The New Paragone

The New Paragone

Film and Avant-garde Art Movements in the Early Twentieth Century R. Bruce Elder

Official Book Launch: Wednesday, March 11, 2009

With special guest Michael Snow

7-9pm, Ryerson School of Image Arts, Sound Stage, IMA 301

Copies of Harmony and Dissent as well as other books by R. Bruce Elder are available in the Ryerson Bookstore, and can also be ordered from the publisher. 



Book Description

R. Bruce Elder argues that the authors of many of the manifestoes that announced in such lively ways the appearance of yet another artistic movement shared a common aspiration: they proposed to reformulate the visual, literary, and performing arts so that they might take on attributes of the cinema. The cinema, Elder argues, became, in the early decades of the twentieth century, a pivotal artistic force around which a remarkable variety and number of aesthetic forms took shape.

To demonstrate this, Elder begins with a wide-ranging discussion that opens up some broad topics concerning modernity’s cognitive (and perceptual) regime, with a view to establishing that a crisis within that regime engendered some peculiar, and highly questionable, epistemological beliefs and enthusiasms. Through this discussion, Elder advances the startling claim that a crisis of cognition precipitated by modernity engendered, by way of response, a peculiar sort of “pneumatic (spiritual) epistemology.” Elder then shows that early ideas of the cinema were strongly influenced by this pneumatic epistemology and uses this conception of the cinema to explain its pivotal role in shaping two key moments in early-twentieth-century art: the quest to bring forth a pure, “objectless” (non-representational) art and Russian Suprematism, Constructivism, and Productivism.

View the Publisher's Catalog Page for the Book

About R. Bruce Elder

Filmmaker, author, and critic, R. Bruce Elder inspires and enjoys debate. His books include Image and Identity: Reflections on Canadian Film and Culture (WLUP, 1989), A Body of Vision (WLUP, 1998), and The Films of Stan Brakhage in the American Tradition of Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, and Charles Olson (WLUP, 1999). His films have been exhibited internationally and his polemical piece, “The Cinema We Need,” remains one of the most discussed pieces of writing on Canadian film. In 2007, R. Bruce Elder received the Governor General’s Award in Media Arts. Elder is the program director at Ryerson for the Graduate Program in Communication and Culture.


“Filmmaker Bruce Elder has added to his distinguished critical and scholarly works on avant-garde cinema his most original book, Harmony and Dissent: Film and Avant-garde Art Movements in the Early Twentieth Century. In it he makes a convincing case for the centrality of cinema as a unique mode of inspired cognition in the wake of the revolutionary art movements of the 1910s and 1920s. His learned investigation of the mystical heritage informing even the most dogmatically rationalist areas of modernist art and polemics puts the work of Richter, Eggeling, and Eisenstein in a thoroughly new and dazzling light.” — P. Adams Sitney, Princeton University, author of Eyes Upside Down: Visionary Filmmakers and the Heritage of Emerson (2008)