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Economy and Society Volume 32 Number 1 February 2003: 74-89

The bureaucratic beyond: Roger Caillois and the negation of the sacred in Hollywood cinema
Gary Genosko

Abstract In a short paper written in the early 1950s, 'The representation of death in the American cinema', Roger Caillois theorized the representation of the afterlife in America through the Hollywood cinema of the late 1930s and 1940s. Caillois maintained that the American afterlife is fundamentally bureaucratic and represents a prolongation of the world of the living. This prolongation is understood as a negation of the separation of the sacred and the profane domains in favour of a desacralized, profane pan-bureaucracy. Caillois's essay is read in the context of a sociology of the sacred in the tradition of the College de sociologie, with special attention given to his descriptions of how the sacred tends to wane in ordinary life and to his hybrid methodological strategies. The films Caillois used as evidence are critically reviewed and the Hollywood invasion of French film markets in the 1940s and 1950s is developed as a critical historical context for grounding Caillois's claims about American 'originality': the negation of the sacred dimension of the afterlife, the power of cinema to replace oral tradition in collective life, and the consequences of a powerful, 'exported' mythology that negates the sacred. Keywords: American cinema; representation of death; sacred sociology; post-war French film policy; funeral rites. Roger Caillois's short study 'La representation de la mort dans le cinema americain' (Caillois 1964 [original publication 1951]; all further references to this essay are given in the body of the text by pages number only) is a theoretical analysis
Gary Genosko, Department of Sociology, Lakehead University, 955 Oliver Road, Thunder Bay, Ontario P7B 5E1, Canada. E-mail:

Copyright 2003 Taylor & Francis Ltd ISSN 0308-5147 print/1469-5766 online DOI: 10.1080/0308514032000045771

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Gary Genosko: The bureaucratic beyond


of one way in which American culture represents death and the afterlife to itself Caillois studied the American afterlife through the lens of the Hollywood cinema of the 1930s and 1940s, in addition to relying on the French translation of Evelyn Waugh's (1903-66) novel The Loved One (1948) (translated into French as Le Cher disparu in 1949), for a description of the Forest Lawn Cemetery in Los Angeles and Californian funeral rites, which Waugh had researched for his novel. Caillois also introduced a few French films into the mix, as well as select American cultural ephemera as points of contrast and comparison. Taken as a whole, the resource materials he used for this study were remarkably diverse. Critical consideration of Caillois's argument is greatly aided by screening the films at issue since these were the texts through which he wanted to discover, at least in the first instance, the 'originality' of the American self-representation of death and the afterlife. A critical review of the films from which Caillois derived his key examples is also necessary because of his extremely selective use of these cinematic materials. Any reader of his essay may be left wondering not only about the content of thefilmsin question but also about the many neglected, yet relevant, dimensions of them. Only the first half of Caillois's essay focuses on select Hollywood films. He then turns his attention to Forest Lawn and uses Waugh's novel and undocumented journalistic and advertising sources as tools of interpretation. Caillois used these cultural products to support what he discovered in his film studies: the American afterlife is bureaucratic and represents a prolongation of the world of the living, just as the representation of death in the Californian mortuary cult is accomplished by means of signs of life, a prolongation of life by semiotic means. Together these factors negate the separation of the sacred and the profane worlds in favour of a profane panbureaucracy. Caillois's little essay may be profitably read in the context of a sociology of the sacred. Inspired by both Durkheim and Mauss, Caillois published his important statement on the sacred, L'homme et le sacre, in 1939, with two subsequent editions. The question Caillois posed was inspired by the classical sociological tradition. Following Durkheim (1912: 37), Caillois (1939: 20) recognized that the two worlds of the mutually exclusive domains of the sacred and profane do not mingle in unmediated ways, that is, in the absence of collectively recognized rites of passage and acknowledged risks of admixture. Caillois took great care to outline how the profane needs the sacred, and the regulation, through rites, of the process of consecration in the passage into the sacred from the profane; likewise, he also explained expiation in the process of desacralization in the passage from the sacred to the profane. One of Caillois's most significant accomplishments in L'homme et le sacre was to trace the extent to which the sacred could survive in complex, modern societies under pressure of the liberation and independence of the individual. In a classic statement of this thesis from a key text from the College de sociologie, Caillois (1988: 282ff, originally published 1939) repeated Durkheim's distinction between festival as a sacred sphere of excess in opposition to an ordinary, secular life of labour and moral prohibitions. But in subsequent rewrites Caillois


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lamented that the collective ferment of festival had given way to individualized, isolated vacations (1940 version). Ten years later, in 1950, he found this old alternation replaced by periods of peace and violence. The festival, as a rite marking a passage from the regulated everyday to the paroxysm and excess of the sacred, has a tendency to wane under the pressure of ordinary life: Social existence in its entirety slides towards uniformity. More and more, flood and drought are channeled into a regular and even flow. The multiple necessities of the profane life less and less tolerate the simultaneous reservation of the same time to the sacred. (Caillois 1939: 170) Caillois examined the fragmentation of the sacred in the eclipse of a distinct alternation between the two domains. The sacred 'appears to become abstract, interior, subjective, attached less to beings than to concepts' (ibid.: 172). The sacred, in short, becomes conceptual. It persists, but in new forms, and its persistence is based in part on negative criteria: for example, the incomplete liheration and independence of the individual. Although Caillois sought, in the successive editions oiL'homme et le sacre, to discover new examples of festival (for example. Carnival in Rio, total war as the paroxysm of modern society), he did not detect the absence of the sacred. The little essay under consideration here presents a finding that expresses one possible result of the trend toward uniformity in modern societies, noted above, under the demands of profane life. In the USA, as Caillois shows, these pressures have carried the profane into the otherwise sacred dimension of the afterlife. And the Hollywood cinema shows that it is no longer the case that the sacred is death's door: 'the sacred is always more or less "that which cannot be approached without dying"' (Caillois 1939: 19, citing in the quote the words of a Dakota Indian). This is precisely the feature that makes Caillois's paper significant for a classical sociology of the sacred. Continuity between the two domains or the failure of alternation, as it is represented in the films in question, disables the seminal distinction between sacred and profane. The United States of America is allegedly a society without a sacred, a thoroughly profane country. The consequences of this absence of the sacred are somewhat unclear since Caillois ends his paper with a series of questions. Still, there is no mistaking the claim that this is an 'original' condition. It would be difficult to predict, Caillois noted (128), that this trend in popular cinematic imagery would continue. Still, the power of the Hollywood cinema as 'the privileged expression of collective sensibility' (128) is not in doubt. The essay's Durkheimian framework will be familiar to readers of the early Caillois of the College in the 1930s. But the mixture of Durkheim, Hollywood, Waugh and death arouses curiosity. As Denis Hollier (1997: 94) has observed of Caillois, 'his work is hard to categorize' because of his preference for 'the theoretical'; yet, it is a preference that in addition makes it hard 'to situate . . . within the typology of theoretical writings' (Hollier 1997: 95). The 'seamlessness', to use one of HoUier's felicitous expressions, in Caillois's

Gary Genosko: The bureaucratic beyond


article between American cinema, British novelistic parody of America used as ethnographic evidence and a sociological categorization of the representation of the afterlife as a bureaucracy familiar to the living is a strange hybrid typical of Caillois. Through this strangeness, Caillois posed a classical sociological question: do certain myths of Hollywood cinema, especially the representation of the afterlife, contribute to social cohesion, even if they do so paradoxically by demonstrating the continuity between profane and sacred worlds? In the 1940 rewrite of the College text on 'Festival' cited above, Caillois remarked: 'Is a society with no festivals not a society condemned to death? While suffering from the gnawing feeling of suffocation vaguely provoked in everyone by their absence, is not the ephemeral pleasure of vacation one of those false senses of well-being that mask death throes from the dying?' (Caillois 1988: 302). Caillois's implicit answer was yes on both accounts. And Caillois posed the same questions of an entirely profane country: 'Can a civilization persist without appealing to a sentiment of the sacred? What sort of masks might the sacred wear in a civilization whose originality consists precisely in eliminating it as much as possible?' (129) But the answers are not so obvious, even if the parallels are striking. In my conclusion I shall, in addition, consider the socio-political context in which Caillois's essay was produced because it was the moment at which the post-war American cinematic invasion of France, which gave rise to nationalistic and protectionistic protests between allied forces in the Communist Party and the French film industry, began to wane. The question I want to consider is whether this was Caillois's version of former College colleague Georges Bataille's (1991[1976]) reading of the Marshall Plan in the first volume of The Accursed Share. The American dumping of film into France was very much part of the post-war regeneration of the French economy.

The continuity of life and death

For Caillois, death is both a great equalizer and educator. All humankind is equal before it and the impending event imposes the need to understand not only what it entails and how to face it, but also what follows from it. Caillois uses the means by which a culture represents death to itself, including all the negotiations, education, emotions and comportment involved in facing it, as well as images of the afterlife, as a means to define American culture (115), for Caillois's methodological point is that out of sameness emerges cultural difference based on particular attitudes before death, and from the analysis of differences due to historical singularity emerges another kind of sameness. This sameness may be expressed through typologies organizing disparate cultures whose fundamental virtues are the same into a kind of family, a suggestion reminiscent of his method in his typology of games (Caillois 1958). In this short investigation Caillois works with only two categories: those cultures wedded to traditional folkloric representations as opposed to modern American imagery of the bureaucratic beyond.


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Caillois concludes his introductory remarks in this way: 'One can therefore admit that a society paints a rather good picture of itself by the manner in which it represents the passage from this world to the next and this other world' (116). Caillois's search for 'significant constants' (117) in the representation of the beyond in the Hollywood cinema begins under the sub-heading of 'An administrative beyond' with the negative example of The Devil and Daniel Webster (dir. William Dieterle, 1941). For Caillois, there is nothing original about the themes in this film since it borrows folkloric imagery familiar from at least the period of the Middle Ages. Essentially, the figure of the Devil, a 'crafty and sniggering gossipmonger' named 'Snatch', and the themes and characters in the film are readily available in European literature and cinema, and he cites, as an example of latter. La Charrette fantome (dir. Julien Duvivier, 1940) and, as an example of the former, the novels of Dostoevsky and Bernanos. Indeed, his next example. Death Takes a Holiday (1934) fares only slightly better; although the figure of death, dressed as 'a kind of Balkan prince', may have origins that are less welldefined, it is hardly innovative, and Caillois considers the characterization to be out-of-place with reference to the culture (American). Hence, one searches in vain among such folkloric 'importations' for the 'originality' of the American vision. American originality is dampened the more the representation of death resembles traditional European folklore and all its variations, to which one may add the Faust story (including doppelgdnger fantasies along the lines of The Devil and Daniel Webster, regardless of the uniqueness of their setting, in this case rural New Hampshire during the 1840s). The point of these negative examples is to contrast them with the 'coherent and original mythology' (118) present in other films, to which Caillois then turns his attention. Regarding film as a medium, Caillois believed that themes original to American culture may be present elsewhere, as, for example, in literature, providing the cinema with material for adaptations, but 'in all cases it is the screen that fixes the collective representations' (118) and delivers them to American and foreign audiences. Film is, then, a medium that distributes mythologies for mass consumption; it is not necessary for afilmicconcept to be original in itself, since it may rely on existing material. Moreover, since film is primarily a vehicle as a representational medium, it is subordinate to the collective representations that it delivers. Caillois's sense of film is limited to certain kinds of content that he organizes under the heading of 'administration', capturing the specific character of the American representation of the hereafter. The transition from the negative to positive examples, that is, from what is considered derivative to distinctively American, is accomplished by an almost immediate turn to the content of a particular film whose title Caillois at first holds back. He tells his readers that no vestiges of European folklore remain, there is nothing disconcerting no skeletons or devils with whom to reckon in this representation of the afterlife, and one is no longer lifted heavenward or hurled downward. The terms of reference have changed completely and these 'domains are now quite near and entirely domesticated' (118). The film is question is Here Comes Mr. Jordan (dir. Alexander Hall, 1941). Caillois describes

Gary Genosko: The bureaucratic beyond


its version of heaven in which the recently deceased finds himself appearing in a vast terrain vaguely resembling an airfield shrouded in fog, with the outlines of hangars in the background. Initially, the deceased does not appear to know that he is dead; the change was 'insignificant'. It soon dawns on him that he is truly dead and he begins to dwell on it, in fact, questioning it, arguing with the unsympathetic, inexperienced and somewhat overzealous messenger who insists: 'That's what I said, Mr. Pendleton, you are dead!' Despite the military orderliness of this reception facility on the airfield of heaven, the functionaries wearing officers' caps, the queues and clipboards, as it were, something is amiss. There has been a mistake, a mistaken identity: the deceased, Joe Pendleton, a saxophone-playing pilot and boxer known as the 'Flying Pug' is not on the death list; it turns out that the messenger intervened before Joe's plane actually bit the ground and that he was, as the official register eventually shows, not scheduled to die and join his parents for another fifty years on 11 May 1991. This is confirmed by the Mr Jordan of the film's title who oversees the administration of this gigantic bureaucracy. The mistake must be corrected, and the film consists of the efforts to put right the situation by returning Joe Pendleton to a compatible body, that is, the body of a boxer; it is impossible to return him to his original body since it was cremated. Under the direction of Mr Jordan, the newly dead body of a wealthy businessman is found but, after a great effort to adapt is made on the part of the boxer, with the inducements of potential female companionship dangled before him by Mr Jordan, the situation becomes intolerable and he requests a change of bodies, a request Mr Jordan obliges. Ultimately, the body of a promising boxer is found and Joe is put on his right road and is able to fulfil his destiny of becoming the champion; Mr Jordan even patches up Joe's interpersonal affairs with his love interest and professional relationship with his manager, which were strained during his occupation of the businessman's body - a businessman, incidentally, whose unscrupulousness was legendary but which Joe tried to correct with good works completely out of character. 'So long, champ!' Mr Jordan says once the situation has been righted and Joe's memory of recent complications has been erased. 'This administration is accommodating, but upright', Caillois observes (119), adding that its 'functionaries are affable'. The administration is, however, constrained by an individual's 'destiny', which, above all else, it must help one to fulfil. In Here Comes Mr. Jordan, the next world has a 'bureaucratic appearance' that is 'similar to reality and prolongs it'. The uniformity of the two worlds of life and death entails that the dead are, Caillois underlined, 'not in the least bit out of place.' Caillois seems little interested in the military and sporting dimensions of this pan-bureaucracy, suggesting that these are the hallmarks of American culture for the living and dead. It is instructive to paraphrase Weber's (1958: 16) description of the modern West's dependency on 'a specially trained organization of officials': 'The most important functions of everyday life [read as the afterlife] have come to be in the hands of technically, commercially, and above all legally trained government officials.' Caillois then worked an analogy while


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shifting films. Just as, in life, one rarely has the opportunity to interact directly with the heads of large and complex organizations, in the other world it is 'exceptional that one meets Death in person' (119). But this is precisely what happens in the more 'ambitious' film On Borrowed Time (dir. Harold S. Bucquet, 1939). In this film Death works alone and, as far we know, has no assistants, whereas in Here Comes Mr. Jordan, he employed messengers, although complications required the intervention of Mr Jordan himself In a more positive formulation, Caillois's analogy suggests that, in life, we deal with front line staff (subalterns) of large organizations, just as in the afterlife we normally also deal with messengers; this is like the case of The Devil and Daniel Webster in which the Devil sends his colleague Belle, a seductive maid, to corrupt Jabiss Stone and ruin his family and community life. There are, of course, exceptions. In On Borrowed Time, Death - known as Mr Brink since he assures the smooth passage of those who are on the brink of death - is a very formal, correct, severely elegant and rather cold character who is held prisoner up in a tree by a grandfather and his grandson. Caillois writes: 'His ways are so modest that we take him for some inspector touring his district' (120). We take him, then, not for Death, but one of his minions. When Mr Brink first appears to the grandfather, Julian Northrop, the latter resists his entreaties and chases him away in disgust; Death eventually takes Northrop's elderly wife, just as at the beginning of the film he took Julian's son. The elderly Northrop has no one left but his grandson Pud, on whom he dotes, and whom he protects from the nefarious designs of his upstanding and righteous aunt. Most of the action takes place around the impressive apple tree in the grandfather's yard. It seems that Julian's tree was often raided by neighbourhood children whom he would chase away. He made a wish that anyone caught in the tree would be held there until he released them. Strangely, his wish comes true and the tree begins to show a tendency to hold onto anyone who climbs it. When Mr Brink again appears, he urges Julian to co-operate; the latter pretends to resist and slyly asks Mr Brink if he would grant a last request: would he climb the tree and get from the highest branches a ripe golden russet apple? Mr Brink obliges and finds himself unable to climb down. Having suffered what he considers to be a great indignity. Death remains invisible much of the time, and becomes quite melancholy. As Caillois explains. Death's predicament creates serious problems because while he is indisposed nobody dies; suffering becomes interminable without the blessed relief of death. Death is colloquially, after all, up a tree. Julian will not let him down because he will be the first taken by Mr Brink and, despite the arguments and subterfuges of a certain Dr Evans who scientifically tests - with the aid of laboratory mice and afishingpole -Julian's claims that anything or anyone coming into direct contact with the tree will perish, there appears to be no room for negotiation. In a desperate bid to protect his grandson from his aunt and to keep himself from being committed to the psychiatric hospital, Julian appears to weaken, causing great grief to his grandson, who runs away. Julian then tricks his persecutors by suggesting that Death plans to take them if he comes down from the tree. His ruse works and they flee in fear, but the distraught grandson

Gary Genosko: The bureaucratic beyond


is no match for Death who intervenes in his attempt to run away by challenging him to climb atop the fence surrounding the tree. The young Pud falls and injures himself severely, losing the use of his legs. Grandfather realizes he is no match for Death and asks him to please come down and take both himself and his grandson. 'In the end, the grandfather and grandson agree to die', Caillois notes, and 'they liberate their prisoner and, in his always obliging manner. Death leads them toward the decisive serenity', that is, as the grandfather used to tell his grandson in response to his questions about the hereafter, to the place 'where the honeysuckle grows' (120). Caillois concludes: 'The meaning of the film is clear: It is a matter of presenting death as reassuring and beneficial' (120). As Mr Brink leads Julian and Pud towards the place 'where the honeysuckle grows', the last scene of life and the first glimpse of the afterlife are identical. Nothing seems to have changed. However, not only does grandfather get up from his wheelchair, but the prone body of his grandson, whom he carried in his arms, suddenly appears light as a feather. Mr Brink remarks: 'That's better isn't it?' To which no objection can be made since there is no need to resist a transition that is hardly a transition at all. If this is heaven, what, Caillois wonders, is hell like? In order to answer this question he turns to another film. Heaven Can Wait (dir. Ernst Lubitsch, 1943). Hell, it appears, is also 'humanized', if bureaucracy may be so considered (note, however, that bureaucracy always has a human face in these films). In this film, Satan, referred to as 'your excellency', resembles the 'president of a board of directors, comfortably ensconced in his directorial office' (120). Amid numerous files, attentive secretaries and ringing telephones, he issues orders and receives visitors, one of whom, a certain Henry van Cleve, has crossed 'the great divide' and descended a staircase into Satan's office, before whom he pleads his case. There is hardly anything of traditional representations of the Devil in the behaviour of this Satan, whom Caillois describes as a 'consummate bureaucrat' who displays no malice or menacing intentions; the only traditional touches are his goatee and arched eyebrows. It is not easy to get into Hell, as Henry van Cleve quickly realizes, for there are requirements that must be met before a 'passport' is issued. Satan rigorously applies the regulations while reviewing the case in great detail, hearing van Cleve tell the story of his life as a womanizer. Caillois observes that this Satan is in no way Evil (121); he is characterized hoth as a 'judge who does not always find reason to condemn and an immigration officer ruling on the fate of travellers requesting entry to a country on a permanent basis' (121). In the end, van Cleve is refused entry, with Satan's definitive ruling: 'we don't cater to your class of people', in addition to a pep talk about his chances of getting into the other place. Indeed, as van Cleve boards the elevator to leave Satan's office, the elevator attendant asks whether they will be going down, to which Satan responds: 'No, up.' The final film with which Caillois deals is Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life (1946). This film, as Caillois observes, depicts a guardian angel going about his duties. He is motivated by 'very humane' ambitions: to increase his rank in the celestial order by earning his wings. This guardian angel, it seems, is an angel


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second class, a guardian angel without wings in a military-like beyond. At the beginning of the film, when he is called to work on the case of a discouraged man, a certain George Bailey, he is introduced as Clarence 'the clockmaker' Oddhody: the impression is that we should not expect much from him even though he is on call. Still, his task is to impart a taste for life to a man contemplating suicide, and he devises a scheme that will prove to Bailey that his life has not been useless and that he has friends and family willing to help him in his hour of need. Clarence offers Bailey what is presented in thefilmas a 'great gift': to see what the world would have been like if he had never been born. The angel walks him through the town in which he lives - here, Caillois underlines that it has 'imperceptibly changed' (121) like the hereafter of On Borrowed Time and Bailey witnesses unhappy lives, unrealized dreams, corruption and mean spiritedness: He notices how different the destiny of those would have been whom he knew or whose paths he simply crossed - including parents, friends, neighbours and strangers. Seeing how things would have unfolded without him, he glimpses the place he occupied among his fellows and the unsuspected value of the services that he rendered by the simple fact of living among them. He understands that he is surrounded by feelings of sympathy and decides not to commit suicide. (121) And, in the end, Clarence wins his wings. It is on this note that Caillois ends his analysis of the bureaucratic hereafter in select Hollywood films, an admittedly incomplete picture, he notes, and one that was unlikely to have been 'unanimously recognized' by the viewing public, but, nevertheless, it is certainly not reducible to 'pleasing diversions and individual fantasies' (122). Caillois believed that, despite the vicissitudes of his analysis, he uncovered in these works similarities, in inspiration and image, that respond to, express and illustrate the spirit and needs of the American public regarding the afterlife. In other words and in a weaker negative formulation that Caillois used to set up a positive claim based on a pair of double negative constructions, the administrative beyond 'could not be' an arbitrary representation. He continues: 'In reality, it [this representation] transposes not without exactitude the comportment of Americans toward death' (122, emphasis added). And to understand this attitude is, Caillois thought, to understand a great deal about a civilization. Caillois's reading of thesefilmsand development of the continuity they represent of the administrative here-and-now with the hereafter in American society certainly underplays the military aspects of these organizations, especially the airfield, officer's caps and stripes of Here Comes Mr. Jordan and the ranking of the angel (second-class) in It's a Wonderful Life. Further, his choice of examples also opens up the issue of the precise character of the traffic between life and death. In both Here Comes Mr. Jordan and It's a Wonderful Life, the proverbial expression 'You can't take it with you' is shown to be not quite correct. In the first film the boxer's beloved saxophone is the only thing he retains of his old life when he temporarily occupies the body of millionaire Bruce Farnsworth;

Gary Genosko: The bureaucratic beyond


ultimately, even when he finds an adequate body with which to fulfil his destiny, the saxophone follows along, courtesy of Mr Jordan. In the second film the angel leaves his copy of Tom Sawyer with George Bailey as a token of thanks after receiving his wings; indeed, these precious things pass between the domains of the living and dead and provide continuous threads with the assistance of angels and administrators who are, as Caillois discovered, on the one hand, front-line functionaries and, on the other hand, high-ranking officials (even if they seem otherwise) in the bureaucratic beyond with whom we are unlikely to deal directly in the parallel institutions of our lifetime. Since the satisfaction of their charges is of great concern, the company of a precious belonging or gift smoothes the transition and establishes continuity. Caillois's lack of interest in these things themselves is somewhat surprising. This valorization of personal things is, of course, a sign of the reach of the profane and, in his own words, reveals the 'Negation of the sacred[ness] of death' in American culture. The saxophone is an anti-sacred object for contact with it is in no way perilous, as one finds with sacred objects in general. The traffic in these accessories helps to undermine the distinction between the sacred and profane and underline continuity between the domains. Hollywood cinema filled what Durkheim called the 'logical void between them' (1912: 378). The bureaucrats of the Hollywood beyond are also expert baggage handlers. In at least one instance their role is to make an unknown future better known through the presence of a personal object, a kind of emotional security that travels the other way as well as a reminder of the lessons of not-so-far beyond. Absent is the ritual by means of which objects are venerated and contact with them is prohibited. The only trace of this prohibition, and the 'dangerous energy' of the sacred object (Caillois 1939: 21), is the golden russet apple in On Borrowed Time.

Across the little divide: signs of life among the dead

Caillois then turned to a detailed consideration of American funeral parlours, noting that Europeans have been struck by their atmosphere, and described them in great detail. He emphasized that these places devote themselves to masking death through cheerful, agreeable and reassuring surroundings: 'it is a matter of combating grief by means of admiration' (123) and even of'diverting the gathering from every sad or macabre impression' (123). The very richness and luxury of the parlours, from vestibule to smoking room, seems to raise the social standing of the deceased a few notches, Caillois observed, and this is reinforced by the meticulous care with which the body is embalmed, washed, shaved, made up, dressed in his/her finest clothes and posed, all of which 'gives to the deceased the appearance of the living' (124). The coffin itself is so sumptuously draped with tulle and chiffon that it comes to 'resemble a box of sweets' (124). Caillois adds: 'it is in this casket that the deceased attends a fashionable reception given in his honour' (124). The ceremony is conducted, then, as if it was 'an event like any other of the deceased's life' (124) and only his/her closest


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relations ride along with the casket in the hearse en route to the cemetery. In short, death is made to signify life rather than transience and decay, just as the hereafter is barely distinguishable from life in its cinematic representations. The cemetery that interested Caillois was 'the famous Forest Lawn in Los Angeles'. In this section of his essay he focused on English novelist and archironist Evelyn Waugh's descriptions of it. Caillois's reliance on Waugh's novel in French translation raises important questions about what sort of evidence he believed himself to have found. Waugh's novel is an indictment of the Californian mortuary cult and the plot revolves around activities at thefictionalizedgreat necropolis, renamed Whispering Glades, and its poor relation and imitator, a pet cemetery named Happier Hunting Ground. The descriptions in the novel are full of remarkable detail, none of which may be divorced from the satirical descriptions of Los Angeles and the ironic plot structure, in which chief embalmer, Mr Joyboy, of Whispering Glades and Dennis Barlow, erstwhile poet and former film studio employee, now employed by the pet cemetery, vie for the hand of Aimee Thanatogenos ('loved one born of death'), mortuary hostess at Whispering Glades. Dennis made the acquaintance of Aimee while arranging the funeral of fellow ex-pat. Sir Francis Hinsley, who hung himself after being sacked without notice from his long-time position as scriptwriter at one of the big studios. In the end, the confused Aimee commits suicide in the embalming room of her employer after learning that Dennis actually works for the pet cemetery, which she holds in contempt, and having received bad advice from her guru, who is actually a recently dismissed, alcoholic letter writer for a religion business. Ultimately, like Mr Joyboy's mother's parrot, at whose funeral Dennis's true vocation was revealed to Aimee, she, too, is cremated like an animal at the pet cemetery so as to avoid any injury to the reputation of Whispering Glades and the brilliant career of Mr Joyboy that her suicide may have caused. In this novel Waugh's ironic critique is so grim and unrelenting that it provides ready-made support for Caillois's position. But is it an answer to the questions posed earlier? Is a society without a sacred condemned to a death only worthy of ridicule? In general, the connection Caillois makes between selected thematics in Hollywood films and American mortuary practices owes a great deal to Waugh's novel. Waugh visited Los Angeles in the spring of 1947 to discuss the filming of Brideshead Revisited and he became fascinated with Forest Lawn Memorial Park in nearby Glendale. It is in this mundane respect that Hollywood and Forest Lawn are united; indeed, Waugh characterized meetings at the studio (MGM) as banal and unsuccessful and his research into Forest Lawn as original and successful: 'the work of the morticians [is] the only thing in California that is not a copy of something else' (quoted in Davis 1981: 190). It may have been from reading Waugh that Caillois emphasized the originality of the bureaucratic beyond represented in the products of nearby Hollywood. Waugh visited Forest Lawn and met with its chief embalmer, purchasing mementoes such as the Art Guide to Forest Lawn, as well as studying a technical text on embalming (Davis 1981: 191). As one reader of Waugh has remarked

Gary Genosko: The bureaucratic beyond


(Beaty 1992: 172-5), there are two false 'sets' under attack in The Loved One: the mortuary and filmdom. Armed, then, with Waugh as well as undocumented journalistic reports of casket exhibitions, packets of matches advertising funeral services and assorted promotional ephemera for funeral parlours whose effect is to neutralize death, Caillois concludes that 'the reassuring mythology of death which is outlined in thefilmsturns out to be exactly in agreement with American culture. The image that it presents of a familiar, administrative beyond, secularized to the extreme in which man has no reason to feel exiled or unhappy, is not gratuitous: it constitutes a true measure of this civilization' (1256). Or, to quote Waugh from a journalistic version of his visit to Forest Lawn, 'Dr. Eaton [Chairman of Forest Lawn] has set up his Credo at the entrance. "I believe in a happy Eternal Life" he says.. . . "Happy because Forest Lawn has eradicated the old customs of Death and depicts Life not Death"' (Waugh 1984: 335-6). A 'stuffed simulacrum of life' (Baudrillard 1993: 181), it would appear, is a true measure of America. Under the final heading of'Styles of civilization', Caillois treats the American vision of the hereafter as an 'export' product whose influence may be seen in the French and British cinemas. However, while in the case of the latter (in A Matter of Life and Death, dir. M. Powell and E. Pressburger, 1946), the beyond is a gigantic administration with impressive archives and control systems, there is a tendency for this version of the beyond to deviate from the American model since the deceased retains the trappings of class, dress, nation and history: 'the other world appears as an immense museum conserving and contrasting irreducible singularities' (126). Further, in this film there are elements of the fantastic (a 'vertiginous escalator on whose banisters statues of great men endlessly slide by' [127]); and, ultimately, for Caillois, this vision is 'neither familiar nor comforting' like the American one (127). It is full of anguish and tradition, which does not mix well with its 'borrowed' American elements. Despite this overall incoherence, it is the style of the civilization that is retained; the American vision of a bureaucratic beyond and more traditional 'naive illustrations of history manuals and legends'. This mixture is less original and more derivative than the American example. Caillois asks himself whether or not American images of the beyond constitute 'a sort of modern substitute for myths', which is itself a 'mythology in a nascent state' (128). Perhaps, he suggests, but it is too soon to tell - if they persist and develop, eventually supplanting oral tradition, Caillois thinks: 'In any case, if it succeeds, one needn't be surprised that the cinema possessed in our time the means for the privileged expression of the collective sensibility' (128). Cinema may become a kind of image bank in which the collectivity recognizes and accepts illustrated translations of its own 'tendencies and principal needs' (128), even if'few people take to the letter the stories and scenes' that make this possible. It is in his closing remarks that Caillois uses the conceptual sociological language of sacred and profane. There is nothing of the sacred 'properly


Economy and Society

speaking', he remarks, in the collective's recognition of the cinematic illustration of its own needs and tendencies. Such an illustration remains 'entirely profane' (129), as do its values. Caillois concludes: 'Such are the fundamental problems that modern civilizations pose, especially that of the United States of America' (129). To follow up this point in Durkheimian terms (Durkheim 1912: 215-16), perhaps American civilization will create new sacred things from hitherto profane things to which a collective respect, perhaps short-lived, will be accorded, such as the collective rapture of movie fans before their stars divinized amalgams of actors and characters? This is the direction in which Caillois's analysis sends us, but he has not provided a map of how we might reach such a destination. In French film criticism focused on America written in the 1950s, Edgar Morin (157: 106) developed this point in his analysis of The Stars in terms of his discovery of 'a new religion of love' and the possibility of an ethnography of'new primitives': 'Every village in France is dominated by a bell tower, but in the back rooms of cafes in these very villages, in the barns and garages of the common adoration, in the cities, wherever there is a white screen in a black room, a new religion has been established.'

Conclusion Anyone who has screened the films upon which Caillois relied in the first part of his presentation will have noticed that there are no funerals in them; that is, scenes relating to such rites are at best incidental. The passage across the socalled 'Great Divide' is not so great after all, and it is usually accomplished with the aid of a functionary of the hereafter. As we have learned, the difference between the worlds of the living and dead is not so great; sometimes it is difficult to know that one is dead. Indeed, even when he turned to Forest Lawn and the Californian mortuary cult, the activities in the funeral home are used by Caillois to further illustrate the thesis of continuity and accommodation, of bodies more beautiful and comfortable in life than in death (recall Mr Brink's suggestion in On Borrowed Time - 'That's better isn't it?'). If it turns out that the collective ritual of going to the movies is a new religion with the white screen as altar in darkened room of worship, the absence of a residual sense of the sacred in what is otherwise a scene of communification would require a substantive resacralization. This would also require a change in the needs of the American masses and a turnabout of the process of secularization. As it stands, Hollywood cinema becomes a vehicle for the reproduction and distribution of an 'original' American vision of the hereafter as entirely profane. If the experience of audiences gathered together in the dark, before the big screen, ready to be transported to another world, if only for the duration of the commercial spectacle, are to become festival-like (meekly evoked by the 'film festival'), so much would need to change in order to render the thought moot. Perhaps the cinematic experience is even further removed from the festival than the vacation. Does Caillois's turn to Hollywood cinema suggest that he believed films unite

Gary Genosko: The bureaucratic beyond


members of a society better than novels? Caillois's contempt for the individuating and anti-social elements of reading does not translate into straightforward praise for the cinema. He may have condemned the novel on sociological grounds circa 1940 (see Hollier 1979: xii; Hollier 1997: lOff), but his ambivalence towards this view grew steadily as he eventually penned his own historical fiction. Indeed, Caillois is not at all convinced that filmgoers would recognize his interpretation of popular cinematic works that supposedly spoke to the 'collective' needs of Americans. He seems more certain that he has not uncovered exceptions resulting in individualized diversions. Penultimately, one of questions that Hollier's (1997) approach to the relationship between French literature and the threat of war does help us address is the post-war fallout: what was the effect of the threat of peace as Cold War on French literature? What was Paris like in the immediate post-war year towards the early 1950s whose air Caillois breathed as he returned from his wartime exile abroad in Argentina? Caillois had left France in the summer of 1939 and spent the war in Buenos Aires. In July 1945 he began the journey back to Paris via New York and London. In 1946 he visited the US in a public relations role for French culture (a few years later he would join UNESCO). Peace was one thing, but colonization by American consumer culture was quite another. Coca-Cola culture - which French wags ironically dubbed cocacolonialization - had established itself in France. Ads for goods 'made in the US' were commonplace as France was on its way to becoming a consumer culture. American films were screened widely, but French television held out, due largely to its technical specifications. Between the ads for performances in the dailies by Piaf and Montand, announcements for stagings of plays by Sartre (who spent the war years spinning out screenplays for Pathe; see Connor (2001)) and commentaries on existentialist posing, were the worlds evoked by Jockey underwear, whose briefs were modelled, no less, on French swimsuits of the 1930s, and the American after shave Aqua Velva, Colgate-Palmolive toothpastes and soaps, etc. In this environment the critical essay blossomed as it found fertile ground upon which to exercise its intelligence. American bombardments of consumer goods made peace an ideal ground for the kind of cultural critique that blossomed in France in the 1950s. Caillois's essay may be counted among early examples of the little essays of French cultural criticism responding to the new conditions ushered in by the consumerism of post-war Europe under American economic tutelage. Ultimately, though, Caillois's little essay was written in the context of the cultural fall-out of the Leon Blum-James Byrnes accord that brought American films into France in unprecedented numbers in the post-war years from 1946 to 1953. Writing on this period, Patricia Hubert-Lacombe (1986: 301) quotes the famous words of Louis Jouvet: 'Habituated to the wines of Bourgogne and Bordeaux, our stomachs would have to get used to Coca-Cola.' Cinema in France during this period was dominated by American films, yet French audiences could never quite stomach many of them, especially genres such as westerns and comedies (with the exception of Chaplin). French audiences became accustomed


Economy and Society

to American films, but mostly due to lack of choice. As Hubert-Lacombe wrote, 'even if they always had a weakness for their own wines, French stomachs became very used to Coca-Cola' (1986: 313). Bataille's reflections on the historical events of the post-war years focused on the Marshall Pan as a non-isolatable gift (Richman 1990: 154) embedded in a cycle of reciprocal exchange that was variously a 'negation' of capitalism or 'exterior' to it. Bataille (1991[1976]: 183) notes, however, that, even though the opening and stimulation of the French market by American aid and surplus may have been in the interest of the world, 'it is possible t h a t . . . it will be warped in the direction of the American interest.' One of the best examples of overt American imperialist cultural policy was the Blum-Byrnes accord on the cinema. In some cases this accord, albeit incorrectly, has even eclipsed the Marshall Plan in the French memory, especially in film history (Portes 1986: 315). Jacques Portes has argued that French negotiators were able to win quotas (albeit small ones) for French films and thus prevented uncontrolled American cinematic hegemony. But the ideological furore unleashed by the accord, especially through the alliance between members of the French film industry and the Communist Party who rallied against it, cobbled together all the threads of anti-Americanism available at the time, which constituted an impressive resource base. Portes asks: 'Was the Marshall Plan presented as the final rampart permitting the continuous arrival and guarantee of "third-rate" American films on French screens?' (1986: 327). With few exceptions, the answer was yes. Caillois's essay does not need to appeal to such Cold War sentiments. By simply aligning American 'originality' with the negation of the sacred dimension of the afterlife, Caillois made available a certain kind of evidence of the power of cinema to replace oral tradition in collective life and translate tendencies and needs. Although he hedged his bets on the question of the influence of his reading of a highly specific collection of largely B-movies, the export of this 'mythology' to France, even if it did not supplant European folkloric representations of the afterlife in popular imagery, suggests that this invasion of a mythology of the end of the sacred posed a fundamental challenge of the first order to the goals of an 'activist sociology' in a protracted struggle against the forces of uniformity. Caillois later reflected on what animated his book L'homme et le sacre: 'the need to restore an active sacred to society, a sacred that is indisputable, imperious, devouring, that has a taste for cold, correct, scientific interpretation of what we then called, without doubt naively, the profound forces of collective existence' (1963: 3-4 and Hollier 1979: 387-8). As Hollier has argued, this conception of an 'activist sociology' worked in opposition to 'ambient uniformity' (1997: 41ff). And, if America was isolated as a purveyor, through its cultural productions of Hollywood, of a mythology that demonstrated the negation of the sacred in a bureaucratic vision of the afterlife, then an activist sociology would have no choice but to condemn it but not, it seems, on the grounds of nationalism and the protection of French film.

Gary Genosko: The bureaucratic beyond


Karen E. Fields, New York: The Free Bataille, Georges (1991 [1976]) The Accursed Share, Vol. 1, trans. Robert Press. Hurley, New York: Zone. Hollier, Denis (ed.) (1979) The College of Baudrillard, Jean (1993) Symbolic Sociology, trans. Betsy Wing, Minneapolis: Exchange and Death, trans. Ian Hamilton University of Minnesota Press, 1988. Grant, London: Sage. (1997) Absent without Leave: French Beaty, Frederick L. (1992) The Ironic Literature under the Threat of War, trans. World of Evelyn Waugh,DtKz\h: Catherine Porter, Cambridge, MA: Northern Illinois University Press. Harvard University Press. Caillois, Roger (1939) L'homme et le Hubert-Lacombe, Patricia (1986) sacre, Paris: Gallimard, 1950. 'L'accueil des films Americains en France pendant La Guerre Froide (1946-1953)', (1951) 'La representation de la mort Revue d'histoire moderne et contemporaine dans le cinema americain', in Quatre Essais de Sociologie Contemporaine, Paris: 33(1): 301-13. Olivier Perrin. Morin, Edgar (1957) The Stars, New (1958) Man, Play, and Games, trans. York: Grove Press, 1961. Portes, Jacques (1986) 'Les origines de Meyer Barash, New York: The Free la legende noire des accords Blum-Byrnes Press, 1961. sur le cinema'. Revue d'histoire moderne et (1963) 'Preface a la troisieme contemporaine 33(April): 314-29. edition', in L'homme et la sacre, Paris: Ricbman, Michele (1990) 'Bataille Gallimard. moralist? Critique and the post-war (1964) 'La representation de la mort writings,' Yale French Studies 78: 143-68. dans le cinema americain', in Instincts et societe: Essais de sociologie contemporaine,Waugh, Evelyn (1948) The Loved One: An Anglo-American Tragedy, Bristol: Paris: Editions Gonthier, 1964, Chapman & Hall, 1965. pp. 115-29. (1984) 'Half in love with easeful (1988[1939]) 'Festival', in Hollier death: an examination of Californian (1988), pp. 279-303. burial customs', in The Essays, Articles and Connor, J. D. (2001) 'Sartre and cinema: Reviews of Evelyn Waugh, ed. Donat the grammar of commitment', MLN 116: Gallagher, Boston: Little, Brown, 1045-68. pp. 331-7. Davis, Robert Murray (1981) Evelyn Weber, Max (1958) The Protestant Ethic Waugh, Writer, Norman, OK: Pilgrim and the Spirit of Capitalism, trans. Talcott Books. Parsons, New York: Charles Scribner's Durkheim, Emile (1912) The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, trans. Sons.