Faculty Writing: On Chantal Akerman’s Proust, and Ridley Scott’s Napoleon

In the New York Review of Books, we’re pleased to share an excerpt of BISR faculty Christine Smallwood’s forthcoming book La Captive, after Chantal Akerman’s film adaptation of Proust’s La Prisonnière. Titans of the French New Wave—Godard, Resnais and Rivette, among others— considered but never followed through with Proust adaptations, a fact that for Smallwood, makes Akerman’s “strange, hypnotic feature” all the more intriguing. Akerman, as Smallwood notes, “did not reread the book before writing the screenplay, but went back later to fill in details, so that the film floats free of the novel,” and ultimately rejects the Proustian “idea of lost time redeemed by art,” suggesting instead that “duration itself can be art.” 

Continuing the cinematic beat, BISR faculty Artemy Magun, writing in e-flux journal, reviews Ridley Scott’s Napoleon—and offers a warning against the personalization of politics. Reading the film symptomatically, Magun sees in the on-screen Napoleon the threat of “a Bonapartist leader yet to come,” a real world consequence of contemporary trends emphasizing the personal charisma of political leaders. “The only rational antidote to the likely and wild scenario” of the return of the monarchic figure, Magun asserts, “is a reconstitution of the world under the premises of a truly federalist and democratic constitution where leadership is collective and the rotation of power unconditional.”

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