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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Avant-garde film theory and praxis : an historical analysis of the narrative/anti-narrative debate Insell, Maria Katherine


This analysis of the narrative/anti-narrative debate in avant-garde film theory and praxis is contextualized in terms of the developments in Modernism in the visual and plastic arts. The problems raised by the aesthetic strategies formal autonomy versus narrative appropriation are explored by examining several discrete historical paradigms rather than following a strict linear historical chronology of the development of Modernism and avant-garde practices. Therefore the late 1930's East/West debates between the four writers associated with the Frankfurt school were discussed because their discourses reveal a spectrum of possibilities which span each end of this polarized autonomy/efficacy argument. The discourses look at the issues of production aesthetics and reception aesthetics also. Within the parameters of East/West debates, the positioning of the subject in terms of "distracted habit" or "praxis" are critical considerations to a reception aesthetic. Another historical paradigm for this debate was the writing and film practice which emerged from the nexus of the events of May 1968. The East/West debates informed this writing and the development of the aesthetic questions raised by Peter Wollen in the "Two Avant-Gardes." Here the important issues of materialism, ontology, and the development of human perception are raised. The return to narrative is represented by the "second" avant-garde's film practice (Godard, Straub etc.) and informs the issues of new narrative in feminist film practices. This is narrative with a difference however. Here questions of language and the production of culture are critically examined and naturally the narrative/anti-narrative debate continues. Finally, these issues are brought foreword to the contemporary context and related specifically to the production of avant-garde film in Canada. One can see this contemporary debate in light of the past, however, the conclusions drawn by the thesis do not presume to resolve the narrative/anti-narrative debate or prescribe one particular approach, since this will arise from actual practice. The intention of the study is to introduce the central issues raised by social commitment/artistic autonomy and contribute to a better understanding of theoretical and practical implications of the debate over the use of narrative.

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