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Cinema Against Doublethink Ethical Encounters with the Lost Pasts of World History

By David Martin-Jones Copyright 2019
    258 Pages
    by Routledge

    258 Pages
    by Routledge

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    When is it OK to lie about the past? If history is a story, then everyone knows that the 'official story' is told by the winners. No matter what we may know about how the past really happened, history is as it is recorded: this is what George Orwell called doublethink. But what happens to all the lost, forgotten, censored, and disappeared pasts of world history? Cinema Against Doublethink uncovers how a world of cinemas acts as a giant archive of these lost pasts, a vast virtual store of the world’s memories. The most enchanting and disturbing films of recent years – Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall his Past Lives, Nostalgia for the Light, Even the Rain, The Act of Killing, Carancho, Lady Vengeance – create ethical encounters with these lost pasts, covering vast swathes of the planet and crossing huge eras of time. Analysed using the philosophies of Gilles Deleuze (the time-image) and Enrique Dussel (transmodern ethics), the multitudinous cinemas of the world are shown to speak out against doublethink, countering this biggest lie of all with their myriad 'false' versions of world history. Cinema, acting against doublethink, remains a powerful agent for reclaiming the truth of history for the 'post-truth' era.

    List of figures




    Introduction: One or many pasts?

    Celine and Julie go Boating; Embrace of the Serpent


    PART I Decolonising entrances to the past


    1 History/Ethics: Interpreting stories from world history (Enrique Dussel)


    2 Ethics/History: Hesitating in encountering lost pasts (Gilles Deleuze)


    PART II Encounters with the past that is/is not preserved


    3 4.54 (to 13.7) billion years: Planetary history, the natural contract, encountering earthly pasts

    Uncle Boonmee who can Recall his Past Lives; Nostalgia for the Light


    4 500 years: The North Atlantic trade circuit, the racial contract, encountering others’ pasts

    How Tasty Was My Little Frenchman; Even the Rain


    PART III Encounters with the present that passes


    5 70 years: The Cold War, the social contract, encountering political pasts

    The Act of Killing; At the Foot of the White Tree


    6 45 years: Neoliberal globalisation, the personal contract, encountering bodily pasts

    Carancho; Lady Vengeance


    Conclusion: One or many faces of the (lost) past?

    Alone in Berlin; Another Story of the World


    Select bibliography



    David Martin-Jones is Professor of Film Studies, University of Glasgow, UK. His research uses philosophy to explore world cinemas. He is the author/editor of eight books, has published in numerous international journals (e.g. Cinema Journal, Screen, Third Text), and edits the Bloomsbury series Thinking Cinema.

    A major contribution to the "unthinking" of the axioms of westocentric globalization, this concept-rich volume opens up new "lines of flight" in terms of radical cinema and analysis. In an approach at once worldly, transnational, global, and even planetary, the book offers a remarkable synthesis of political philosophy/theory and film exegesis. Invoking a remarkably wide range of filmic and theoretical references, the book catalyzes a conversation between disciplines, regions, and media. The book offers a welcome tonic in a dystopian age of "post-truth."

    Robert Stam, New York University, co-author of Keywords in Subversive Film/Media Aesthetics (2015)

    It is most refreshing and encouraging reading a book, sensed and written in Glasgow, that starts from some place else (in this case Enrique Dussel and Latin America) and give its due recognition to Western Europe (in this case Gilles Deleuze). David Martin-Jones has made a signal contribution to the current processes radically shifting from Western universal to pluriversal world histories, celebrating the splendors of global memories and triumphantly denying the Western colonial denial of contemporaneity.

    Walter D. Mignolo, Duke University, co-author of On Decoloniality: Concepts, Analytics, Praxis (2018)

    The wonderfully ambitious and beautifully crafted Cinema Against Doublethink brings us a view from the global south and world memory through the prism of cinema. The notion of worlds of cinema take us not to the rewriting of history but to a retrieval of lost transnational histories that resists inequality in colonial, postcolonial, and neocolonial contexts. It proposes an encounter with lost pasts through our ethical engagement that sets in motion a new awareness of the world we live in.

    Sandra Ponzanesi, Utrecht University, co-editor of Postcolonial Transitions in Europe (2016)

    Through the various phases of colonial modernity, whether originally as formal Euro-rule or as contemporary transnational neo-liberal capitalist globalization, it has consistently sought to erase rival temporalities, alternative mappings of past and present that might presage more egalitarian futures. In a dazzling synthesis of film and critical theory, David Martin-Jones uses Gilles Deleuze’s time-image in inspired conjunction with Latin American decolonial thought and radical social contract theory to demonstrate how recent global cinema challenges this oppressive chronopolitics, revealing—against a seemingly ineluctable and all-devouring Orwellian now—different emancipatory times and possibilities.

    Charles W. Mills, CUNY, author of Black Rights/White Wrongs (2017)

    Cinema Against Doublethink 'expertly and lucidly weaves together ideas and concepts from various disciplines ... the book’s content is culturally and politically relevant, a factor that is amplified ... as Western societies are forced to reckon with their colonial past in the wake of the killing of George Floyd. For instance, Chapter 4 deals with films set against the backdrop of the North Atlantic trade circuit and how Charles W. Mill’s idea of the "racial contract" that underpinned European colonialism during that time continues to this day in Western society. ... [T]he abiding message of Cinema Against Doublethink is more relevant than ever: "to decolonise worldviews such that a hesitant ethics can emerge – one more suited to the Anthropocene" (214). A world of cinemas might not be able to save us from fascism, racial injustice or environmental apocalypse, but, as Martin-Jones notes, it "can readily contribute to changing perceptions" and "a way to consider who we are in relation to each other" ' 


    The film discussions – a real highlight of the book – offer convincing instantiations of Martin-Jones’s Dusselian-Deleuzian cinematic ethics. ... Uncle Boonmee and Nostalgia for the Light, for example, are conceived as offering time-images of a planetary history that intertwines human and non-human histories, revealing the failure to honour the ‘natural contract’ that defines the exploitation of nature under conditions of western colonialist political oppression. … As its title suggests, Martin-Jones’s book is responding to the sense of an authoritarian neo-Orwellian turn towards repressive politics in many western liberal democracies. … Cinema Against Doublethink should be commended for its ethico-political commitment to decolonizing the discipline, promoting non-Eurocentric approaches to film-philosophy, and for its stirring call to rethink cinematic ethics from the perspective of world history. 


    The book kept me glued for its commitments to the silent/silenced part of history and emphasis on including multiple voices as legitimate sources of history beyond the Anthropocene. … Consequently, my engagement with this book turned out to be simultaneously academic and profoundly personal, both because of its political and cultural relevance in our time  as well as the nuanced utilisation of the Orwellian concept of "doublethink" with reference to the writing of history and the author’s deliberation about cinema with a capacity to "reclaim the truth of history" subverting the "doublethink" in the era of post-truth, an idea that gained traction in context of the Brexit vote and the 2016 American presidential elections. 

    Frames Cinema Journal

    How to counter a global situation of inequality, ecological devastation and political authoritarianism, discursively backed up by ‘fake news’ and ‘alternative facts’?  … Martin-Jones’ theoretical approach proved fruitful to elaborate the cinematic means by which an ethical encounter with the lost pasts of transnational history is facilitated. These encounters hold potential for understanding the suppressed pasts of our present. They can be an impetus to counteract the doublethink of colonial modernity and to engage for other possible futures.

    Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television

    Martin-Jones’ book is a welcome and impressive addition to an increasing reintegration of politics into film-philosophical approaches, whilst also standing as a work of political and ethical theory in its own right, both using cinema to channel a sociopolitical analysis and staking a modest claim on cinema’s ability to decentre Eurocentric and colonial logics for the spectator. Martin-Jones has reoriented a Deleuzian pedagogy of the image around the learning of history’s contingencies, but the status of this form of learning is clearly different from that most often expected from historical films. It is not a set of knowledges and facts about the past that these cinemas offer. The kind of training that they provide is one of ungrounding colonial mentalities wherever they exist. This empathetic engagement with the world that Martin-Jones valorises, and which he deems necessary in the face of looming ecological disaster, is of a hesitation around claims to totalising accounts of the past. True empathy must accept otherness, especially regarding narratives of world history, and it is in an openness to these lost pasts that a new future can be envisaged. 

    Alphaville, 21 (2021)

    Cinema Against Doublethink: Ethical Encounters with the Lost Pasts of World History, by David Martin-Jones, is an extremely ambitious and, at points, brilliant book that raises many important questions related to the politics and ethics of representation. … It represents a significant contribution to the de-colonisation of Film Studies as an academic discipline, and the de-colonisation of film-philosophy as a critical approach. … [A]n undoubtedly ambitious and illuminating publication – one that dazzles in its theoretical complexity, and dares to uncover a plethora of stories that have not only been marginalised and censored through local legacies of colonial modernity and neo-colonialism but have also been somewhat ignored by scholars working in film studies and film-philosophy. Highly recommended. 

    New Review of Film and Television Studies

    [A] breakthrough contribution to the study of World Cinema … the book provides a balance between a thoughtful evaluation of what has been advanced in the field and a significant step forward in ethically approaching the study of a world of cinemas. … Cinema against Doublethink is such an important book: not only is it written with brilliance,but it also proves that a world of cinemas possesses and expresses urgent and necessary political values. 

    Studies in Spanish and Latin American Cinemas, 18: 2 (2021) UK