Louis XIV’s passion for dancing, and its metamorphoses, at the beginnings of a society of the spectacle. Peter Wollen looks at the birth of ballet as a projection of state power, and the bonding of elites that court entertainment bequeathed to modern democracies.
GOVERNMENT BY APPEARANCES
In the course of his celebrated discussion of Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon, Michel Foucault wondered whether Bentham had got the idea for his perfect prison from Le Vau’s octagonal design for Louis XIV’s menagerie at Versailles: ‘At the centre was an octagonal pavilion which, on the first floor, consisted of only a single room, the king’s salon; on every side large windows looked out onto seven cages (the eighth was reserved for the entrance), containing different species of animals. By Bentham’s time, this menagerie had disappeared. But one finds in the programme of the Panopticon a similar concern with individuating observation, with characterization and classification, with the analytic arrangement of space. The Panopticon is a royal menagerie; the animal is replaced by man, individual distribution by specific grouping and the king by the machinery of a furtive power.’ Like the Panopticon, Louis’s menagerie was a kind of observatory in which, from a single central point of view, a series of specimens, both confined and illuminated, could be examined and controlled. Observation was indeed for Louis a form of mastery. As Colbert noted at the opening of a new Observatory in 1671: ‘Triumphal Arch for the conquests of the Earth. Observatory for the heavens.’
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On Gaze Theory
The author of Signs and Meaning in the Cinema traces the dialectic of the gaze from Hegel to Hitchcock, via Kojève, Lacan, Sartre, Vertov and Kuleshov. Vision and voyeurism, selfhood and spectatorship in psychoanalysis, philosophy and cinema.
Liberation from bourgeois marriage, central radical demand from Sand and Kollontai to Piercy, is subsumed in the age of global capital by calls for same-sex property rights. Wollen’s unmade film treatment celebrates loves unsanctified by church or state—de Beauvoir’s relationships with Sartre and Algren.
Threads from the history of Mexican surrealism: the Blue House in Coyoacán and Breton’s protegée as avant-garde antidotes or postmodern devotional objects. The components of the Kahlo cult and its basis in the artist’s own practice of self-fabulation and masquerade, concealment and display.
Speed and the Cinema
Jeopardy and menace, flight and pursuit: the highwire and lion’s den as kindred to the cinematic thrill. Peter Wollen reflects on the varied tempos of the avant-garde, from René Clair to Michael Snow; and on the planetary expansion of the culture of speed.
An Alphabet of Cinema
The author of Signs and Meaning in the Cinema and Raiding the Icebox offers a beguiling A–Z of his engagement with films: from Aristotle through Bambi and Godard to The Passenger and the Underground.
Situationists and Architecture
How dreams of unitary urbanism that would confound Le Corbusier could be a summons to social revolution. The Situationist ideas of dérive and détournement as gypsy principles of chance and larceny in the imagination of a utopian space. Inspirations from Neuschwanstein to the Watts riots, visions from Constant’s helicoptered nomads to Jorn’s ceramic garden.
An elegy for Derek Jarman, meditating on the meanings of the monochrome he took from Yves Klein for his last film, confronting death. From lapis lazuli to ultramarine: shades of paradise from Ficino and Blake to Goethe and Guy Debord.
Magritte and the Bowler Hat
Why did Magritte populate his surrealist images with bowler hats? Peter Wollen takes us from the oneirics of the Belgian painter to the antics of Tintin and Chaplin, the purism of Le Corbusier, memories of Beckett, fantasies of Bond and Kundera. Emblem of working men and city toffs, cabaret girls and Orange parades—what icons have matched it for multiple meanings?
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