Eisenstein’s Laughter

Luka Arsenjuk

There is no better starting point for thought than laughter; speaking more precisely, spasms of the diaphragm generally offer better chances for thought than spasms of the soul.
--Walter Benjamin, “Author as Producer”

The image of Sergei Eisenstein generally deployed today is a textbook figure. On the one hand, no introductory presentation of film theory and history can afford to exclude Eisenstein: he was the pioneer of montage, a formal innovator, the first important theorist of production of cinematic meaning through a conflictual juxtaposition of images. On the other hand, however, precisely because this picture often reduces him to a discoverer of a set of formalistic procedures, “Eisensteinian montage” emerges as almost coextensive with a commonsensical understanding of how cinematic images work. Eisenstein is accorded his prominent place in the historical development of “cinematic language,” but his inventions are most often reduced to simple formulas, ready-made categories, easily recognizable and identifiable both at the place of their birth and in their instantiations through the history of cinema. To put it bluntly, the opinion on Eisenstein says something like this: We want to keep Eisenstein’s concept of montage, it is after all a useful tool for explaining to those who enter our seminars and read our books how sense is made in cinema, but we want the concept without the political and aesthetic project within which Eisenstein formulated it. This task, to arrive at a concept of montage that would be free of its historical and ideological “baggage,” effectively amounts to the abolishment of the concept itself.

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