In LARB, Martin Woessner misses Malick
in a new book on film theory.
Malick makes only the most fleeting of appearances in Daniel Yacavone’s Film Worlds: A Philosophical Aesthetics of Cinema — so fleeting, in fact, that he doesn’t even warrant an entry in the book’s index. This is surprising, especially given the fact that Malick, as both a philosopher and a filmmaker, has devoted so much time and attention to the articulation, examination, creation, and understanding of, well, worlds. His undergraduate thesis on Husserl and Heidegger suggested that the best way to approach these thinkers — both so very different from Ryle and ordinary language philosophy, as continental thought generally is from Anglo-analytic thinking — was via their distinct conceptions of “world.” It was Husserl, after all, who coined the term Lebenswelt, or “life-world.” And a whole section of Heidegger’s 1927 magnum opus Being and Time was devoted to what he called “the worldhood of the world.”
The lengthy essay of Heidegger’s that Malick eventually translated into English, The Essence of Reasons (1969), was, as Malick put it in his preface to the book, “largely concerned with the concept of ‘world.’” It was the place where Heidegger, famously making a transitive verb out of an intransitive noun, first introduced the idea of the “worlding” of the world to describe the mysterious way in which worlds of meaning come into, and eventually fall out of, existence. To analytic philosophers who then, like now, were nothing if not precise about language, this was nonsense; that might explain why Malick felt it necessary to explicate the term “worlding” in a lengthy endnote to his translation. Given all this talk of life worlds and worlding and worldhood, however, is it any wonder that the worlds of Malick’s films — natural worlds, historical worlds, theological worlds, existential worlds — would be so compellingly drawn? Is there any other filmmaker to whom the idea of “film worlds” would be more applicable, more relevant, than the director of The New World?