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Rhetorically charged debates over theory have divided scholars of the humanities for decades. In Elegy for Theory, D. N. Rodowick steps back from well-rehearsed arguments pro and con to assess why theory has become such a deeply contested concept. Far from lobbying for a return to the "high theory" of the 1970s and 1980s, he calls for a vigorous dialogue on what should constitute a new, ethically inflected philosophy of the humanities. Rodowick develops an ambitiously cross-disciplinary critique of theory as an academic discourse, tracing its historical displacements from ancient concepts of theoria through late modern concepts of the aesthetic and into the twentieth century. The genealogy of theory, he argues, is constituted by two main lines of descent--one that goes back to philosophy and the other rooted instead in the history of positivism and the rise of the empirical sciences. Giving literature, philosophy, and aesthetics their due, Rodowick asserts that the mid-twentieth-century rise of theory within the academy cannot be understood apart from the emergence of cinema and visual studies. To ask the question, "What is cinema?" is to also open up in new ways the broader question of what is art. At a moment when university curriculums are everywhere being driven by scientism and market forces, Elegy for Theory advances a rigorous argument for the importance of the arts and humanities as transformative, self-renewing cultural legacies.
Theory--an embattled discourse for decades--faces a new challenge from those who want to model the methods of all scholarly disciplines on the sciences. What is urgently needed, says D. N. Rodowick, is a revitalized concept of theory that can assess the limits of scientific explanation and defend the unique character of humanistic understanding.
In Reading the Figural, or, Philosophy after the New Media D. N. Rodowick applies the concept of "the figural" to a variety of philosophical and aesthetic issues. Inspired by the aesthetic philosophy of Jean-Franois Lyotard, the figural defines a semiotic regime where the distinction between linguistic and plastic representation breaks down. This opposition, which has been the philosophical foundation of aesthetics since the eighteenth century, has been explicitly challenged by the new electronic, televisual, and digital media. Rodowick--one of the foremost film theorists writing today--contemplates this challenge, describing and critiquing the new regime of signs and new ways of thinking that such media have inaugurated. To fully comprehend the emergence of the figural requires a genealogical critique of the aesthetic, Rodowick claims. Seeking allies in this effort to deconstruct the opposition of word and image and to create new concepts for comprehending the figural, he journeys through a range of philosophical writings: Thierry Kuntzel and Marie-Claire Ropars-Wuilleumier on film theory; Jacques Derrida on the deconstruction of the aesthetic; Siegfried Kracauer and Walter Benjamin on the historical image as a utopian force in photography and film; and Gilles Deleuze and Michel Foucault on the emergence of the figural as both a semiotic regime and a new stratagem of power coincident with the appearance of digital phenomena and of societies of control. Scholars of philosophy, film theory, cultural criticism, new media, and art history will be interested in the original and sophisticated insights found in this book.
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