Public Books has an excerpt from Reel World: An Anthropology of Creation, a refreshingly original book on cinema and seeing by Anand Pandian, a professor of anthropology at Johns Hopkins University. Among other things, Pandian suggests that the scholarly impulse to demystify cinematic images—to explain the technical and artistic processes that go into their production—deprives cinema of wonder. “Wonder,” he writes, “is a matter of attunement, a way of attending to the tenuous life of possibility in the face of stubborn and dispiriting actuality.” Here’s more:
In anthropology, there is a name for this kind of vision, this way of seeing everything around us—whether human or not, organic or not—as potentially a person, as having a point of view that can be occupied and made real. Eduardo Viveiros de Castro calls it “perspectivism,” a “conception of the world as being composed of a multiplicity of points of view,” perspectives that do something more unsettling than offer many ways of looking at the same essential reality. From the standpoint of the Amerindian cosmology where Viveiros de Castro finds this idea at work, “all beings see the world in the same way—what changes is the world that they see.” At stake here, in other words, is something profound: the reconstitution of what is real.
In a child at play, in the mythological corpus of the Amazon, in the experience of Tamil cinema or the mode of storytelling through which this book has pursued it—wherever one may find such ideas and practices, what is crucial to grasp is the promise they bear for reconceiving the world at hand, and the possibility of working creatively with this promise.
Looking from the ground, the Earth, the lives of its beings and the potential for change their experience bears—now, more than ever, we need this kind of vision.
Image: Poster for the Tamil film Mambattiyan.