Introduction to Subjectivity and Fantasy in Action: For a Comparative Film Studies
ABSTRACT Originally written as an introduction to Willemen’s unpublished book of essays, this paper provides perhaps the most concise outline available of what he meant by the concept “comparative film studies.” Making a strong case for why all thinking on film should once and for all jettison the discredited framework that saw films at the intersection of national specificity and universal values, Willemen proposes that we replace that intersection as an encounter between “national” histories and the capitalist-industrial production of culture. This requires us, first of all, to replace the very concept of “universality” with what underpins it, namely a pervasive capitalist mode of production. In exploring the historical-narrative constructions of such a capitalist mode, the argument draws from several disciplines to propose that – contrary to conventional views – it is not only language that defines national-cultural memory. He draws from Marx to contend that past generations’ accumulated efforts and experiences are also stored as a kind of labour power, in the form of dead labour in machines of various kinds. A good way to understand this concept of dead labour, then, is to see the purpose of narrative as also concerned with proposals, suggestions and dreams about the management of what he calls “the dead labour savings account.” Finally, Willemen outlines the way by which such an approach allows us to rethink the trope of modernity, and whatever it constructs as coming both pre- and post- that modernity.
Keywords: Comparative film studies, narrative, modernism, labour power