ESSAYS IN THE HISTORY OF MECHANICS - …

An essay on the overuse, or misuse, of Charles Sanders Peirce's sign system in art history.

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The past half century has been one of the most active and provocative periods in the long history of textual criticism. In this series of six critical essays that survey theoretical writings in the field since 1950, the eminent textual scholar G. Thomas Tanselle chronicles a significant moment in intellectual history and offers a guide for thinking through the basic issues of textual criticism and scholarly editing.

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Essays in the History of Mechanics: C

: There is, forexample, F. M. Scherer’s Quarter Notes and Bank Notes: The Economicsof Music Composition in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries (Princeton:Princeton University Press, 2004) and Lorenzo Bianconi and Giorgio Pestelli’santhology Opera Production and Its Resources, vol. 4 of The History of ItalianOpera (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998). One of the livelieststudies in this vein is Ken Emerson’s Always Magic in the Air: TheBomp and Brilliance of the Brill Building Era (Viking, 2005), which showshow a pop-music company could develop its own forms, genres, and division oflabor.

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The classicalcinema’s dependence upon POV shots, eyeline matches,and SRS [shot/reverse shot] patterns reflectsits general orientation toward character psychology. As Part One stressed, mostclassical narration arises from within the story itself, often by binding ourknowledge to shifts in the characters’ attention: we notice or concentrateon elements to which the characters’ glances direct us. In the constructionof contiguous spaces, POV, the eyeline match, and SRS donot work as isolated devices; rather, they operate together within the largersystems of logic, time, and space, guaranteeing that psychological motivationwill govern even the mechanics of joining one shot to another. As a result, thesystem of logic remains dominant. (CHC, 210)

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Likewise, my book Narration in the Fiction Film, written while we werewaiting for a publisher to risk printing CHC, recasts some of the CHC’stheoretical framework pertaining to narration and situates classical narrationin a wider field of options. Ozu and the Poetics of Cinema is an authorialstudy that tries to capture Ozu’s transformation of norms he inheritedfrom both Hollywood and Japanese film traditions. My books on the history ofstyle and the traditions of cinematic staging are further studies in norms andtheir creative recasting. Many of my online essays and blog entries bear on thesame issues. My study of Eisenstein is at once an auteur analysis and an accountof a director who himself explicitly aimed to create a poetics of cinema. Mostrecently, the first essay in Poetics of Cinema is my attempt to sumup what I’m aiming to accomplish in the study of film. In sum, if anyoneis tempted to take what I wrote in CHC as definitive, or as my finalthoughts, I urge them to turn to my later work. I’ve learned a few thingssince 1985.

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When I came onto the project in the late 1970s, also influentialfor me were Marxism and the ideological critique of romantic authorship sincethese theories assumed a historical materialist base. This philosophicalposition was much more credible to explain history and historical change. Italso fit with my biography as a working-class daughter who was a first-generationcollege student. Itmatched my political progressivism. Turning to an eclectic group of Marxisttheorists—Harry Braverman, Raymond Williams, Jean-Louis Comolli, John Ellis,Louis Althusser, and other analyses of modes of production—I looked for(and found) valuable explanations about how and why labor divided and constructedsystems of bureaucracy and work patterns to insure both the standardization anddifferentiation of an entertainment product. One of the points that I stressedwas that “what was occurring was not a result of a Zeitgeist orimmaterial forces. The sites of the distribution of these practices werematerial: labor, professional, and trade associations, advertising materials,handbooks, film reviews” (CHC, 89). Although I had not beenreading contemporaneous structural-functionalist production of culture literatureby Howard Becker, Paul DiMaggio, Paul Hirsch, Richard A. Peterson, and others,similar general issues permeated both sets of literature even if the theoreticalexplanations differed.

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Additionally, a whole field of scholarly study of screenwritingpractices has developed over the past thirty years. Starting from CHC’spremise that the script functioned in Hollywood not only as a guide for shootingthe film but as the blueprint for the entire efficient planning of the film,scholars are now exploring the historical transitions and variations of thispart of the work process.