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L’autographie mareysienne: ou comment séparer les corps pour les rapprocher d’eux-mêmes


My paper seeks to show that early cinema was profoundly indebted to the 19th-century debate on the nihilistic and decadent body (Nietzsche, Rimbaud, Huysmans), and that, in this context, early cinema aimed to galvanize the modern body by bring it back to itself. At the inception of cinematic experiments (around 1882), the French biologist Etienne-Jules Marey tried to address the problem of “decadent” bodies in his discipline. He sought to reenergize what he perceived as a weakened modern body. With the invention of the photographic gun, Marey actualized a new writing technology (cinematography) that would allow to study bodies in their “livingness,” that is, in their movements (kinema). However, as much as cinema was conceptualized as bringing bodies back to themselves, cinematography was at the same time severing bodies from one another. Contrary to Marey's previous graphic method, the principle of cinematography was that it was recording bodies without any contact - it was an autography as François Dagognet noted. With the invention of cinema, Marey made Nietzsche’s dream of a writing of the body in movement come true. French philosophers, starting with Henri Bergson in the late 19th and early 20th century, quickly realized the philosophical importance of cinema and engaged with it specifically rather than in the larger framework of aesthetic theory. They found Marey’s chronophotographic gun menacing. Indeed, for an episteme Marey and Nietzsche considered decadent, the body in movement was seen as a shackle on the mind. According to this decadent discourse, to reach the sphere of truth, ideas, and imagination, one had to keep the the body still, so as to freeze its vital functions, and release the mind (or “the soul”).

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