shock


For an innovative analysis of Eisenstein’s “film poetics” , see David Bordwell’s The Cinema of Eisenstein. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1993.

Modern science has imposed on humanity the necessity for wandering. Its progressive thought and its progressive technology make the transition through time, from generation to generation, a true migration into uncharted seas of adventure. The very benefit of wandering is that it is dangerous and needs skill to avert evils. We must expect therefore, that the future will disclose dangers. It is the business of the future to be dangerous; and it is among the merits of science that it equips the future for its duties. The prosperous middle classes, who ruled the nineteenth century, placed an excessive value upon placidity of existence. They refused to face the necessities for social reform imposed by the new industrial system, and they are now refusing to face the necessities for intellectual reform imposed by the new knowledge. The middle class pessimism over the future of the world comes from a confusion between civilisation and security. In the immediate future there will be less security than in the immediate past, less stability. It must be admitted that there is a degree of instability which is inconsistent with civilisation. But, on the whole, the great ages have been unstable ages.

Alfred North Whitehead. Science and the Modern World. Lowell Lectures, 1925. New York: The Macmillan company, 1925: 298-299.

Let us compare the screen on which a film unfolds with the canvas of a painting. The painting invites the spectator to contemplation; before it the spectator can abandon himself to his associations. Before the movie frame he cannot do so. No sooner has his eye grasped a scene than it is aready changed. It cannot be arrested. . . .  The spectator’s process of association in view of these images is indeed interrupted by their constant sudden, change. This constitutes the shock effect of the film, which like all shocks, should be cushioned by heightened presence of mind.

– Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” [1936] in Illuminations: Walter Benjamin Essays and Reflections (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1968), p. 238.

The child sees everything in a state of newness; he is always drunk. Nothing more resembles what we call inspiration than the delight with which a child absorbs form and colour. I am prepared to go even further and assert that inspiration has something in common with a convulsion, and that every sublime thought is accompanied by a more or less violent nervous shock which has its repercussion in teh very core of the brain The man of genius has sound nerves while those of the child are weak. With the one, Reason has taken up a considerable position; with the other, Sensibility is almost the whole being. But genius is nothing more nor less than childhood recovered at will — a childhood now equipped for self-expression with manhood’s capacities and a power of analysis which enables it to order the mass of raw material which it has involuntarily accumulated.

Charles Baudelaire, “The Painter of Modern Life” 1863. In Charles Baudelaire, The Painter of Modern Life and Other Essays. Jonathan Mayne, trans. (London: Phaidon, 2006), p. 8.

When reason and unreason touch, there’s an electric shock. It’s called polemics.

– Friedrich Schlegel’s fragment no. 300 from the Athenaeum Fragments (1798), trans. by Peter Firchow.