*I"here are nevertheless great differences between Strohcim's naturalism and that of Bunuel. In literature, there is perhaps something analogous in the relationship between Zola and Huysmans. Huysmans said that Zola only imagined impulses of the body in stereotyped social milieux, where man was only reunited with the originary world of animals. For his part, he wanted a naturalism of the soul, which would tetter recognise the artificial constructions of perversion, but also perhaps the supernatural universe of faith. Similarly, in Bunuel, the discovery of impulses proper to the soul - as strong as hunger and sexuality and made up of them was to give perversion a spiritual role which it lacked in Stroheim. And, above all, the radical critique of religion would gain nourishment from the sources of a possible faith, the violent critique of Christianity as institution would give a chance to Christ as person. Those who have seen an internal debate with a Christian impulse in Bunuel's work are not wrong: the perverse and, above all, Christ, sketch out a beyond rather than a within and give resonance to a question which is expressed as that of salvation, even if Bunuel has strong doubts about each of the means of this salvation; revolution, love, faith.
We can scarcely prejudge how Stroheim's work might have evolved.7 But in the works which exist, the fundamental movement is that which the originary world imposes on milieux, that is, a degradation, a descent or an entropy. Consequently, the question of salvation can only be posed in the form of a local increase of entropy, which would indicate a capacity of the originary world to open up a milieu, instead of closing it. Thus the famous scene of the purest love among the apple trees in bloom in The Wedding March, and the second part, The Honeymoon, which was perhaps to have evoked the birth of a spiritual life. But, in Bunuel, as we have seen, entropy was replaced by the cycle or the eternal return. Now, the eternal return failed to be as catastrophic as entropy, just as the cycle failed to be as degrading in all its parts, but none the less they extract a spiritual power of repetition, which poses in a new way the question of a possible salvation. The good man, the saintly man, are imprisoned in the cycle, no less than the thug and the evildoer. But is not repetition capable of breaking out of its own cycle and of 'leaping' beyond good and evil? It is repetition which ruins and degrades us, but it is repetition which can save us and allow us to escape from the other repetition. Kierkegaard had already opposed a fettering, degrading repetition of the past to a repetition of faith, directed towards the future, which restored everything to us in a power which was not that of the Good but of the absurd. To the eternal return as reproduction of something always already-accomplished, is opposed the eternal return as resurrection, a new gift of the new, of the possible. Closer to Bunuel, Raymond Roussel, an author dear to the surrealists, developed 'scenes' or repetitions told twice over: in Locus solus, eight corpses in a glass cage reproduce the event of their life; and
Lucius Egroizard, artist and scholar of genius, who has gone mad after the murder of his daughter, repeats indefinitely the circumstances of the murder until he invents a machine to record the voice of a singer, deforms it, and restores so accurately the voice of his dead child that he regains everything: daughter, happiness. It moves from an indefinite repetition to repetition as decisive instant, from a closed repetition to an open repetition, from a repetition which not only fails, but induces failure, to a repetition which not only succeeds, but recreates the model or the originary.8 We could mistake it for one of Bunuel's scripts. In fact the bad repetition does not occur simply because the event fails. It is that which makes the event fail, as in The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, where the repetition of lunch pursues its work of degradation through all the milieux which it closes on to themselves (Church, army, diplomacy. . .). And, in The Exterminating Angel, the law of bad repetition keeps the guests in the room whose boundaries cannot be crossed, while good repetition seems to abolish the limits and open them on to the world.
In Bunuel, as in Roussel, bad repetition appears in the form of inexactitude or imperfection: the introduction of the same two guests in The Exterminating Angel is on one occasion warm, and on the other frigid; or take the host's toast, which is made once in an atmosphere of indifference, the other time in one of general attention. However, repetition which saves appears to be exact, and the only one which is exact: it is when the virgin has offered herself to the God-host that the guests rediscover exactly their first position and at last find themselves free. But exactitude is a false criterion, standing in for something else. The repetition of the past is possible materially, but spiritually impossible, in the name of l ime: on the contrary, the repetition of faith, directed towards the future, seems to be materially impossible, but spiritually possible, because it consists in beginning everything again, in ascending the path which is imprisoned by the cycle, by virtue of a creative instant of time. Are there thus two repetitions which confront each other, like a death impulse and a life impulse? Bunuel leaves us in a state of the greatest uncertainty, beginning with the distinction or the confusion of the two repetitions. The Angel's guests want to commemorate, that is, to repeat the repetition which has saved them; but in this way they fall back into a repetition which ruins them. Gathered together in the church for a Te Deum, they find themselves prisoners again in a deeper and greater way, as the revolution rumbles. In The Milky Way Christ as person has long maintained the chance of an opening-up of the world, through the varied milieux through which the pilgrims pass: but at the end, it indeed seems that all closes up again and that Christ is himself an enclosure instead of a horizon.9 To reach a repetition which saves, or which changes life, beyond good and evil, would it not be necessary to break with the order of impulses, to undo the cycles of time, reach an element which would be like a true 'desire', or like a choice capable of constantly beginning again (we have already seen this in respect of lyrical abstraction)?
Bunuel nevertheless gained something by making repetition, rather than entropy, the law of the world. He injects the power of repetition into the cinematographic image. In this way he is already going beyond the world of impulses, to knock on the doors of time and free it from the slope or the cycles which still subjugated it to a content. Bunuel does not cling to symptoms and to fetishes, he elaborates another type of sign which might be called 'scene' and which perhaps gives us a direct time-image. This is an aspect of his work which we will come across later, since it goes beyond naturalism. But it is from inside that Bunuel goes beyond naturalism, without ever renouncing it.
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