Incomparable Bodies

But First …

Necessarily coexisting human beings are not thinkable as mere bodies and, like even the cultural objects which belong with them structurally, are not exhausted in corporeal being.

– Edmund Husserl, Origin of Geometry[1]


In the Kingdom of the Effigy

In cinema we must – as a matter of method – remove those glasses which Dr Coppelius wore to magically transform Olympia the doll into a living, desirable woman; we need to radically distinguish the effigy before us, this dancing silhouette in images, from any real body. Of course, everything has led us to believe – because of analogy, because the image retains the trace of the individual who is anchor or extra – that the body subsists. Because it was there, it’s still there. And right away we have the essential figurative work accomplished by cinema: this infinite, more or less panicked research into resemblance via semblance, this enterprise authorised, quite precisely, by the very absence of a real body. By reinforcing the organic body with the corporeal aperçus proposed by cinema, we refuse this body its set of figural powers, its capacity for abstraction, its propensity for allegory, its figurative invention, its various aberrations and its prophetic force. Precisely because the body is not there, there is no need to conclude that we have a loss of substance, or a defection: film multiplies its evidences, and it is exactly because cinema makes something of the body return that it is a living form.

These corpses are young and active.

King Fu Zombie[2]

Film retains two dimensions of the effective body. First, its movement, trace, passage – On the Passage of a Few People Through a Short Period of Time (Guy Debord, 1959), that is an unbeatable title, the title to end all film titles. Second, the fact that, whether concrete or derealised, the body is a symbolic elaboration. But not the same elaboration: on the contrary, when a figure fits hand in glove with contemporary body-ideology, it consents to obscenity. With remarkable systematicity, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s movies work on the double: inner double (skeleton in The Terminator [1984]) or projection of the same (reflection in Last Action Hero [1993], twin in Twins [1988], hologram in The Running Man [1987], the schizophrenic fictions of Total Recall [1990] or Eraser[1996] … ) – and we can see today that, for the past fifteen years, his filmic work has told us what has been secretly developed in science laboratories: the possibility of human cloning. Ideological obscenity is all about taking hold of our human anguish over the body and simplifying it, giving it the most swiftly available, immediate image – whatever that image is. But, all the same, obscenity sometimes makes the figure touching, even beautiful, when it treats contradiction and aporia on their own terms, like in The Terminator or Predator (1987), where the functional becoming of anatomy is confronted with its own inanity (Terminator’s robot has no need for muscles, while Predator’s soldier needs a little of that Other whom he has entirely destroyed in the jungle), and such failure delivers up, ultimately, monsters with a very human melancholy. Only then does the athlete’s heavy silhouette find its fullness, and his enormous effigy become important.


Archetypes (Recall)

Four classical figurative models inform our apprehension of the body, and load the cinematic effigy up with their artistic and cultural weight: organic, logical, mechanical, and Fetishistic.


Beware! Your bones are going to be disconnected.

Saviour of the Soul

That the first of these schemas which allow us to think the body is the organic model may seem obvious, even redundant. However, it suffices to read (even without any medical training) Aristotle’s The History of Animals, Ambroise Paré’s Voyages or Michel Foucault’s Birth of the Clinic to grasp the extent to which even the body’s organicity is an infinite laboratory, elaborated in terms that are every bit as symbolic as they are objective. (As well, in this scientific history of the body, cinema is not merely a passive instrument or “recording lady”: “The history of the cinematic motion study is a crucial part of the history of the human body”.)[3] Beyond its permanent figurative research into movement, anatomy, flesh, the corpse, the scorched and the skeletal, two traditional particularisations of the organic model occupy cinema. Firstly, the animal model, which contributes to the naturalisation of behaviours and emotions, whether in a physiognomic mode like in the representation of the traitors in Eisenstein’s Strike (1924) or the opening credits of Cukor’s The Women (1939); or in a figural mode, as in Abel Ferrara’s The Addiction (1995), where the final orgy brings back the animal in the human monster, not to qualify but disqualify it, to return it to the crudity of its lack and the pure violence of avidity. Then there is the vegetal model that, at least since Ovid’s Metamorphoses, relates to a much vaster circulation than the animal comparison. The vegetal is man’s Other, this other living creature which does not resemble him – and through which he must pass in order to attain the alterity without which he cannot keep his corporeal contour intact (the beanshoots in all versions of Invasion of the Body Snatchers: human beings/human beans).

African vampires don’t go for Chinese women.

Armour of God II: Operation Condor

The logical or ideal model is not based on nature or naturalness, but rather derives from the sole creativity of the artist (revindication of classical humanism), or an outer necessity (Plato’s ideal form), or rules of construction bequeathed by tradition.[4] In cinema, this is the most powerful model for elaborating creatures, who are not in the first instance individuals (we need Jean Rouch’s attentiveness, Jonas Mekas’ melancholy or Jean Eustache’s modesty in Odette Robert [1980] to reach true effects of presence and living singularity), but cases. Social cases (as in all Hollywood cinema, a cinema of Individualism without individuals), emblems, examples, types, sampled and condensed … Apart from (for example) in Jean Vigo, Jean-Luc Godard, Boris Barnet or Stan Brakhage, cinema rarely aims at life, more usually presuming to grasp those phenomena that support or fracture human communities. In this sense, cinema is fundamentally an abstract art. However, no matter how obvious this may be, such a property of abstraction is frequently denied to cinema, in the style of Roland Barthes who retained from this medium only its analogical heaviness.[5] To the extent that one can read, “even an abstract idea will be hard to find” in Howard Hawks’ work[6] – whereas certain figurative systems in Hawks are entirely conceptual, much more so than in Straub-Huillet or late Godard. Hence Viva Villa! (1934), which reproduces with perfect vigour the Hegelian notion of the Great Man; or Sergeant York (1941), which allegorises the American Individual just as Tocqueville had described him in Democracy in America. [7]

Cinema is also logistical, and the most logistical work of all is, logically enough, titled Film (Samuel Beckett/Alan Schneider, 1965).

I have piles. You won’t be comfortable.

Ghostly Vixen

 The third major figurative schema is the mechanical model, which became machinic at the end of the 19th century and gave birth to the “literature of metal”, to Constructionism and Futurism, to the imaginary of the robot and, for very different ends, to the cinemas of Eisenstein and Vertov. “Our path leads through the poetry of machines, from the bungling citizen to the perfect electric man … The new man, free of unwieldiness and clumsiness, will have the light, precise movements of machines, and he will be the gratifying subject of our films”.[8] We can clearly see that the figurative heritage of such a conception of the body is not limited to the Terminator or other robots of lesser scale, who are effectively old-fashioned 19th Century machines, flailing machines whose sole dynamic is to move less and less well, and whose sole destiny is to no longer walk at all. The “perfect electric man” is, rather, Katharine Hepburn, whose diction forbids us from imagining that she has actually thought what she speaks, a diction so rapid that it autonomises speech and transforms the body into an extremely spiritual automaton. Or it is Jet Lee, whose lateral air-drills and magical leaps sweep away the limits of human movement. Or, indeed, all those figures who once again put the body in play in relation to itself, striving for a perfection which sometimes testifies to the utmost humility, such as Keanu Reeves in Speed (1994), who feels no need to either reflect or prove himself, who is pure action – even a pure operationality of the act – and who, because of that, resembles nothing so much as an electric cable.

The fourth model is the Fetish, i.e., everything which incorporates alterity into the body, whether this Other is absence, an excess or error in presence, or an elsewhere, an otherwise, a lack … There are three privileged manifestations of the Fetish. First, the Eidolon, which is a category of the image and, more generally, the Double. Jean-Pierre Vernant has exemplarily gathered the occurrences of this in Greek culture, for instance in the Kolossos (“the Kolossos has the vocation of evoking what is absent, and substituting for it by giving body to its  non-presence”), and in the phâsma (“produced by a god in the semblance of a living person”).[9] Then, beyond strict history, we must add the god, the angel, the vampire, everything that manifests some beyond within the human form. With the Figurine, there appears a “within” inside the human form; then we witness the spectacle of the body deprived of certain of its faculties, lightened, perhaps reduced, perhaps even clearer. Thus the marionette, the Doll, the Portrait, anything that relates to the mock-up, the purification or the sketch – figurines that open up a vertigo of resemblance, and whose metaphorical aspects are explored with gusto in Powell and Pressburger’s Tales of Hoffman (1951). But the Figurine can also be the body itself, reduced to its plastic contour, as in Busby Berkeley, for example. A later avatar of the Figurine results from the geometrisation of bodies: soldiers as losing pawns in Alexander Nevsky (1938) or Fritz Lang’s geometric crowds. Finally, the third and most crucial fetish is the Reference Point, the Standard, Protagoras’ “man as the measure of all things”, who establishes the scale of phenomena and the coordinates of space. And when the Reference Point vacillates, as Godard uses the figure at the start of Nouvelle Vague (1990) by assimilating Alain Delon’s silhouette to any old tree trunk, immediately the human figure falls into the informe or formless,[10] now nothing more than an accident, some little thing lost within a Nature now freed from its usual status as landscape. 


Prototypes (Hypotheses)

All these bodies – the Emblem, “Everyman” John Doe, the animal Monster, the Machine, the anatomical study, the Reference Point, and so many others – belong to the cinema as it shares them with all other fields, but works them over in its own way. We can propose an even bolder hypothesis: that cinema is also able to produce incomparable bodies, bodies without any model, whether at the level of a figural event at the heart of a figurative economy, or by elaborating autonomous economies. Thus, we arrive at four original logics: plastic circuit; critical body; pathological counter-model; and Phantom.

How can you use my intestines as a gift?

The Beheaded 1000

The plastic circuit must not be confused with Kuleshov’s experiments, “creative geography”, “ideal woman” or “cinematic ballet”: this principle of constituting a phenomenon by adding together pre-existing parts of already distinct bodies has been around at least since Zeuxis, who chose and assembled pieces from the five most beautiful girls at Agrigento in order to paint a portrait worthy of Juno’s temple. In a plastic circuit, the body is not already given, and can never be given; it results from a visual and aural syntax or parataxis which never hesitates to leave itself in the state of a perpetual sketch, and to construct the body as an impossible contradiction – even one that must be shoved off-screen. There are at least two such circuits. Firstly dispersive synthesis, the most beautiful instance of which remains the unassignable creature of Jacques Tourneur’s Cat People (1942), an unlocatable synthesis of phenomena of resemblance, whose most definite local manifestation is in the fades-to-black. Thanks to Tourneur’s chimera, fleeting from shadow to shadow via metaphors and analogies, we can best discern what a figurative economy is capable of: it produces a creature precisely at the point where there is no longer even a body, and it creates each effective body from a diffuse dynamic. Cinema is rich in such monsters purely deduced from the properties of montage: recall the utterly heteroclite creature of Dario Argento’s Suspiria (1976), or Predator, a stack of alterities – this Predator is an extraterrestrial, nature’s invisibility, a deer, a marine and vegetal monster, a robot, an electric wave, a woman, a black, a mirror … to the point that the circuit closes on a synonym. In every case, it is a matter of a formalisation of appearance exhibited as distressing strangeness – in the sense that the most monstrous creatures of all remain, without doubt, the figures of Vittoria (Monica Vitti) and Pietro (Alain Delon) in Antonioni’s The Eclipse (1962), whose disappearance returns all things to their precariousness and instils an apocalyptic tonality into the entire, ordinary, urban landscape.

The other major type of plastic circuit approaches the body not in a dispersive, but intensive way. Here it is a case of deepening a single image, bringing out its variations, exhuming its scandal and thus its truth. Abel Ferrara’s films, for example, are almost all structured this way: we begin with an everyday situation, and this banal gesture or activity will return, at film’s end, in its unbearable, catastrophic form.[11]  The Bad Lieutenant drives his two kids to school through a quiet suburb; later he will take them, this time in the guise of rapists, through a completely devastated New York (Bad Lieutenant, 1992). Or: in the car which takes her to a new home, Marti shoves the little brother who annoys her; later, she will hurl him mid-air from a helicopter just prior to blowing up all she has ever known (Body Snatchers, 1994). The same happens in Driller Killer (1979), China Girl (1987) and Ms .45 (1981), all built on this anamorphic structure. The best films by Brian De Palma, Martin Scorsese, Takeshi Kitano, John Woo and (of course) David Lynch devote themselves to altering an image, producing effects of deepening, whether by way of anamorphosis, a doubling of the world, or an Anti-World that allows us, ultimately, to reach our world. To put this another way, contemporary fabulations occupy the terrain of figurability, as the films set about translating a referential reality into a nightmare, or underlining its anamnesic nature – the journey must take place in order that a second image can reveal the truth and suffering hidden in the first. Such an investigation into human gesture finds its apotheosis in Lynch’s Lost Highway (1997): this film about madness shows not the slightest image of the real, since from the outset we are in a doubled position and can only deduce the inaugural image – the one translated throughout the entire scenario – as the basis of its catastrophic versions. We thus imagine a torture victim dying in the electric chair, whose final spasms give rise to memories, fantasies and sensations: three regimes of the image that the film deftly distinguishes. The memory is a confused one of murder – a brilliant principle: the shots that most approach reality are also the most plastic, excess-images, filmed on video, fragmentary, blurry, at the limits of identifiability. The fantasy regime is doubled: firstly the death scenario (description of the couple’s life, monotonous, monochrome, ceremonial, almost hieratic, in the style of Egyptian tomb frescoes: brunette heroine); then, the fantasy version of a death scenario (regime of narrative cliché, popular imagery, youth, burlesque vitality: blonde heroine). Finally, the regime of electric sensation unifying the succession of stroboscopic sequences, corresponding to the key scene of the narrator’s life: music, abandonment, the “you’ll never have me” trauma of the desert sex, and the final torture. Despite its complexity (but only ever utilising cinema’s natural material: image projection), the second plastic circuit, this syntax of the figurable, has become the major mode of filmic organisation in contemporary American cinema.

And what if, inversely, we try to grasp the body’s effectivity? There is truly such a body, but does it have a truth, and how to communicate it? These are the critical bodies, in the face of which speech gives up, those revelatory bodies proper to documentary cinema and the documentary dimension of cinema. Take, randomly, these ethnographic fragments: the Haddon expedition 1898-9, the Baldwin Spencer expedition in Australia 1901, the Kramer expedition in the South Seas 1908, and the Pöch expedition of 1908 (with his phonograph roll). When ethnologists record ceremonies, masks, work, dance, play – this is material for knowledge, appearances and movements inscribed in scenographies that provide information and facilitate discourse. But when Kramer or Pöch simply film people leaping in the waves, bodies doing nothing, no longer ritualised or occupied, free bodies living life to the fullest – what, then, do these bodies say? How do we speak of the human community as familiarity? Once we have confirmed the strangeness of everyone to everyone else, and of each person to him/herself, we arrive again at the question of human community, of belonging to a species. It is via an equally quite terrifying entry point – namely, images of happiness – that Jean Rouch in 1958 will once again put all this in play, during the anthological beach scene in Moi, un Noir where we can hear the dreaming-out-loud of Oumarou Ganda: “To be a happy man, like all men”. The principle of the incomparable body asserts itself nowhere better than here, at this moment where I absolutely recognise my likeness, my kin – not an individual, but this body that imposes its extreme familiarity here, where it precisely has no Other. The Other represents the ensemble of essentially reassuring possibilities that border the informe creature; however, in the experience of fusion, of membership shared within a community, every model is abolished, man is returned to his species-characteristics, and thus to his body – not at the level of a “state of nature” but as a dynamic question, a “coming community”. Cinema ceaselessly reignites this initial dialectic between the ordinary plasticity of appearances and the indescribable evidence of each body. This is Jean Epstein’s formula: “Vision staggers in the face of resemblances”.

The necessity for fiction enters here. For fiction tackles this limit in a different way, allowing us to find images that can express and modulate the inexorable nature of anthropological estimation. For example, Lynch’s invention in Lost Highway is literally sublime since, hardly hesitating before the craziness of its hypothesis, it crosses a threshold: the protagonist is locked into the darkness hidden at the heart of his home, he disappears into blackness and then returns – but where has he been, has he changed, is he Same or Other? It doesn’t matter; the story can pick up with a new character, two creatures who share the same sickness, communicating via the one unconscious. Somewhere or other, Merleau-Ponty wrote: “There’s no great animal of which our bodies would be the organs” – but Lynch films this great animal, the membrane which connects all men; despite everything, he films species-belonging. This is an exceptional moment of cinema – but one that humbly invites us, everyday, to dream together an undifferentiated dream in the hospitality of its night.

The third prototype is the pathological counter-model. Proust describes the heuristic value of illness for our apprehension of the body:

It is in sickness that we are compelled to recognise that we do not live alone but are chained to a being from a different realm, from whom we are whole worlds apart, who has no knowledge of us and by whom it is impossible to make ourselves understood: our body. Were we to meet a brigand on the road, we might perhaps succeed in making him sensible of his personal interest if not of our plight. But to ask pity of our body is like discoursing in front of an octopus, for which our words can have no more meaning than the sound of the tides, and with which we should be appalled to find ourselves condemned to live.[12]

In illness, we discover a body marked by terrifying, unworkable strangeness. Nanni Moretti’s wanderings in his Caro Dario (1994) describe the kind of dynamic agony into which sickness plunges us, how it renders everything unfamiliar, how (for example) Italy never ceases to hide itself wherever we look for it – except, perhaps, at Pasolini’s memorial at Ostia beach, except that it is even more ruined, even more deteriorated and pathetic.

Cinema has many ways of making this octopus emerge, thus elaborating pathological counter-models which detach the body from its appearances in order to figure, more profoundly, experience itself – its evidence. Cinema can work the body as a pure wrenching, the complete devouring of the Self or the creature. The film that best captures this anguish is, of course, Ferrara’s Body Snatchers, where the Self is smothered by a dream of the body represented as tentacles, sticky tendrils, unearthly invasions. Body Snatchers organises the problematic coexistence of three body types. First, fragile and fair, the bodies of the human prey: Marti, her father, stepmother and boyfriend. Then, the clone bodies, treated simultaneously in three different ways that only poorly match up, thereby creating a teratological figuration. The cloned body appears as a evil figure (sinister glances, possessed cries); as anonymous effigy (the soldiers: lined-up silhouettes, simple bodily outlines, shadows without referent); and as biological genesis (invention of a fantastic anatomy of vegetal and aquatic consistency, made up of unimagined linkages, incredible circulations, frightful proliferations: literally, Proust’s octopus). Finally, some cutaways show us creatures whose nature cannot be defined: still human, already moulting – isolated victims or bad reflections? These are, in fact, the film’s most important shots: indisputable portraits, undecideable figures, they directly address the lethal nature of ordinary humanity. Body Snatchers is a “family romance” dreamt by a teenage girl who would like to get rid of her stepbrother and stepmother. Body Snatchers is a film about the toxic mutation inflicted upon the world by capitalism post-Hiroshima – but, differently to Godzilla vs The Smog Monster (Yoshimitsu Banno, 1972) or the comic book story “The Pollution Monsters” (“the ecologhouls of doom!”)[13] that describe the same thing, the monster here is found as much in the figurative syntax as within the frame. Body Snatchersis an experimental illustration of the physical genesis of material à la Epicurus: a rain of cosmic atoms bathes the images, streams everywhere in the background and shines around the figures.[14] At the moment of bodily metamorphosis, the original matter described by Lucretius goes dead in the world in favour of light-events, and this archaic dusting affirms that all will begin again from the start but in a worse state, completely absorbed into alteration – the human is no longer anything but a dream of disappearance.

Another pathological counter-model works inversely to the in-itself of the body, its autonomy – instead wishing to reduce the body to its brute material in order to seek closure and aim for finitude. The film of this anguish is Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman (1975), which offers with exactitude a life absolutely devoured by the everyday: Jeanne entirely absorbed in her gestures, making the bed, doing the shopping, making the meals, making love, counting the money and giving it to her son immobile through it all, petrified in each of these actions with which she ceaselessly identifies herself. The Self is no more than this succession of cyclical tasks, allowing Jeanne to create an economy of interiority. Except that, by accident, a client makes her come and she leaves herself – then the revolt explodes, the absented mind returns and it is madness … Jeanne must punish the guilty, so she separates herself by scissor blows from the torturer who has reminded her of the body’s existence. Jeanne: to be a body. Akerman: no, to have a body. (However, upon the phantasm of finitude incarnated by Jeanne Dielman – exhausted in her appearance and folded over by the visible – we can dream forever: what do Jeanne and her son do when they leave the apartment and walk the streets at nightfall? What does Jeanne do suddenly, on this extraordinary occasion when we no longer see her? And what if she’s a vampire?)

    Same old rules, no eyes, no groin.

Bloody Mary Killer

The Phantom is a fourth prototype. Not that the cinema invented the spectre, but it is populated with phantoms who are not the shadow of something other, of one disappeared, a divinity or any old elsewhere … but rather, phantoms who would be, to themselves, their own phantom. The apparition of such creatures defies the difference between life and death; they melt the space surrounding them into a perpetual limbo, and favour absolutely any narrative extravagance: Cosmo Vitelli in The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (Cassavetes, 1978), the extras in Heaven’s Gate (Michael Cimino, 1980), Clint Eastwood’s Pale Rider (1985) or his William Munny in Unforgiven (1992), the protagonist of Dead Man (Jim Jarmusch, 1996), or even Ace Rothstein in Casino (Scorsese, 1996) driven by lost love … They come as souls in torment, unable to achieve either existence or disappearance, prey to a profane Destiny which they resist with all their weightlessness. Cinema today produces such figures en masse, but they are not all negative or defective; quite the contrary. Some of them are the strongest figures of assertion the cinema has ever produced, because they reverse “the striving from this world to the other into a striving from another world to this one[15] . These ghosts would really like to be their body, their here and now, they want to become it. The first sequence after the prologue in Carlito’s Way gives the most euphoric demonstration to date of this: Carlito Brigante (Al Pacino) in court describes his reformation, his personal development, his resolutions, thanking each assistant; he’s applauded like an actor, he thinks he’s at the Oscars, and we think that he’s mocking this world … And yet – and this is a significant event in the cinema of De Palma – we end up understanding that Carlito told (at length) the truth, that he was truly on the side of life. Thus the cinema tears the creature away from facticity and attaches this creature to itself.


An Interesting Story

What you need is a canned woman.

To Hell With the Devil

In a film by James A. Williamson, An Interesting Story (1905), a man gets so fascinated by a story that he is no longer aware of anything but his book. Indifferent to the world, he triggers the worst accidents all around him, drinks his coffee from his hat, upturns buckets, tables, cars, mixes up men, women and objects … until finally himself falling under an enormous steamroller. He is completely flattened, but two passing cyclists come to his rescue and blow him back up to size with their bicycle pump. The man goes on his way. He triumphs over every destruction. He is truly the man of cinema.

First published in Trafic, no. 22 (Summer 1997); reprinted in Brenez, De la figure en général et du corps en particulier (Brussels: De Boeck, 1998).

Original French text © Nicole Brenz 1997; English translation © Adrian Martin 2011


[1] In Jacques Derrida (trans. David Carr), Edmund Husserl’s Origin of Geometry (University of Nebraska Press, 1999), p. 177.
[2] All sidebar citations are derived from Stefan Hammond and Mike Wilkins, Sex and Zen & A Bullet in the Head: The Essential Guide to Hong Kong’s Mind-Bending Films (London: Fireside, 1996).
[3] Lisa Cartwright, Screening the Body: Tracing Medicine’s Visual Culture (Minneapolis & London: University of Minnesota Press, 1995), p. 3.
[4] See Erwin Panofsky, Idea: A Concept in Art Theory (New York: Icon, 1968).
[5] See Roland Barthes (trans. Stephen Heath), Image-Music-Text (New York: Hill and Wang, 1978).
[6] Tag Gallagher, “American Triptych: Vidor, Hawks and Ford”, Senses of Cinema, no. 42 (2007), <>.
[7] See Nicole Brenez, “L’homme entier, le cinéma classique [Whole Man, Classical Cinema]”, in De la figure en général et du corps en particulier (Brussels: De Boeck, 1998), pp. 191-206.
[8] Dziga Vertov, “We: Variant of a Manifesto”, in Annette Michelson (ed.), Kino-Eye: The Writings of Dziga Vertov (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984), pp. 5-20.
[9]  Jean-Pierre Vernant, Figures, idoles, masques (Paris: Collège du France/Julliard, 1990), pp. 33-4.
[10]  On George Bataille’s theory of the informe, see Yve-Alain Bois & Rosalind E. Krauss, Formless: A User’s Guide (New York: Zone Books, 1997).
[11] See Nicole Brenez, trans. A. Martin, Abel Ferrara (Illinois University Press, 2007).
[12] Marcel Proust, trans. C. K. Scott Moncrieff and Terence Kilmartin, Remembrance of Things Past, Volume 2: The Guermantes Way (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1981), p. 308.
[13] Mike Friedrich, Don Heck and Mike Esposito, “The Pollution Monsters”, in Nightmare, no. 1 (Skywald Publishing Co., December 1970).
“The atoms, as their own weight bears them down
Plumb through the void, at scarce determined times,
In scarce determined places, from their course
Decline a little – call it, so to speak,
Mere changed trend. For were it not their wont
Thuswise to swerve, down would they fall, each one,
Like drops of rain, through the unbottomed void;
And then collisions ne’er could be nor blows
Among the primal elements; and thus
Nature would never have created aught.”

– Lucretius (ed. William Ellery Leonard), De Rerum Natura, lines 217-224, <>. This is exactly what is described by the first shots of Body Snatchers, to the extent that – contrary to Don Siegel’s and Philip Kaufman’s versions – the monsters don’t come down from outer space but represent an archaeological state of matter.
[15] Friedrich Hölderlin (trans. & ed. Thomas Pfau), “Remarks on Antigone”, in Friedrich Hölderlin: Essays and Letters on Theory (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1988), p. 112

About the Author

Nicole Brenez

About the Author

Nicole Brenez

Nicole Brenez works as Professor of Cinema at Université Paris 3 Sorbonne nouvelle, and programs experimental cinema for the Cinémathèque française. Her many writings include a book on Abel Ferrara (French and English editions) and a collection of essays, De la figure en général et du corps en particulier (Brussels: De Boeck, 1998).View all posts by Nicole Brenez →