The Future of the Image

By Chris Darke


This latest collection of essays by the influential French philosopher follows on swiftly from the English translation of his Film Fables (2006), in which he ranged across a veritable cinéphile pantheon – Eisenstein, Lang, Ray, Rossellini, Godard and Marker – to deliver a riveting and informative excursion through modern French film theory (anyone who has ever found themselves flummoxed by Deleuze’s Cinema, or simply can’t be bothered to read both volumes, should turn to Rancière’s excursus From One Image to Another: Deleuze and the Ages of Cinema). One of the questions that animated Film Fables is what it means to talk of cinema’s “modernity” and how cinema can be seen both to have broken with and continued conventions associated with the other arts. Rancière’s wide-ranging treatment of this question returns obsessively to the encyclopaedic work of Deleuze and Godard’s Histoire(s) du cinéma (1989-1998). The five essays collected in The Future of the Image (all originally published or delivered as talks between 2001 and 2002) return both to questions of artistic modernity and to Godard’s magnum opus but, here, Rancière’s attention extends beyond cinema to take in painting, graphic design and literature.

The two essays explicitly concerned with moving images – one from which the collection takes its title and the other a further engagement with Histoire(s) – constitute major contributions to ongoing debates which, owing to the vicissitudes of translation, are not as central to Anglophone film theory at they might be. The Future of the Image can be read as a response to an influential tendency in French criticism to contrast the cinematic image with images produced by other media, such as video and TV, which tend to be described as ‘the visual’. This tendency is best represented in the hugely influential late work of Serge Daney (which remains still barely translated into English) and Régis Debray’s eschatologically accented study Vie et Mort de l’image (Life and Death of the Image, 1994) and Rancière probes the underlying assumptions behind such ideas and in the process outlines a counter-history of the image taking in poetry and contemporary art along the way.

The publisher trails this collection as Rancière “returning politics to its central place in understanding art” which is to overemphasise a subtle but mostly subterranean strand at work in these essays. And while this surfaces most forcibly in a tour de force materialist analysis of graphic design traditions (The Surface of Design) and in an extremely useful answer to the question ‘are some things unrepresentable?’, these essays are most valuable if approached as the engagements of a brilliant philosopher with some of the key questions of contemporary aesthetics.

The Future of the Image Jacques Rancière, (Verso, 2007, £14.99; ISBN: 978-1-84467-107-6)

Chris Darke is a prolific writer on international cinema and artists’ film and video. He is the author of a number of books.