The shape of it all: priorities and completeness in Nicole Brenez's work on Abel Ferrara

Dominic Lash

Research output: Contribution to conferenceConference Paper


Nicole Brenez's work on figuration in the cinema is an immensely stimulating instance of a critical practice that resists automatically ascribing hierarchies between narration and symbolisation. She shows that we do not necessarily have to begin with what is narrated and then decide what it "means". As she writes in De la figure en général et du corps en particulier (1998), "we have to envisage a figurative logic, not merely as a treatment of a motif, a theme or a singular form, but also in terms of the grouping of figures, in senses alternately plastic... and rhetorical". Figural analysis thus seems, at least potentially, a totalising method, in the sense that there is nothing in or pertaining to a film that is not, either literally or metaphorically, shaped, and thus amenable to figural analysis.

I propose to take Brenez's 2007 book on Abel Ferrara as a model of her practice. I will argue that how completeness relates to critical priorities remains something of an open question. Figural analysis can liberate us from obstructions (by, say, downgrading the importance of plausibility), but where do we finally locate that which has been demoted? At worst, a reorientation of hierarchies could conceal an evasion of issues which completeness demands be addressed. What are we to make of the gaps the method leaves? When Brenez calls the murder at the end of Ms. 45 both 'castrating' and 'protective', she does not mention the clearly phallic gesture wherein Laurie holds a knife erect at her crotch. When she declares that The Blackout 'cultivates confusion, in four modes', are these merely enumerated or do they map out all the possible territory? Ultimately, my goal is to consider whether figural criticism is best seen as a new model operating within a venerable practice (that of criticism), or as something more fundamentally distinct.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 6 Jul 2017
EventFilm-Philosophy Conference 2017 - Lancaster University, Lancaster, United Kingdom
Duration: 4 Jul 20176 Jul 2017


ConferenceFilm-Philosophy Conference 2017
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


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