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“Like
Light”:
The
Movie
Theory
of
W.
R.


Robinson



The
acute
intelligence
of
the
imagination,
the
illimitable
resources
of
its

memory,
its
power
to
possess
the
moment
it
perceives—if
we
were

speaking
of
light
itself,
and
thinking
of
the
relationship

between
objects
and
light,
no
further
demonstration

would
be
necessary.
Like
light,
it
adds
nothing,
except

itself.

Wallace
Stevens,
The
Necessary
Angel


The
movies
are
the
supreme
imaginative
act.

W.
R.
Robinson


The
year
is
1978.
The
scene:
a
lecture
hall
on
the
campus
of
the
University
of

Florida.
The
occasion:
a
forum
on
film
studies,
hosted
by
Florida’s
English

Department.
Three
UF
faculty
were
to
speak.
The
first
was
a
professor
of
philosophy

who
began
his
remarks
by
insisting
that
he
was
hardly
an
expert
on
film
theory,
and

then
went
on
to
lay
out
some
prolegomena
to
the
future
of
the
discipline,
speaking

in
a
jargon
which
would
become
only
too
commonplace
in
the
decades
since.
Next

was
a
junior
faculty
member
in
English
who
would
in
the
‘80s
make
a
name
for

himself
as
paracritic
par
excellence;
he
prefaced
his
talk
by
explaining
that
he,
too,

was
an
amateur.
The
third
speaker
was
William
R.
Robinson.
Walking
slowly
to
the

podium,
he
paused
dramatically
to
take
out
his
reading
glasses,
surveyed
slowly
the

two
hundred
or
so
in
attendance,
and
then
announced
with
a
wicked
smile
that

“amateur
night”
was
over.

It
was
not
over,
of
course;
the
amateurs
would
have
their
night
and
their
day.

The
very
American,
very
1960s
movie
theory
of
W.
R.
Robinson
would
become
passé

as
we
went
on
to
decode
signifiers,
demarcate
the
diegesis,
deconstruct
the
gaze,

dismember
the
suture,
foreground
the
enunciation,
track
the
syntagmatic.
But,

etymologically
speaking,
I
have,
in
playing
off
of
Robinson’s
joke,
mixed
my

metaphors:
for
it
was,
in
fact,
W.
R.
Robinson
who
was
the
“amateur”:
the
lover,

unrequited,
of
the
movies.
His
movie
theory
was
a
product
of
that
love.

Twenty
years
ago,
during
the
Fall
Quarter
of
1974,
I
enrolled
in
a
graduate

seminar
on
the
films
of
Federico
Fellini
at
the
University
of
Florida.
Though
I
was

not,
at
the
time,
terribly
interested
in
film,
and
my
prior
experience
of
Fellini
was

The Collected Works of David Lavery 2

limited
to
a
freshman‐year‐in‐college
late‐night‐screening
of
La
Dolce
Vita
(which
my

then
still
vivid
memory
of
its
Legion
of
Decency
rating
led
me
to
suspect,
deliciously,

might
guarantee
my
eternal
damnation)
and
a
required‐for‐class
junior
year

screening
of
an
incomprehensible,
boring,
and
pretentious
(or
so
it
seemed
at
the

time)
8
1/2,
the
professor’s
reputation
among
the
TA’s
with

whom
I
shared
an
office
was
so
high
that
I
took
the
risk.
His

name
was
Dr.
W.
R.
Robinson.

The
seminar
was
a
watershed,
the
metanoia
of
my

own
intellectual
life.
My
rationality,
under
the
influence
of

Carlos
Castaneda
and
Zen
and
the
Art
of
Motorcycle

Maintenance
and
Wallace
Stevens,
was
rapidly
dissolving:
I

had
developed
an
intense
dislike
for
some
of
my
earlier

heroes.
I
found
Alexander
Pope
nasty,
brutish,
and
short.
I
no
longer
believed
that

criticism
was,
as
Eliot
thought,
“the
correction
of
taste.”
I
was
becoming
an
adherent

of
the
imagination,
and
I
would
remain
one,
always.






 

W.
R.
Robinson,
“Bill,”
was
unlike
any
teacher
I
had
ever
had.
He
was,
indeed,

the
teacher
I
had
always
been
looking
for.
I
was
in
the
mood
for
a
guru,
and
though,

as
he
later
explained,
nothing
scared
him
as
much
as
people
who
took
him
seriously,

he
nevertheless
taught
in
a
style
guaranteed
to
acquire
disciples.
That
semester
he

gained
a
dozen.
We
listened
worshipfully
in
class,
staying
one
night
(if
memory

serves
correct—for
it
seems
incredible
now)
an
hour
and
a
half
after
the
class
was

supposed
to
be
over,
so
involved
in
the
discussion
that
we
did
not
even
notice
the

time.
After
class,
we
went
to
the
Red
Lion
bar
on
South
13th
to
listen
to
our

visionary
hold
forth
over
beers.
I
remember
discussions
of
the
genius
of
Mickey

Mouse,
of
Robinson’s
earlier,
pre‐college
career
as
a
truck
driver,
his
love
of

handball,
his
dislike
for
the
designation
“film”
(a
“film”
covers
and
obscures
things;

movies
reveal).
I
remember
his
vaunting
insistence
that
if
he
had
not
come
to
Florida

The Collected Works of David Lavery 3

(whose
heat
sapped
his
energy)
he
might
have
been
“the
Aristotle
of
the
20th

Century.”
I
remember
his
admonition,
in
response
to
a
personal
question
I
asked

about
my
continued
obsession
with
an
old
girl
friend,
that
“light
doesn’t
go

backwards”
and
thinking
it
was
the
most
profound
thing
I
had
ever
heard.

We
explored,
too,
in
greater
detail,
the
ideas
we
were
hearing
about
in
class.

We
mastered
the
Robinsonian
vernacular,
easier
to
pronounce
than
the

semiotic/Lacanian/post‐structuralist
discourse
that
was
to
come,
but
in
its
own
very

American
way,
Gnostic
to
the
core.
I

learned
to
distinguish
character
and

genius,
educated
myself
to
differentiate

between
the
Old
Story
and
the
New,

verified
the
proper
way
to
“get
right

with
the
light,”
trained
myself
to

distrust
the
binary
and
love
the
trinary.

I
took
pride
that
I
was
in
the
know,
part

of
the
inner
circle.

It
was
in
the
Red
Lion
that
I

became
a
disciple.
I
am
not
one
now.
I

fell
away
from
the
flock
within
a
few

years.
By
the
time
I
wrote
my

dissertation,
To
Discover
That
There
is

Nothing
to
Discover:
Imagination,
the

Open,
and
the
Movies
of
Federico
Fellini,

a
phenomenological
approach
which
owed
as
much
to
the
Geneva
school
and

Merleau‐Ponty
as
it
did
to
Robinson,
I
was
already
considered
a
heretic.
I
was
finding

many
of
the
pronouncements
from
on
high
difficult
if
not
impossible
to
swallow.
I

recall
the
exchange
where
I
mentioned
to
the
master
my
interest

in
seeing
the
new
Woody
Allen
film
Interiors,
only
to
be
told
that

such
a
title
was
antithetical
to
the
very
nature
of
the
movies

(movies
being
superficial,
concerned
with
the
surface
of
things).
I

remember
his
dismissal
of
a
new
book
on
phenomenology
which
I

excitedly
shared
with
him
because
it
was
divided
into
two
parts

and
must,
therefore
have
been
mired
in
binary
thinking.
I

remember
Robinson’s
loving
description
(in
a
class
I
was
auditing)

of
the
shotgun
blast
that
kills
the
gangster
in
Bullitt—his

The Collected Works of David Lavery 4

insistence
that
such
supreme
violence
had
to
be
seen
in
purely
formal
term
as
“an

eruption
of
vital
powers,”
because
movies
do
not
refer.
It
is
a
characteristic
of
the

modern,
Karl
Stern
has
observed,
that
“methods
become
mentalities.”
Inevitably,
I

grew
weary
(and
wary)
of
the
Robinsonian
mentality.

Half
way
though
the
Big
D,
I
explained
to
the
master
with
a
trembling
voice

that
“I
must
create
a
system
or
be
enslaved
by
another
man’s,”
and
his
only
response

was
his
characteristic
Olympian
laugh.
At
the
defense,
as
he
coordinated
the

questions
of
my
committee
seated
around
a
round
conference
table,
he
quipped
with

good
natured
sarcasm,
“We’ll
proceed
counter‐clockwise
as
Lavery
goes
backwards.”

(But
light
doesn’t
go
backwards
.
.
.)
The
final
falling,
my
excommunication,
out
came

later
that
year,
not
at
the
hands
of
Robinson
himself
but
his
disciples,
when
I
refused

to
acknowledge
to
other
Robinsonians
the
imaginative
genius
of
Sam
Peckinpah’s

Convoy.
The
break
was
fairly
clean.
I
did
not
even
need
de‐programming.



 
 

For
a
time,
though,
W.
R.
Robinson’s
theory
of
film
was,
quite
literally,

enthralling.
I
was
under
its
spell,
a
True
Believer
in
its
powerful,
liberating
vision
of

the
medium.
So,
too,
were
the
many
other
students
who
became
his
disciples
in
the

1970s,
some
of
whom
may
be
in
this
room,
where
our
topic
is
film
theory
in
the
90s.

The
very
titles
of
his
essays
promised
so
much:
“The
Movies,
Too,

Will
Make
You
Free,”
“The
Movies
as
a
Revolutionary
Moral

Force.”
And
the
theory
promulgated
in
these
and
other
essays—
on
“Making
Sense
of
the
Movies,”
on
2001:
A
Space
Odyssey
and

Fellini’s
Juliet
of
the
Spirits
and
Resnais’
Hiroshima
Mon
Amour,

on
the
“movies
as
strip
tease”—confirmed
the
promise.
In
their

pages
we
learned
to
understand
“the
special
assignment”
of
the

movies
as
an
art,
these
“products
of
the
age
of
the
image
.
.
.”:


to
urge
us
to
espouse
as
man’s
good
the
will
to
go
on
going
on,
to
remain

eternally
young
and
continually
grow,
to
expand,
create,
and
realize,
to
open

The Collected Works of David Lavery 5

up
and
move
out
in
adventure
and
joy
on
the
frontier
of
life.
(“The
Movies
as

a
Revolutionary”
I
20)


We
accepted
the
faith
that



the
imagination’s
method
[is]
a
closer
imitation
of
nature
than
reason’s.
And

among
the
arts,
obviously
the
movies,
an
art
of
light,
emanate
from
greater

depths
within
the
living
center
than
any
other
art
in
a
universe
of
light.
The

essence
of
words,
the
mass
of
sculpture,
the
harmonies
of
tones—these

modes,
for
example,
are
aesthetic
epigones
in
such
a
universe.
The
advantage

of
the
movies
places
them
on
the
frontier
of
moral
history,
and
so
to
them
we

must
go
if
we
are
to
know
ourselves
and
exist
in
our
time.
(“Making
Sense”

168)


W.
R.
Robinson
was
born
in
1927
in
Steubenville,
Ohio.
He
received
his
BA
(1952),

MA
(1956),
and
PhD
(1962)
at
Ohio
State
University,
where
he
worked
under
Roy

Harvey
Pearce.
He
went
on
to
teach
at
the
University
of
Virginia
(1962‐67),
and
since

1967
at
the
University
of
Florida,
where
he
recently
retired.
His
Edwin
Arlington

Robinson:
A
Poetry
of
the
Act
was
published
by
Case
Western
Reserve
Press
in
1967.

That
same
year,
an
anthology
of
essays
on
film
by
various
hands,
Man
and
the

Movies,
edited
by
Robinson,
was
published
by
Louisiana
State
University
Press.
(It

was
later
reissued
by
Penguin.)
His
own
essay
in
the
volume,
“The
Movies,
Too,
Will

Make
You
Free”
remains
perhaps
the
best
single
statement
of
his
ideas
on
the

movies.
In
subsequent
years
he
published
a
series
of
essays
on
the
movies
in
journals

like
Georgia
Review
and
the
now
defunct
Contempora
and
was
a
regular
attendee
and

participant
at
SAMLA.
During
the
1970s
and
1980s
he
was,
as
I
have
already

described,
an
influential
professor
of
literature
and
film
at
the
University
of
Florida,

teaching
courses
on
Movies
as
a
Narrative
Art,
The
Metaphysics
of
Modern

Literature,
and
seminars
on
Ernest
Hemingway,
the
western
and
the
detective
movie,

Antonioni,
Fellini,
and
Sam
Peckinpah.


“Bad
artists
borrow,
and
great
artists
steal,”
Stravinsky
once
admitted.
The

same
might
be
said
of
theorists.
W.
R.
Robinson
seldom
cited
his
critical
sources,

infrequently
acknowledged
his
philosophical
influences.
He
had,
he
would
admit,

been
much
affected
by
the
precepts
of
John
Crowe
Ransom,
and
not
surprisingly
his

The Collected Works of David Lavery 6

formalistic
movie
theory
remained
at
its
core
new
critical.
In
his
book
on
Robinson

he
had
insisted
that


poetry
in
a
poem
resides
primarily
in
the
form,
the
tone,
the
style,
those

tangible
elements
that
encompass
and
permeate
the
specific
words
and
hold

them
in
suspension,
thereby
allowing
poetry
to
tell
us
what
cannot
be
said.

(62)


and


a
poem
does
not
mean
but
simply
is;
it
does
not
represent
but
presents;
it
is

not
a
symbol
remotely
standing
for
something
beyond
itself;
nor
is
it
a
self‐
contained
structure
of
words
or
a
fiction.
(123)


Replace
the
word
“poem”
with
“movie”
in
both
these
passages
and
you
have
the

germ
of
Robinson’s
movie
theory.
Thus
“the
movie
maker,”
as
he
would
later
insist,

“does
not
imitate,
refer
to,
or
symbolically
represent
a
value
but
gives
body
to
it

there
in
the
movie”
(“The
Movies,
Too”
121),
and
“body”
here
is
Ransom’s
“world’s

body.”



Ransom
|
Whyte
|
James
|
E.A.
Robinson



 

Santayana
|
Whitehead
|
Unamuno
|
Stevens

Robinson
on
Robinson
reveals
many
other
early
influences
as
well:
the

Romantic
theory
of
organicism,
the
heuristics
of
Lancelot
Law
Whyte,
the
pragmatism

The Collected Works of David Lavery 7

of
William
James
and
John
Dewey,
the
aesthetics
of
George
Santayana,
the

existentialism
of
Nicolai
Berdyaev
and
Miquel
de
Unamuno,
Wallace
Stevens’
theory

of
the
imagination,
the
philosophy
of
Alfred
North
Whitehead.
Of
these,
the
latter

was
of
central
importance
to
a
man
who
once
taught
a
graduate
seminar
on
the

medium
using
five
of
Whitehead’s
books
as
the
only
texts.
In
the
late
sixties
and

seventies,
the
discoveries
of
20th
century
physics
began
to
inform
his
metaphors
in
a

powerful
way.
The
movie
theory
of
W.
R.
Robinson,
was
the
product
of
a
collision

between
New
Critical
sensibility,
process
philosophy,
and
the
new
physics.
It
had

nothing
whatsoever
too
say
about
the
site
of
production,
nothing
about
what

happens
“when
the
woman
looks,”
nothing
about
the
mirror
stage,
nothing
about
the

post
structuralist
agenda.

Robinson
was
passionate
about
theorizing.
He
lamented
that
“most
of
what

passes
for
film
theory
is
not,
strictly
speaking
film
theory
at
all;
or,
rather,
it
is

applied,
not
pure,
theory,
for
in
it
the
theorizing
faculty
is
made
to
defend
personal


1
causes
or
taste”
(“The
Movies,
Too”
112). 
He
castigated
the
tendency
in
theorists

for
“one
aspect
of
the
movies”
to
be
“singled
out
as
definitive
and
assigned

ontological
dominance”
(“The
Movies,
Too”
113).
He
criticized
the
“naturalistic

fallacy”—the
tendency
to
judge
as
valuable
that
which
makes
film
“real.”
While

noting
that
“most
theorizing
stems
from
a
hunger
for
substance
or
weightiness”
and

“serves
to
anchor
an
airy
moral
entity
to
solid
intellectual
earth”
(“The
Movies,
Too”

113)
and
observing
that
most
critics
“don’t
look
closely
at
movies
because
they

distrust
them”
(“Making
Sense”
158),
his
own
theory,
the
method
he
developed,
and

the
criticism
he
undertook
based
on
the
principles
he
sought
to
lay
down
originated

2
in
a
love
for
the
medium
in
all
its
superficiality. 


1
With James Agee, Pauline Kael, Stanley Kaufman, and Susan Sontag in
mind, Robinson scolded “all [those] ‘sophisticated’ reviewers” as “essentially
doctors of society; using the movie as a symptom, their passion is to
diagnose moral sickness in man, the culture, the times, a class, the artist.
Whatever they attack they do so doctrinairely, praising or condemning in the
name of a faction or ideal. Their criticism, correspondingly, is elitist and
conservative; it discriminates against the present, viewed as ‘fallen,’ and
against the movies, the living art of the present, as a medium” (“Making
Sense” 159-60).
2
“Nothing,” Robinson insisted, “is more natural to the movies than the
skin flick” (quoted from a course handout Robinson often distributed in class,
hereaftyer referred to as “Propositions”). “Peel away layer after layer, still all
is skin, the empirically witnessed exterior that happens to be charged with
energy. Actually, like the electrons in an atom, the outer rings are energy
charges and all human interactions . . . result from discharging them.” (“The
Movies as a Revolutionary” II 33)
The Collected Works of David Lavery 8

At
the
heart
of
W.
R.
Robinson’s
movie
theory
is
a
virtual
mysticism

concerning
“the
light.”
In
his
book
on
Edwin
Arlington
Robinson,
Robinson
had

quoted,
as
epigraph
to
a
chapter
on
“The
Light
of
Poetry,”
the
following
vatic

utterance
from
Ralph
Waldo
Emerson:


Time
and
space
are
but
physiological
colors
the
eye
makes,
but
the
soul
is

light”
(27)


Emerson’s
verbal
medium,
however,
could
do
no
more
than
testify
to
this
visionary

truth.
The
movies,
however,
have
become
a
primary
means—the
primary
artistic

means—of
“getting
right
with
the
light,”
of
“aligning
man’s
vital
powers
with
their

source
and
the
medium
of
human
life.”
“The
ultimate
motion
in
our
universe,”

Robinson,
amateur
student
of
20th
Century
physics,
insists
“is
light,
which
is
the

source
of
vision.
All
narration
today
seeks
to
tell
the
story
of
the
light,
but
the

movies,
a
medium
of
light,
are
best
equipped
to
do
so”
(“Propositions”)

In
Robinson’s
system,
“light”
is
the
paradigm:
“the
source
and
model
of
unity,

simultaneously
particle,
wave,
and
quantum;
an
excess
or
overflow
that
breaks
out
in

energy
exchanges;
has
zero
mass,
no
electrical
charge,
and
an
infinite
life
time;
[it]
is

the
offspring
of
interactions.”
“Art,”
the
electronic
composer
Edgard
Varesé
once

noted,
“mean
keeping
up
with
the
speed
of
light.”
Only
the
movies—”the
most

powerful
visionary
instrument
at
man’s
disposal
today”
(“The
Movies
as
a

Revolutionary”
I
15)
keep
up.

Hence
the
extreme
importance
Robinson
places
on
sight,
on
physical
vision.
In

“2001
and
the
Literary
Sensibility”
he
quotes
with
emphatic
approval

Teilhard
de
Chardin’s
evolutionary
dictum


Union
can
only
increase
through
an
increase
in
consciousness,

that
is
to
say,
in
vision.
And
that,
doubtless,
is
why
the

history
of
the
living
world
can
be
summarized
as
the

elaboration
of
ever
more
perfect
eyes
within
a
cosmos
in

which
there
is
always
something
more
to
be
seen.
.
.
.
.
To
see

or
perish
is
the
very
condition
laid
upon
everything
that

3
makes
up
the
universe. 


3
In the same essay Robinson also quotes admiringly the 19th Century
American novelist William Gilmore Simms concerning how fortunate it is that
The Collected Works of David Lavery 9


“We
have
reached
the
stage
in
the
development
of
our
culture,”
Robinson
writes
in

an
essay
characteristically
entitled
“If
You
Don’t
See
You’re
Dead:
The
Immediate

Encounter
with
the
Image
in
Hiroshima
Mon
Amour
and
Juliet
of
the
Spirits,”
“where

the
eyes
and
images
are
in
a
position
to
overthrow
the
rule
of
reason”
(“If
You
Don’t

See”
22).
Robinson
remained
the
strongest
possible
advocate
for
that
revolution.



As
an
art
of
light,
the
movies
make
possible
the
narration
of
the
“New
Story.”
The

Old
Story
had
been,
simply,
“a
narrative
in
which
the
old
defeats
the
new,
keeping
it

from
breaking
on
through
in
a
completely
successful
creation.”
The
New
Story,
on
the

other
hand,
is
“a
narrative
in
which
the
new
frees
itself
from
the
old.”
When,
many

years
ago,
we
stayed
long
after
the
Fellini
seminar
was
over,
the
evening’s
film
had

been
Nights
of
Cabiria
(1955),
the
third
movie
in
three
years
(following
La
Strada

[1954]
and
Il
Bidone
[1955]),
the
third
movie
in
three
weeks,
in
which
Fellini’s

narrative
imagination
had
taken
his
characters
to
the
same
dead
end,
the
third,

stuck‐record
story
in
which
the
main
character
had
ended
up
prostrate
on
the
earth,

defeated,
a
failure.
But
Cabiria
the
unlikely
prostitute
had,
after
a
cut
which

Robinson
had
convinced
us
was
miraculous,
arisen;
Cabiria
had
returned
to
the
road,

to
“la
strada,”
to
be
joined
by
a
band
of
revelers
who
restore
her
to
life’s
procession,

who
bring
to
her
angelic
face,
seen
in
extreme
close‐up
in
the
movie’s
final
shot,
the

slightest
smile,
Fellini’s
greatest
affirmation.
Zampano,
wailing
in
grief
on
the
beach

in
La
Strada,
Augusto,
dying
by
the
road
at
the
end
of
Il
Bidone—their
stories
were

the
Old
Story,
the
story
of
defeat,
of
the
impossibility
of
growth.
Nights
of
Cabiria

told
the
New
Story.

Zampano,
Augusto
were,
in
Robinsonian
terms,
“characters.”
Cabiria,

however,
was
a
“genius.”
Like
Bakhtin,
who
argues
in
Rabelais
and
His
World
that
a

whole
new,
rigid
conception
of
human
being
has
arisen
since
the
Renaissance
under


“the mouth and not the eyes, had been endowed with the faculty of eating.
Had the eyes and not the mouth been employed for this purpose, there would
soon be a famine in the land, for of all gluttons, the eyes are the greatest”
(“2001 and the Literary Sensibility” 24).
T h e C o l l e c t e d W o r k s o f D a v i d L a v e r y 10

the
reign
of
the
“bodily
canon,”
Robinson
argues
that
“character”
as
we
ordinarily

use
the
term
in
the
discussion
of
narrative
art
is
time‐bound
and
reactionary:
“a
19th

century
idea
of
what
a
man
should
be.”
Characters,
he
writes
in
“The
Movies
as
a

Revolutionary
Moral
Force,”


specifies
exactly
what
the
term
means
etymologically,
“an
engraved
mark
or

brand.’
It
designates
the
rigid
properties
that
a
man
bears
indelibly,
like
the

mark
of
cain,
throughout
his
existence.
That
means
that
character
is
that
part

of
him
that
has
an
enduring
identifiability,
a
reliable
stability,
and

predictability.
For
this
reason,
character
is
that
part
of
him
that
can
be

named.
And
since
it
can
be
named,
it
dwells
in
names—in
titles
or
functions

and
roles—and
thrives
on
words—in
belief
and
ideologies,
or
intellectual

stances
and
philosophical
positions.
(II
27)


Since
“character
is
an
abstraction,
an
inorganic
fixation
resulting
from
the

conceptualizing
powers
of
man’s
intelligence
.
.
.”
(II
27),
it
becomes
a
kind
of
exo‐
skeleton,
curtailing
and
restricting
motion
and
growth.

Characters
in
a
movie
thus
“serve
as
the
metaphorical
vehicles
by
which
the

word
is
manifest.”
They
carry
the
values
of
the
word:


This
three‐dimensional
man
of
perspective,
depth,
substance,
and
contrary

forces
uses
his
intelligence,
like
a
navigator
uses
geometrical
coordinates,
to

locate
himself
at
a
fixed
point
in
existence.
He
intends
to
know
at
all
times

who
he
is
and
where
he
is.
That
knowledge
allows
him
to
feel
that
he
is

rational
master
over
the
forces
of
change.
Character,
as
the
intellectual

exemplifies,
provides
just
such
an
absolute
in
man.
(“The
Movies
as
a

Revolutionary”
II
27)


Products
of
words
and
rationality,
characters,
Robinson
concludes,
“have
no

existence
in
the
world
of
the
movie,
as
we
have
no
existence
in
the
world
of

movement,
apart
from
appearances”
(“The
Movies
as
a
Revolutionary”
II
33).

The
genius,
however,
is,
literally,
another
story.
“An
organic
individual,”

“disposed,
not
to
remember,
but
to
do
as
life
does,
to
let
go
and
go
on,
to
be
open

4
and
ready
for
growth,
expansion,
life
now,
the
new”
(“If
You
Don’t
See”
II
11 ),
the


4
The words quoted here describe Juliet in Fellini’s Juliet of the Spirits.
T h e C o l l e c t e d W o r k s o f D a v i d L a v e r y 11

genius
“saves
and
is
saved
by
the
inherent
powers
of
light
and
life”
(“Propositions”).

In
sharp
etymological
contrast
to
“character,”
“a
genius”
is,
in
keeping
with
the
root

meaning
of
the
word,
“a
spirit
of
generation
and
birth”
(“The
Movies
as
a

Revolutionary”
II
30).

Robinson
waxes
eloquent
when
he
tries
to
describe
genius’
nature.
“Genius

“repudiates
the
old
humanistic
claim
that
.
.
.
humanity
resides
in
suffering
.
.
.”
and

“rejects
the
tragic
sense
of
life
and,
beyond
that,
the
notion
that
a
valid
human

identity
must
be
rooted
in
sin
or
guilt
.
.
.”
(“The
Movies
as
a
Revolutionary”
II

30).”An
agent
of
light”
(“Propositions”),
not
an
agent
of
words,
the
genius
possesses

“the
capability
.
.
.
to
abstract
vital
energy
from
its
encumbering
circumstances,

enabling
it
to
let
go
and
go
on”
(“The
Movies
as
a
Revolutionary”
II
30);
it
“seeks
to

grow
continuously,
to
ever
expand
and
enhance
life”
(“The
Movies
as
a

Revolutionary”
II
31).
Capable
of
“coordinat[ing]
all
.
.
.
faculties,
including
.
.
.

intelligence,
toward
performing
life’s
quintessential
task
of
creating
greater
life”

(“The
Movies
as
a
Revolutionary”
II
31),
the
genius
“know[s]
that
evil
is
a
place
and

that
to
do
good
they
must
elude
being
placed.
Life
is
bad
from
the
genius’
point
of

view
when
it
is
at
a
standstill,
when
it
has
nothing
going
for
it”
(“The
Movies
as
a

Revolutionary”
II
33).
Willing
to
surrender
“to
seizure
by
a
power
greater
than
ego
or

character
that
momentarily
depersonalizes”
(“The
Movies
as
a
Revolutionary”
II
33),

the
genius
is
“an
artist
of
life”
(“The
Movies
as
a
Revolutionary”
II
33).

The
genius
“thrives
on
images”
(“The
Movies
as
a
Revolutionary”
II
33).
Like

them,
the
genius
“is
superficial,
shallow,
changeable,
ephemeral”
(“The
Movies
as
a

Revolutionary”
II
34).
Not
restricted
by
names
and
words,
the
genius
“antecedes
and

perpetually
eludes
the
bondage
of
family,
society,
and
culture,
and
without
a
past—
no
father
and
no
institutional
and
ideological
connections—.
.
.
travels
light”
(“The

Movies
as
a
Revolutionary”
II
34)

A
genius,
Robinson
hastens
to
remind,
is
“not
inhuman
or
a
freak.”


For
rather
than
being
a
weakness,
his
depthlessness
is,
instead,
his
strength.

It
is
the
condition
of
his
radiance,
versatility,
plasticity,
resiliency,
and

mobility,
and
makes
it
possible
for
him,
since
he
doesn’t
have
to
keep
looking

back
while
dragging
his
historical
tale
behind
him,
to
expand
his
energy
in

thrusting
forward.”
(“The
Movies
as
a
Revolutionary”
II
34)


T h e C o l l e c t e d W o r k s o f D a v i d L a v e r y 12

“Upsetting
to
the
personal
security
of
others
and
social
order
because
he
can’t
be

stood
in
his
niche
and
made
to
stay
there”
(“The
Movies
as
a
Revolutionary”
II
34),

the
genius
is
“Always
threatening
to
metamorphose
into
a
strange
new
creature,
to

succumb
to
the
temptation
of
any
novel
possibility
that
excites
new
dimensions
of
.
.

.
existence”
(“The
Movies
as
a
Revolutionary”
II
34),
the

genius
takes
as
motto
Thom
Gunn’s
pronouncement
(oft

quoted
by
Robinson)
from
“On
the
Move”:


At
worst,
one
is
in
motion,
and
at
best

Reaching
no
absolute
in
which
to
rest,

One
is
always
nearer
by
not
keeping
still.

(Thom
Gunn,
“On
the
Move,”
quoted
in
“The
Movies

as
a
Revolutionary”
I
20)


Needless
to
say,
the
movie
theory
of
W.
R.
Robinson
had
convinced
all
of
us
who
fell

under
its
sway
that
we
were
geniuses.

For
W.
R.
Robinson,
the
movies
are
an
arena—the
arena—for
the
final

showdown
of
the
word
and
the
image.
If
the
Old
Story
is
the
story
of
character,
and

the
New
Story
the
story
of
genius,
it
also
follows
that
the
Old
Story
narrates
the

story
implicit
in
words,
while
the
New
Story
represents
the
genetic
narrative
form
of

images:
the
story
of
the
light.
“The
tension
generated
between
images
and
words
in

an
impure
movie
and
our
ambivalent
response
to
their
interaction,”
Robinson

cautioned
us
to
remember
in
“The
Movies,
Too,
Will
Make
You
Free,”
“begat
a
truth

that
would
otherwise
be
lost.
As
literature
is
enriched
by
the
tension
between
word

and
image,
so
too
are
the
movies”
(130)

The
art
of
the
word,
literature,
“testifies,”
according
to
the
Robinsonian

system,
but
the
art
of
the
image,
the
movies,
“witness”
(“The
Movies,
Too”
129).

Movies
are
“empirical
revelations
lighting
the
thing
itself
and
revealing
change
as

nothing
more
than
it
appears
to
be.
In
their
world
there
is
no
becoming,
only
being,

or
pointless
change,
no
innate
potential
to
be
realized
in
time,
no
essence
to
be

released
from
original
darkness,
no
law
to
be
learned
and
obeyed”
(“The
Movies,

Too”
128)
“Whereas
the
word
is
mysterious,
the
image
is
evident;
everything
it
has
is

showing”
(“The
Movies,
Too”
129)

The
genius
lives
in
the
world
of
the
image,
“dwells
in
the
present,
in
a
world

all
surface,
.
.
.without
complexity—without
irony,
meaning,
or
necessity,”
in
a
world

T h e C o l l e c t e d W o r k s o f D a v i d L a v e r y 13

of
“process,
activity,
energy.”
In
the
Robinsonian
system,
the
image
indeed
possesses

almost
magical,
talismanic
powers,
when
seen
through
the
eyes
of
a
genius.
The

image,
when
seen
correctly,
“is
alive,
active,
plastic,
and
one
.
.
.
.
Seen
by
the
eyes

of
Juliet
after
she
frees
her
childhood
self
from
its
crucifixion
and
escapes
the
grand

guignol
of
her
dark
night
of
the
soul,
seen
by
the
about‐to‐give
birth
ancient‐of‐days

David
Bowman
as
he
rises
from
his
deathbed
in
recognition
of
the
monolith
at
the

end
of
2001,
seen
by
genius,
an
image,
indeed
any
aspect
of
the
visible
world,

“passes
the
creation,
including
its
creative
potency,
through
it
intact”
(“If
You
Don’t

See”
II
22).

There
is,
of
course,
so
much
more
to
Robinson’s
movie
theory
than
I
am
able

to
touch
on
here:
his
fascinating
approach
to
color,
his
understanding
of
narration
as

both
an
art
and
a
science
of
action,
his
emphasis
on
value
and
morality,
“the
study

and
rendering
of
change”;
his
views
on
technology,
violence,
method,
his
theory
of

the
binary
and
trinary.


“The
acute
intelligence
of
the
imagination,
the
illimitable
resources
of
its
memory,

its
power
to
possess
the
moment
it
perceives—if
we
were
speaking
of
light
itself,
and

thinking
of
the
relationship
between
objects
and
light,
no
further
demonstration

would
be
necessary.
Like
light,
it
adds
nothing,
except
itself.”
These
words
from

Wallace
Stevens’
“The
Figure
of
Youth
as
Virile
Poet”
W.
R.
Robinson
quoted
with

proper
veneration.
But
my
excerption
of
Stevens’
essay
leaves
out,
of
course,
the

words
which
immediately
precede
this
passage,
Stevens’
epithet:
“Poetry
is
the

scholar’s
art.”
Movie
theory
was
W.
R.
Robinson’s
“scholar’s
art.”
Its
acute

intelligence,
its
illimitable
resources,
its
power
to
possess,
its
imagination
seemed
at

one
time
“like
light.”
As
a
teacher
and
as
a
lover
of
the
movies,
W.
R.
Robinson

sought
to
add
nothing,
except
himself,
and
in
so
doing
he
was
and
still
remains
for

many
of
us
who
were,
to
use
a
word
of
which
he
was
very
fond,
“moved”
by
him,
the

most
liberating,
most
imaginative
force
in
our
life
of
the
mind.


A
W.
R.
Robinson
Lexicon

Abstraction:
A
factor
that
is
operative
in
transcendence,
in
dying
to
be
reborn
again.

Act,
an:
What
is
done
in
a
unit
of
passion.

Action,
an:
The
process
of
what
is
done
in
a
unit
of
passion.

Actuality:
An
action
realized,
brought
off.

Aperspectivity:
Without
depth,
flat.

T h e C o l l e c t e d W o r k s o f D a v i d L a v e r y 14

Art:
A
solution
to
the
problem
of
unity;
is
what
it
does
and
can
do;
its
history
the

evidence
and
what
it
has
done;
what
it
can
do,
its
potential,
can
only
be

known
by
working
with
it;
it
begets
art.

Center,
the:
The
source
that
is
everywhere
and
nowhere
in
a
field
of
force
from

which
the
energy
of
the
field
of
force
flows;
or
the
total
forces
in
a
field
of

force
coordinated
in
a
single
act.

Change:
Any
alteration
that
makes
a
difference;
there
are
three
kinds:
a)
of
place;
b)

by
cause
and
effect;
and
c)
creative.

Character:
A
person’s
mark;
the
public
identity
that
establishes
him
as
a
known
and

predictable
figure.

Communication:
To
make
common;
a
mutual
exchange
of
values:
Images

communicate
images.

Composition:
To
unite
by
linking
together
in
place;
spatial
organization..

Concrete:
Growing
together.

Concrete
thinking:
A
discipline
in
which
the
reflective
powers
concentrate
on
the

individual
rather
than
generalizations.

Concretion:
Growing
together,
coalescing.

Conflict:
A
complication
or
friction
in
the
plot;
there
are
three
kinds:
a)
of
man
with

the
physical
conditions
of
life;
b)
of
man
with
himself—his
head
and
his
heart,

his
conscience
with
his
passion;
c)
of
man
with
the
medium
of
his
creative

effort.

Conjunctive
powers:
The
forces
that
move
toward
unity.

Conscience:
To
know
together
with;
the
science
of
relations.

Consecution:
To
be
united
by
linking
sequentially;
“temporal”
organization.

Convergence:
Inclined
to
come
together;
the
pre‐condition
of
any
plot
and
the
major

direction
of
the
action
of
any
plot
up
to
the
climax.

Correspondence:
An
eye‐to‐eye
alignment;
a
one‐on‐one
relation.

Creation:
A
radical
change
in
form;
the
supreme
instance
of
growth.

Cut,
a:
The
space
in
between
movie
images
(since
it
is
dark,
it
raises
the
question
of

whether
the
dark
and
death
should
be
feared,
of
what
happens
in
the
dark;
it

is
the
key
to
what
is
carried
across
from
one
image
to
another;
whereas
with

words,
inventions
of
man’s
reflective
powers,
artifice
is
carried
across;
with

images.
entities
within
the
visible
creation,
it
is
creative
power
that
carries

across
the
cut).

Disjunctive
powers:
The
forces
that
move
toward
disunity
or
differentiation.

T h e C o l l e c t e d W o r k s o f D a v i d L a v e r y 15

Emotion:
The
faculty
of
reacting
to
threatening
or
friendly
forces.

Energy
transformation:
An
exchange
of
value
that
has
qualitative
consequences.

Evaluation:
Getting
the
value
out
of;
building
upon
the
strength
of.

Evolution:
In
contrast
to
revolution,
which
is
a
180
degree
reversal,
it
is
progression

by
refinement
in
the
relations
of
the
vital
powers.

Exchange:
A
transfer
of
value
or
energy.
as
when
electrical
energy
turns
into
light.

Feeling:
The
faculty
of
sensing
the
ebb
and
flow
in
the
interaction
of
the
vital

powers.

Form:
The
key
to
the
perception
of
concrete
individuals.

Getting
right
with
the
light:
Aligning
man’s
vital
powers
with
their
source
and
the

medium
of
human
life.

Growth:
An
increase
in
the
total
energy
of
a
system
and
therefore
of
its
power
to
act

(the
opposite
of
entropy).

Ideographics:
The
method
for
describing
the
peculiar
or
unique,
the
concrete

individual.

Image:
A
sensory,
not
a
mental
image;
a
visual
event,
specifically
a
birth.

Imagination:
The
image
inventing
capabilities
whereby
the
potentialities
of
an
image

are
given
birth
in
a
new
image.

Individuation:
The
objective
of
the
growth
process.

Judgment:
Opposite
of
evaluation;
assessing
the
worth
of
an
individual
in
relation
to

a
general
principle
or
universal
standard,
thus
emphasizing
deficiency
or

looking
for
imperfections
and
weakness.

Juxtaposition:
The
method
of
composition
and
consecution
(it
means
“to
put

together”).

Light:
The
source
and
model
of
unity,
simultaneously
particle,
wave,
and
quantum;

an
excess
or
overflow
that
breaks
out
in
energy
exchanges;
has
zero
mass,
no

electrical
charge,
and
an
infinite
life
time;
is
the
offspring
of
interactions.

Media:
The
surrounding,
enveloping,
pervading
conductor,
the
source
of
the
power

for
and
means
of
change,
not
a
vehicle
for
carrying
a
message
or
an

intervening
substance
or
device.

Method:
A
disciplined,
systematic
way
of
going
after,
pursuing,
or
seeking
out.

Moral:
Pertaining
to
the
behavior
of
things
or
to
systems
of
action.

Narration:
The
study
and
rendering
of
change,
or
of
relating
to
and
relating
change;

simultaneously
an
art
form
and
a
science.

New
Story,
The:
A
narrative
in
which
the
new
frees
itself
from
the
old.

T h e C o l l e c t e d W o r k s o f D a v i d L a v e r y 16

Object:
Throws
itself
in
the
way
of
or
forward;
an
active,
alive
entity.

Old
Story,
The:
A
narrative
in
which
the
old
defeats
the
new,
keeping
it
from

breaking
on
through
in
a
completely
successful
creation.

One‐on‐one:
An
interaction
between
concrete
individuals.

Organic:
A
functional
integration
that
includes
all
of
the
powers
and
all
of
the
forms

of
growth.

Particularization:
The
discipline
devoted
to
creating
concrete
individuals.

Passion:
The
power
of
action.

Plasticity:
Renewability,
not
just
moldability;
readiness
to
undergo
qualitative

alteration.

Plot:
The
structure
of
an
action
(as
opposed
to
just
changing
places);
there
are
two

kinds:
a)
that
which
moves
toward
disunity
or
disintegration.
and
b)
that

which
moves
toward
unity
or
integration.

Point
of
view:
Perception
limited
to
a
relation
between
one
facet
of
perceiver
and

perceived.

Pragmatics:
Knowledge
of
value,
of
know‐how;
ability
to
work
with,
to
make

something
of
or
actualize.

Process:
A
systematic
activity
that
is
capable
of
going
forward.

Realization:
Method
by
which
the
potential
is
made
into
an
actuality.

Relativity:
Recognizing
that
relations
are
all
that
is
“real”;
that
there
is
nothing
out

there
but
interactions.

Space‐in‐between:
Where
relations
occur,
interactions
transpire.

Technology:
Extensions
of
man’s
physical
powers
that
amplify
and
accelerate
his

capacity
for
action,
his
mobility;
all
art
is
technology.

Transaction:
An
exchange
in
which
the
powers
of
action
are
transferred
or

communicated
from
one
individual
to
another.

Trinary
system:
Opposite
of
binary
structure;
means
by
which
change
occurs,
of
the

dynamic
process;
its
three
aspects
are
a)
the
senses:
the
powers
that
conduct

exchanges
with
the
creation
and
the
body
of
the
system;
b)
the
intellect:
the

powers
that
analyze
or
polarize
and
section
the
energy
of
the
system;
c)
the

imagination:
the
powers
that
integrate
and
coordinate
the
system
as
an
on‐
going
enterprise.

Unity:
A
juxtaposition
of
powers
that
allows
and
enables
them
to
work
together
in
a

common
enterprise.

T h e C o l l e c t e d W o r k s o f D a v i d L a v e r y 17

Value:
Strength;
appears
only
in
concrete
instances;
a
field
of
energy
at
work,
or
of

work
in
progress
in
which
potential
is
being
actualized.

Violence:
An
eruption
of
vital
powers,
as
when
the
embryo
breaks
the
egg
shell.

Vital
powers:
All
the
activities
life
is
capable
of.

White
out,
the:
Complete
infusion
of
the
eye
and
an
action
with
light.