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FILM-PHILOSOPHY  May 2011

FILM-PHILOSOPHY May 2011

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Subject:

Re: Nihilism

From:

Ken Mogg <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Film-Philosophy <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Wed, 4 May 2011 02:58:33 +0100

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I am grateful to John M for this piece of information (only partly because it helps me see what he means by nihilism): 

> The term "nihilism" was first used as a charge against Kantian philosophy by writers such as Obereit and Jacobi. Because Kant claimed that we are forever locked into our phenomenal reality, these critics saw Kant as alienating us from the "real" truth of the noumenal world, or the "thing-in-itself." This, they thought, reduced the world to nothing, and thus Kant was called a "nihilist." He believed in an objective reality, but he claimed that we can never know that reality. Once again, there is a gap between what he believed was the "real" truth and what he could grasp as the truth.

Unfortunately, and btw, John proceeds to trip himself up with excessive negatives.  He writes:

> I think of nihilism as a sort of frustrated idealism. [...]  So, I don't think it is incorrect to characterize those who aim at a mark and miss it as non-nihilists.

He means 'nihilists', surely?!  (Note: 'I don't think it is incorrect' = 'I think it is correct'.)

But I'm mainly concerned with John's point about Kant's allegedly unknowable 'thing-in-itself'.  What he says is basically my understanding of Kant's position, as it was his successor Schopenhauer's.  In turn, I've often suggested that Hitchcock's films accord with Kant's position too - but as MODIFIED by Schopenhauer.  (Schopenhauer identified the 'thing-in-itself' as the cosmic Will, which he noted could be known in a special sense, by turning one's attention inwards, to one's sense of being alive and being inhabited by the flow of Will.  Roughly, that's Hitchcock's position, as I'll explain further shortly.)

So when Mike F calls Hitchcock a nihilist - citing in particular VERTIGO  - I have to disagree.  Partly, it's for the reason I've already indicated.  Hitchcock was both a 'pessimist' (like the Symbolists, who were influenced by Schopenhauer and Baudelaire) and an ANTI-pessimist (like another favourite writer of his, G.K. Chesterton).  Chesterton's avowed 'anti-pessimism' is the rough equivalent in Hitchcock's films of Schopenhauer's way out of the Kantian predicament.  It involves (celebrating) being alive.

To be both a pessimist and an anti-pessimist (as I allege of Hitchcock) would seem to involve paradox.  Fine.  Paradox is precisely Chesterton's favoured tool.  Also, Richard Allen has written at length on the topic of Hitchcock's 'Romantic Irony', which is ALL ABOUT paradox, as first described by a contemporary of Kant and Schopenhauer, Friedrich Schlegel.  The world is not unified - except insofar as it is Will - but made up of contraries.  Schopenhauer spoke of Will AND Representation.

So the nun at the end of VERTIGO is both/either a good, benedictory figure and/or a bad, oppressive (mother-) figure.  Hitchcock's Schopenhauerian message is that while we may not (cannot) know the ultimate truth, we can at least experience/intuit it.

The above is a hyper-condensed version of something I argue in my essay "Hitchcock's Literary Sources" which may be found  in Leitch & Poague, 'A Companion to Alfred Hitchcock' (Wiley-Blackwell, 2011).  Mike F and others may care to look at it.  (Some other, splendid essays in that collection include Jack Sullivan's joyous "Hitchcock's Music", William Rothman's passionate "The Universal Hitchcock", and James Vest's informative "French Hitchcock, 1945-55".  There's also an essay, which I haven't reached yet, near the back of the book, "Hitchcock and Philosophy", by Richard Gilmore.)

- Ken M     

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