come with the claim that film can produce philosophical theory? If a ‘non-philosophy’ like film can think philosophically, what does that imply for orthodox theory and philosophy?

‘This book, in some sense, brings to an end a certain phase of film theorizing and instead looks toward something quite new: how theories have been written and how they may be written, how they fall into types, how these types are filling out not a logical grid but a grid of the anxieties we feel, and the defenses we erect toward the everyday. A wonderful, ground-breaking book.’ – Edward Branigan (University of California, Santa Barbara), author of Projecting a Camera: Language-Games in Film Theory and Narrative Comprehension and Film

‘Highly original both in its concern for avoiding the illustrative approach generally favoured by philosophers, and in the speculative ambition that looms behind the critical edge of its readings of contemporary film- philosophers. The very question “when does the film itself happen?” is a fundamental one, which is rarely addressed. Mullarkey is opening the door to a brand new type of philosophical engagement with films.’ – Elie During (Université de Paris X-Nanterre), author of Matrix: Machine philosophique

‘Mullarkey brings an informed, critical view to a number of theories from both the Continental tradition (his specialization) and the Anglo-American tradition…Refractions of Realisty is an original and valuable contribution to the field of film philosophy…It is perhaps most valuable in its highly successful dislocation of the rigid, myopic perspective of so many contemporary theories’ – Joseph Mai, Notre Dame Philosophy Reviews

(Description via Palgrave Macmillan)


  1. At 6:40 am on February 19, 2011, EleleToogquig wrote:

    hi, new to the site, thanks.

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