John Mullarkey

Title: Thinking Without Philosophy

Abstract: An increasingly 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 also think. Film can philosophise as film. Approaches that purport to be less textual and illustrative can be found in the subtractive ontology of Alain Badiou, the Wittgensteinian analyses of Stanley Cavell, and the materialist rhizomatics of Gilles Deleuze. In each case there is a claim that film can think in its own way. The thesis of the paper, however, is that what frequently claim to be non-reductive readings of film still remain pre-figured philosophical interpretations of film-philosophy. Film philosophises because it accords with a favoured kind of extant philosophy. Consequently, the aim of seeing film as philosophy is more often than not reduced to 'film as text as philosophy', in as much as the film’s audio-visual matter, no less than its cultural, technological and/or commercial dimensions, are nonetheless read or interpreted from a ready-made philosophical vantage-point.
Moreover, there is always what one might call the “Transcendental Choice of Film” at work in film-philosophy: by this I mean those (inadvertently) illustrative approaches that use particular films in order to establish a theory of what film is and how it works. Such approaches make their selections of particular films or film elements (of plot over sound, or framing over genre, and so on) in order to justify their theory of film in question, and are therefore circular. The transcendental choice or selection already forms the filmic materials so as to legitimate the theory ab initio.

But is this reduction of a non-philosophy, like film, to extant, written philosophy unavoidable? The questions that arise in this paper, therefore, are as follows: must philosophy always render film (or particular films) as pre-texts for illustrating philosophy? What would it take to imagine how film, or any art, might itself philosophise without reducing it to extant forms of philosophy? Finally, and fundamentally, must we change or at least extend our definition of philosophy and/or thinking in order to accommodate the specificities that come with the claim that a non-philosophy can philosophise? If a non-philosophy like film can nevertheless think philosophically, what does that imply for ‘orthodox’ philosophy? What does that imply for any non-philosophy?

Bio: Educated at Dublin, London, and Warwick, John Mullarkey has taught philosophy for the last 15 years at the University of Sunderland and the University of Dundee, working in the area of European philosophy and film theory. He has published Bergson and Philosophy (Edinburgh UP,1999), Post-Continental Philosophy: An Outline (Continuum, 2006) and, most recently, Refractions of Reality: Philosophy and the Moving Image (Palgrave-Macmillan, 2009).

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