Sunday, March 20, 2005

More on Murnau’s Sunrise. It reminded me of Gabriel Josipovici’s thesis in _On Trust: Art and the Temptations of Suspicion_. I started reading it a few years ago, then stopped in the middle, just before the chapter on Proust, because I hadn’t read Proust (am about to do so). Here’s what the dust jacket says: “In this wide-ranging book, an eminent novelist, playwright, and literary critic explores the question that has troubled artists and philosophers (though not critics) since the time of the Romantics: is it possible to create art today with the freedom of earlier ages and yet produce works that are more than merely decorative or commerical? Such a question, argues Gabriel Josipovici, is not timeless; it has a history, and a relatively short one at that. Why is it only with the Romantics that suspicion, not just of motive but of the very tools of art, language, and form, has become so insistent? Why could Shakespeare depict suspicion with such power and insight in the figures of Hamlet and Iago, yet himself work with such apparent ease within the conventions of his time?
To understand Romantic suspicion, the author argues, we need to understand what it supplanted and why. To that end he turns to the work created in what he calls cultures of trust, to Homer and the Hebrew Bible, to Dante and Shakespeare, before examining the interplay of trust and suspicion in a number of Romantic and post-Romantic writers from Wordsworth to Beckett.

This seems to me far more convincing than Eliot’s dissociation of sensibility, or the fatuous notion that the “self” (whatever that is) was invented in the Renaissance — one might as well go back to the expulsion from the Garden of Eden for the original, fatal self-division. (I haven’t read “On Naive and Sentimental Poetry.”)
I heartily recommend the first half of _On Trust_, and by the end of the year I hope to be able to recommend the whole thing. Anyway, it seemed to me that the power of _Sunrise_ comes from its combination of artfulness and unself-consciousness, of delicacy, and straightforwardness and confidence in the tools of its art (it won an Oscar for cinematography in 1927).

_Sunrise_ presents absolutely uncompromising versions of city and country life, and this whole-hearted endorsement of opposites is one reason, I think, for the film’s vitality. (Much as I love trolleys, I couldn’t help thinking, “It’s no ordinary trolley that goes from that village to that city!” But I suppose in Germany it’s possible.)

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