R. Bruce Elder

Cubism and Futurism: Spiritual Machines and the Cinematic Effect (2018)

Author: R. Bruce elder

Publisher: Wilfrid Laurier Press

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Cubism and Futurism were closely related movements that vied with each other in the economy of renown. Perception, dynamism, and the dynamism of perception—these were the issues that passed back and forth between the two. Cubism and Futurism: Spiritual Machines and the Cinematic Effect shows how movement became, in the traditional visual arts. Further, it explores the role of the cinema in amplifying this interest, by demonstrating that with the advent of the cinema the time was over when an artwork strived to lift experience out the realm of flux and into the realm of the changeless eternal.

The cinema at this time was understood as an electric art, akin to X-rays, Lumia, and sonic energy. In this book, celebrated filmmaker and author R. Bruce Elder connects the dynamism that the cinema made an essential feature of the new artwork to the new science of electromagnetism.

Cubism he portrays as a movement on the cusp of the transition from the Cartesian world of standardized Cartesian coordinates and interchangeable machine parts to a Galvanic world of continuities and flows. Drawing on the ideas of Marshall McLuhan, Elder shows that Futurism, by way of contrast, embraced completely the emerging electromagnetic view of reality.

Cubism, and Futurism: Spiritual Machines and the Cinematic Effect examines the similarities and differences between the two movements’ engagement with the new science of energy and shows that the notion of energy made central to the new artwork by the cinema assumed a spiritual dimension, as the cinema itself came to be seen as a pneumatic machine.


“This volume establishes R. Bruce Elder’s writing as belonging among works of rare analytical depth, and probably unique within the panorama of film theorists. I know of no cineaste more attentive to esthetical and philosophical issues. The tissues of his thought processes manifest constantly in the deluge of original commentary, opening innovative avenues of meaning. Reading this volume is like entering into a fascinating territory of futurist and cubist poetics, with the view of a boundless horizon. Elder, in a systematic way, gathers the boundaries of various theoretical matrixes and melts them to enrich the architecture of cinematographic thinking.” – Antonio Bisaccia, Director, “Mario Sironi” Academy of Fine Arts – Sassari, Italy 

“This very important essay by Bruce Elder clarifies perfectly the difference between two great phases in Western Culture. The former, modernity, was dominated by the conceptions of a Newtonian and Cartesian space, based on ancient Euclidean geometry, whereas the latter, beginning at the end of the eighteenth century, conceived the first intuitions about electromagnetism. In contemporary art, the consequence is that Cubism remained “between the two,” liberating forms from Euclid but leaving them to the immobility of a surface, whereas Futurism understood that the moment had arrived to conquer movement, time, and real existence through new technological tools like cinema and X-rays.” – Renato Barilli, University of Bologna, Italy

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