Communist Photosynthesis

Starting with a detailed reading of both versions of the film “O somma luce”, I will rely on the annotated scripts by Straub and Giorgio Passerone and the theatrical performance in Buti. Particular care will be given to the place that Edgar Varèse’s “Déserts” (1950–1954) holds in the film, with specific analysis of the recording of the piece’s premiere used in the film as well as Varèse’s concepts around duration, frequency, intensity and timbre and how they resonate with the Straub-Huillet method of working with texts (and its reliance on Brecht). This analysis will be supported by various texts and documents explaining Straub-Huillet’s method of working with text, performers, landscape and the audio-visual apparatus. My central assertion is that “O somma luce” is a de-christianised staging of aspects of Dante’s Comedìa (1320), which, even while relying on the various strata of Dantean thinking which makes conscious references which go as far back as Ancient Greece and Rome, is a specific political, communist reading (here I will follow Straub’s own assertion that there can be no political film without theology, mysticism and memory). I will then go on to explore the longue durée of different communist ideas from prehistoric times with particular reference to the image/concept of light, via the great European revolutions, past the perversions of the 20th century and all the way to current ideas around communisation. Of particular importance will be Thesis IV of Walter Benjamin’s “On the Concept of History” (1940) and various passages from Eisenstein’s “Nonindifferent Nature” (1946). All of this should culminate in the final prismatic image of “communist photosynthesis” which I hold is one of the main political and artistic gestures in Straub’s “O somma luce”. Throughout my essay, I will use phrases, images and concepts from Dante’s Comedìa.

Provisional bibliography:
Dante Alighieri - Comedìa (original text and translations by Longfellow/Donat/Straub, Musa, Kirpatrick, Carlyle-Wicksteed)
Georges Bataille - The Accursed Share
Andrew Benjamin - Working with Walter Benjamin, Recovering a Political Philosophy
Walter Benjamin - On the Concept of History
Sergei Eisenstein - Nonindifferent Nature
ENDNOTES 1: Preliminary Materials for a Balance Sheet of the 20th Century
Friedrich Engels - Letter to Karl Kautsky, February 20, 1889
Ted Fendt (ed) - Jean-Marie Straub & Danièle Huillet
Charles Antoine Guillaume Germain - Song of the Equals
Christopher Hill - The Experience of Defeat: Milton and Some Contemporaries
Rachel Jacoff - The Cambridge Companion to Dante
Gustav Landauer - Revolution and Other Writings
Michael Löwy- FIRE ALARM: Reading Walter Benjamin’s ‘On the Concept of History’
Karl Marx - Capital, volume 2
Sylvain Marechal - Manifesto of the Equals
Fred Moten - Black and Blur
Friedrich Nietzsche - Dithyrambs of Dionysus
Cyril Neyrat - Là haut, la vision (O SOMMA LUCE, Jean-Marie Straub / Dante Alighieri)
Fredéric Ozanam - Dante and Catholic Philosophy in the Thirteenth Century
Pier Paolo Pasolini - The Divine Mimesis
Plato - Timaeus
(ed) Sally Shafto - Jean-Marie Straub and Daniele Huillet - Writings
(ed) John Willett - Brecht on Theatre: The Development of an Aesthetic