A sacrificial economy of the image: Lyotard on cinema

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    The theme of sacrifice appears in Jean-François Lyotard's writings on cinema not in terms of any representational content but in terms of the economy of the images from which a film is formally constructed. Sacrifice is here understood in a sense derived from Bataille, and related to his notions of general (as opposed to restricted) economy, and of sovereignty. Lyotard's writings on cinema have received some attention in English-language scholarship, but so far this attention has been focused almost exclusively on two essays which have appeared in English translation: “Acinema” and “The Unconscious as Mise-en-Scène.” I offer an analysis which also incorporates his two other important essays on cinema, “Deux métamorphoses du séduisant au cinéma” [Two Metamorphoses of the Seductive in Cinema] and “Idée d'un film souverain” [The Idea of a Sovereign Film]. The interest of the former is that it makes most explicit the aesthetic politics – evident in many of Lyotard's writings on art – specific to cinema. In the latter, Lyotard gives his most extensive treatment of cinema, and frames it in terms of Bataille's notion of sovereignty. I offer an interpretation of Lyotard's philosophy of cinema which links these quite disparate essays, foregrounding the political dimension of the sacrificial economy of images he proposes: films of any variety, even commercial cinema, may include some sequences and images which are “sacrificial” in that they are “other” to the chronological narrative of the whole. These images liberate us from the seductive effects of the narrative, and the invitation to fantasise, which act as means of imposing and reproducing dominant social and cultural norms.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)141-154
    Number of pages14
    JournalAngelaki: Journal of the Theoretical Humanities (Angelaki)
    Issue number4
    Early online date18 Dec 2014
    Publication statusPublished - 2014


    • Lyotard
    • Film
    • cinema
    • sacrifice
    • psychoanalytic film theory
    • Post-structuralism
    • avant-garde cinema


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