... 597 heady pages ... What Daney’s writing grants us that was so often absent among many of his better-known, more doctrinaire peers, is a prolonged view onto both the inseparability and the perpetual uneasiness between the demands of art and those of politics ... wonderfully translated ... To think hard about cinema is something that all of Daney’s texts do admirably, even where his language, especially in earlier reviews, can fall into a vaporous and annoying big-paradoxes idiom of mid-century continental theory that cascades through enigmatic citations from Nietzsche, Blanchot, Bataille, or Lacan ... Nearly every one of Daney’s many (many) reviews reveals a profound sensitivity to the cinematic medium and an encyclopedic knowledge of its history. Improbably, the ability to carefully draw out the structural properties of individual films and to insist on their particularity emerges as the source for his politics.
... it is his discussion of the real-world implications of movies that gives his naturally abstract inclinations a spark of life, investing his criticism with a passionate energy and a propulsive sense of purpose. To put it bluntly, it takes a little while for the book to get good ... As for French cinema, Daney writes incisively about the revanchist politics of nineteen-seventies France and the resulting decadence of French cinema ... Where most critics appear to formulate responses to the movies they see, Daney formulates ideas so powerful that the movies he sees seem made to embody them. Yet there was a paradox to his immense creative force; namely, its oddly impersonal quality. Daney repudiated the all-too-familiar adjective soup that serves the advertising of movies, a state of affairs that he commented on trenchantly, in a 1974 meditation on What is film criticism? But in doing so he seemed to resist subjectivity altogether, writing as if his evaluation of movies materialized not from any emotional response at all but from their quasi-objective fit with, or departure from, his brilliant and lucid conceptual grid ... filled with a sense of Daney’s live-wire excitement, not in regard to his experience of viewing films but, rather, from the pleasure of his own thought process. There’s nothing egocentric or bombastic in this delight. Daney never positions himself above or ahead of films; he approaches them and keeps some distance. The book is wildly quotable and fervently memorable.
Dense with theoretical tangents, promiscuously associative, and characterized by a prose that shifts constantly between the poeticism of Continental philosophers like Walter Benjamin and Jacques Derrida and the casual tempos of first-person journalism, Daney’s writing isn’t 'clean' or easily digestible—there is no easy transmission of facts and ideas, but rather a kind of intellectual grazing. Much like Daney himself—who, often penniless, traveled to places like India, Hong Kong, and Africa, covering film festivals, familiarizing himself with the local film culture, finding tour guides in the young men he took as fleeting lovers—his writing wanders in unpredictable directions. It resists translation and has an unsettling, conflicted quality, best embodied in Hamrah’s observation that Daney 'loved the American cinema' but 'resisted where it comes from' ... The Cinema House & the World—a Herculean undertaking by translator Christine Pichini—represents a sizable response to years of editorial resistance from unwilling publishers ... That relatively slim 2007 translation by Paul Grant is, perhaps, a more accessible introduction to Daney’s school of thought, though it lacks the scope, curiosity, and sense of play of Pichini’s tome, in which you will read about films you have never heard of, consider classics through a new lens, and see the world, as Daney did, as a film bustling with latent meanings, infinitely interconnected. It should come as no surprise that, toward the end of the book, Daney begins to reckon with the implications of small-screen spectatorship and the politics of television—televised debates, sports events, and news broadcasts, those simulations that purport to be reality ... Our own era is eager to beautify or sensationalize suffering, but Daney offers a different vision, best exemplified by his active gaze. He insists that we take the image seriously as not just a productive way of looking at art, but as a way of better understanding our own place in life.