Friday, July 03, 2009


-- The French critic Jean-André Fieschi has died. He is best-known to English-language readers through his brilliant essays, in Richard Roud's 2-volume Cinema: A Critical Dictionary, on Hitchcock, Buñuel, Murnau, Tati, Rivette, Vertov, and others.

-- There's a new issue of Cinema Scope.

-- Let me collect here links to the writings of the thought-provoking blogger Ignatiy Vishnevetsky: his site, Sounds, Images; at The Auteurs, including his column "What is the 21st Century?"; and at Tisch Film Review.

-- Also at Tisch Film Review: interviews with J. Hoberman; Ivone Marguiles; and A.S. Hamrah.

-- At the Monash University site: an Adrian Martin podcast titled "Last Day Every Day: Figural Thinking in Auerbach, Kracauer, Benjamin and Some Others". Via Catherine Grant, here are links to a collection of podcasts by several other scholars including Lesley Stern, Andrew Benjamin and Graeme Gilloch.

-- A link to all five of Ryland Walker Knight's posts which collect an eclectic array of quotations.

-- Dave Kehr on Alain Resnais' Last Year at Marienbad: "For Mr. Resnais, a fan of comic books and genre fiction, the hotel in “Marienbad” belongs to a long line of Dark Old Houses, the archetypical setting for a certain kind of comic thriller that dates back at least to silent films like Roland West’s 1926 “Bat” and Paul Leni’s 1927 “Cat and the Canary” (and to the Broadway plays that inspired them)."

-- The Claude Chabrol Blogathon at Flickhead.

-- Dan Sallitt on Stephen Frears.

-- Kevin Lee interviews scholar Chris Berry on Chinese cinema.

-- Steven Shaviro has a post on Michael Jackson: "Greil Marcus, as the quintessential white hipster, can only see cultural innovation and subversion when it it is performed by white people. Marcus celebrates the ways in which “the pop explosions of Elvis, the Beatles and the Sex Pistols had assaulted or subverted social values,” but denounces Michael Jackson’s pop explosion as “a version of the official social reality, generated from Washington D.C. as ideology, and from Madison Avenue as language … a glamorization of the new American fact that if you weren’t on top, you didn’t exist.” For Marcus, black people are evidently at best primitive, unconscious creators whose inventions can only take on meaning and become subversive when white people endow them with the critical self-consciousness that Marcus seems to think black people altogether lack. And at worst, black artists and performers are, for Marcus, puppets of the Pentagon and Madison Avenue, reinforcers of the very status quo that countercultural whites were struggling so hard to overthrow."

-- The online magazine Cinefils features English-subtitled interviews with international filmmakers.

-- Ted Gioia on how the jazz world has viewed Michael Jackson over the years.

-- Joe Hughes reviews Paola Marratti's Gilles Deleuze: Cinema and Philosophy.

pic: Chabrol in his jammies, courtesy Kevin Lee.


Anonymous Mickie said...

From the A.S. Hamrah interview:

I can’t think of one book or article by any American or English academic film writer of the last 25 years that I’ve read and would re-read today.

Does anyone find this statement wrong?

July 03, 2009 6:10 PM  
Anonymous Adrian said...

"Does anyone find this statement wrong?"

Sign me up, Mickie!

I admire Hamrah's work, but do not agree with this particular 'anti-academy' posturing.

July 03, 2009 10:01 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Yes, I agree: an outrageous statement!

I also admire Hamrah's writing--even if/when I'm disagreeing with it. His Manny Farber tribute at Undercurrent is an interesting one.

July 03, 2009 11:06 PM  
Blogger Ignatiy Vishnevetsky said...


Thank you for the links and kind words.

If I may be so bold, I'd like to recommend a link myself: Truth 24 Frames per Second, the blog of Daniel Gorman, who I've very happy to say is now contributing to Tisch Film Review (he has a great piece on 24 City up right now). Everyone who reads this blog should certainly check it out.

July 03, 2009 11:11 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Thanks, Ignatiy! I didn't know of Gorman's blog, and I'm looking forward to following it. I just RSS-subscribed to it.

July 03, 2009 11:21 PM  
Blogger Ignatiy Vishnevetsky said...


It's a great little secret. He doesn't post too often and he's a no-bullshit sort of blogger -- nothing but black text on a white background, like an early newspaper. But what writing! For great reads, I'd recommend his 2008 overview or his piece on the Oshima retrospective.

July 03, 2009 11:26 PM  
Blogger Ryland Walker Knight said...

Thanks, Girish, for the nod. Always a pleasure to be included, always a pleasure to be a part of this conversation. (And thanks to you all who may happen to click the link and think through those things I arrange.)

July 04, 2009 3:32 AM  
Anonymous THE OTHER ADRIAN said...

One has to read CINEMA SCOPE's Mark Peranson's article, CANNES 09: Stupid, Adjective. I am greatly propelled and totally entertained by his statement: '2009 was, far and away, the stupidest Cannes ever.'

July 04, 2009 4:46 AM  
Blogger HarryTuttle said...

re: Hamrah's interview. Just saying.

July 05, 2009 3:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've just read the Hamrah interview Girish linked to and would like to point out that the precise comment, I'll quote it once again here for the record, is

"I can’t think of one book or article by any American or English academic film writer of the last 25years that I’ve read and would re-read today."

Maybe it's a subtle distinction that even the author didn't intend, but he didn't say "I can't think of a single book that was any good," he said "a single book I would re-read."

Isn't the comment more about the quality of the writing and the pleasure of reading than anything else? And on that score, I think his remark has to be taken a little more seriously than the knee-jerk rejections above which accuse Hamrah of a knee-jerk rejection of academia.

Certainly there is enough elsewhere in the interview to suggest the guy has some stimulating ideas and has thought about the situation quite a bit.

July 05, 2009 12:49 PM  
Blogger Maya said...

I love that photo of Chabrol. He looks just goofy enough to be fun. So much to chew on here, Girish, and certainly welcome what with my jonesing without the IFC Daily ("I felt a disturbance in the force").

Am especially grateful to you, Ignatiy for pointing out Gorman's write-up on the Oshima retrospective, which I'm still experiencing at the Pacific Film Archive, continuing this week with Violence at Noon, The Man Who Left His Will On Film and Dear Summer Sister.

Peranson's editorial on how stupid Cannes was this year was both cranky and clever. Having just secured my press credentials for TIFF, I'm still excited about which films from the Cannes line-up will show up there.

July 06, 2009 2:28 AM  
Anonymous IA said...

Shaviro's comments strike me as not only plain wrong, but also as pretty vile mudslinging, what with the accusations of racism and so forth. Anyone who's read Marcus's chapter on Sly and the Family Stone in Mystery Train can see that Marcus understood quite well how cultural innovation and subversion were produced by black artists, and sophisticated, self-conscious ones at that.

Shaviro's attack is dressed-up fanboyism, prompted by Marcus's assertion that Jackson was a creature of the 80s promotional complex. It's true that earlier pop icons were helped by marketing. But instead of asking how the Jackson was built up by a far more wide-ranging and oppressive culture of hype and marketing, Shaviro gushes on and on about an artist whose contribution to overthrowing the status quo consisted of getting more videos by black artists played by a network that in a few years would hardly be playing music videos.

K+Punk has an excellent post that addresses what Shaviro chooses to overlook, at

July 06, 2009 1:02 PM  
Blogger girish said...

IA, thanks for the K-Punk link.
Maya, yes, I badly miss David Hudson! I can't wait for him to return. Meanwhile, here's a post by him at Artforum on a film series in Berlin. Also: Dennis Lim on the Flaherty Film Seminar.

July 07, 2009 12:31 PM  
Blogger miro said...

what an amazing blog, made my day!
good to see such literate and well researched articles.
adding you in my blog list.

P.S. excuse me for interupting in your discussion. I could've contributed but I don't know who is this Hamrah. :p

July 08, 2009 8:53 AM  
Anonymous Adrian said...

Anon, I've read the whole Hamrah interview and yes, of course, there are many other, better things in it (and elsehwere in his work). But even when you transcribe that whole quote, it still stinks. And it is academic writing he targets, no matter how you slice it. None in 25 years that is worth re-reading - do you truly find this is a defensible pose? Not (I am listing only Ango-American writers) Perez, Naremore, Gunning, Mulvey (we are talking post '84, remember!), Dimendberg, Wollen, Stern, etc, etc ?

My knee remains jerked !

July 09, 2009 5:08 AM  
Anonymous Adrian said...

BTW, Anon, you didn't mention another perfectly literal interpretation of Hamrah's statement: that he hasn't read much Ango-US academic film writing of the past 25 years !! But (seriously) the only reason anyone would say such a thing is to 'strike a pose', make a provocation. In this case, the provocation was ill-judged ! It's like saying: 'no good films were made in the 1980s', that sort of rhetorical stuff.

July 09, 2009 5:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, sure it was a provocaton, and either an exaggeration or evidence of a serious fault on the part of the person who said it. But it was said - not written - in the course of an interview which sets out to challenge our ideas. A little hyperbole is not out of line. (What, we can no longer say out loud "but there were no good films made in the 80s" when making a point?) But let's look at the point being made: of all the university press books about film rolling off the presses these days, how many do you pick up a few years later and re-read for pleasure?

July 09, 2009 8:11 AM  
Anonymous Adrian said...

Quite a few! I have a sense you are freighting this phrase "reading for pleasure" with a meaning you are not quite spelling out, but I think I get it - and absolutely, all those I listed above I re-read 'for pleasure' (of all kinds). And if we are talking Uni Press books not by full-time academics, then the pool widens: Rosenbaum, Fujiwara, etc. And then the books translated into English or by expatirates from elsewhere: Iampolski, Tsivian, Brenez, etc ... it goes on and on. In fact, I would (personally) say that I re-read more film books than I do contemporary novels or poetry collections that come my way!

July 09, 2009 10:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Then you're in a distinct minority. Most of the books you cite sell about 500 copies, 90% or more of which are sold to university libraries, where if they are read it is by professors or, grudgingly, by students. The number of these copies are re-read for pleasure must be extremely small.

And just to clarify, it was a slip for me to say "university press books" because this now includes, thankfully, some non-academic titles such as those you mention (Rosenbaum et al.), the university presses having finally figured out there is no market for their regular product. What I meant was to refer back to the original hyperbolic complaint, books by professors.

Here, I note also in passing, some of the translated authors you mention who are now published sporadically by Anglo-American university presses are even further removed from the terms of this debate, because in many cases, such as the French by and large, these authors originally wrote for a non-academic or largely non-academic audience. There being no large university library market in France the way there is in the English speaking world, publishers have to pitch their books to real readers.

July 09, 2009 11:11 AM  
Anonymous Adrian said...

Anon, you seem to have decided this issue - of how many people read 'academic' books for pleasure - in advance of actually researching it! Your very loaded use of this word 'Professors' is betraying a beef on your part against some 'elitism' you (maybe) perceive in the University Press system of academic publishing. And, of course, I know the kind of thing you are (I think) decrying: books published just to 'grease the wheels' of the academic system; there are plenty of those, and always have been (in Europe as elsewhere, I assure you). But where does this '500 copies' figure come from, Anon? Even the smallest academic print runs go into a few thousand (usually, or once upon a time - because the digital age is changing this now). And I know plenty of non-university people who buy (or borrow) academic books to read (for pleasure!).

July 09, 2009 11:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

By the way, I'm not saying anything radical or new. David Bordwell last week on his blog repeated his call for a lot of academic writing to be published electronically because there is no market for it in book form.

In an interesting piece in the London Review of Books in January 2004 - unforntunately not available for free to non-subscribers on the paper's website! - John Sutherland laid out a devastating assessment of the economics and future of academic publishing. Without real readers, it's in a horrendous crisis. But then, if I remember correctly, he said for all the problems he had just described, for all their complexity and entrenchedness, a lot could be done to solve the problem if the average professor spent $500 per year on (academic) books. On the whole, they don't (I hope I don't get into trouble for such a seemingly hyperbolic generalization, but it's basically true). At today's prices, that's a book a month, or less. If they aren't buying their peers' books, who is? No one. And re-reading them for pleasure? You have to be kidding.

July 09, 2009 11:31 AM  
Anonymous Adrian said...

I think we're coming at this from very different angles or positions, Anon, and I am not sure we are getting anywhere with batting it back and forth like this. You seem convinced that, quite simply, 'no one' buys/borrows/reads/re-reads academically published books. For many such books, yes, I'm sure you are right. But I care about the real, special, important books - that could ONLY be published by a University Press. Let's take a specific case: Gilberto Perez's MATERIAL GHOST. A masterpiece: that's the consensus view on it, an amazing book that took at least three decades to write (and was worth it!). How many copies exist, how many did it sell? I don't know, maybe a few thousand, maybe less. But I meet people all over the world, passionate cinephiles (some working in universities, many not, some not in the professional cinema studies 'field' but in some other - like Our Man Girish!) who love this book, cherish it, have virtually memorised parts of it - however they came to buy/borrow/photocopy/steal it (these things can live on, in various forms, for years, you know). That's a reality I can't deny - in fact, a reality I rather like! But no non-academic publisher would ever have published this most 'literary' of critical achievements by Perez.

July 09, 2009 11:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is the Citizen Kane and Potemkin approach to film history. Film history shouldn't be taught as jumping from isolated masterpiece to isolated masterpiece, and neither should the value of academic publishing be judged by Perez' book. It is quite literally one in million, quantitatively and qualitatively. It rather disproves your argument more than proves it by virtue of its very exceptionality. What is needed is a writing and reading culture in which such a book would not be so astoundingly exceptional. Its very status you point to proves my point.

As for the rest, and fruitlessly batting this about, I admit I am playing devil's advocate here beyond even my own cranky beliefs on the topic and engaging in a little - horrors! - hyperbole. But I haven't heard you address some of the issues I've raised, those raised for example by Bordwell and Sutherland which I have just repeated, faithfully I hope.

For the record, a book by an associate or assistant professor published by a medium-sized U.S. academic press, on gender politics in Italian cinema of the 1980s for example (with an appropriately snappy title), is printed in a run of about 1000 copies if done the old fashioned way and sells about 500-700 before being shredded in what is now an astoundingly short time, sometimes only a year - look at the new film books on eBay, by Duke and other publishers, published last year and now sold off by jobbers. Yes, if done by digital rather than litho printing these books are now printed in lots of a couple of hundred to keep warehousing costs down and to avoid the risk of getting caught with lots of unsold copies of a real dog.

July 09, 2009 12:11 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Anon, a few points:

-- Yes, there are MANY books published by university presses that simply, as Adrian says, 'grease the wheels of the system'. The film studies scholarly discipline is not unique in this sense--this occurs in every single discipline. (I'm a chemical engineer, and I can tell you it's every bit as true in my discipline.) In this sense, it's no different from other fields of output--like all films made in the world in any given year, or all jazz records released in any given year--in that only a small minority of the work stands up to repeated revisits. It's not necessarily an indication of a 'crisis' in the field.

-- I have happily revisited books by Peter Wollen, James Naremore, Robert B. Ray, Gilberto Perez, Jonathan Rosenbaum, Tom Gunning, etc., because of the pleasure they bring me. This pleasure derives not just from the 'literary' quality of the writing (these are all, in each's own individual way, superb writers) but also from the way in which they treat ideas, bring erudition to bear, and mount and sustain arguments. ALL of these aspects of their work brings me pleasure.

-- Having a small number of readers--a small audience--should not necessarily be equated with doing less worthy work. By this criterion, avant-garde cinema is automatically much less worthy than narrative cinema; and we know this isn't true.

July 09, 2009 1:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Girish, there IS a very serious financial crisis in academic publishing. This was true well before the stock-market-type events of last year. Please try to have a look at John Sutherland's article. 22 Jan. 2004, it is extremely instructive and very sobering.

One aspect of the crisis is the age-old capitalist problem of overproduction and underconsumption. I know all kinds of 40-year-old professors with three published books, and/or who are working on three books simultaneously right now. This was unheard of 20 years ago. I'm not saying anything about their knowledge or they value of their books, just that there are simply more books than there are readers for them. In fact with the continued growth in higher education and the demographics of the situation, it's almost a pyramid scheme.

But to turn for a moment to the sensitive issue of, if not the quality of these books, shall we say their market niche. You point out that having a smaller audience for a book or film or what have you is not a surefire sign of its quality. Granted. But the academic book industry is like communist economics, completely artificial. When your entire market is university libraries, when professors freely confess, as they have to me, that they can't keep up even with publications in their own specialization, when so few members of the public are interested in your product - and this is not like chemical engineering or even studies of Jane Austen, these are, when it comes down to it, books about what the public calls MOVIES, one of the largest industries on the planet - then these may be signs that there is a problem.

Finally, for the half-dozen people you name whose work is known to most people in film studies (but virtually unknown outside it, and there's another irony, literature and social theorists like Terry Eagleton and Fredric Jameson are better known across disciplines and amongst an educated public than any film theorist or historian) there are thousands of others whose work is just not read. That's not quite the same as jazz music or movies, contrary to what you say. Few feature movies are made that don't find an audience, or in any event few directors without a following can keep on making movies. And, about jazz, if you're Wynton Marsalis you're all set, but even if you're the local pick-up band, you play weddings or local bars and even cut a CD and sell it at your gigs. If you had no gigs at all I suspect you would give it up after a while. Where is the analogy with an entire publishing industry with, for all intents and purposes, no market?

July 09, 2009 5:55 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Anon, I don't know the Sutherland article. Thanks for the citation--I'm curious to read it!

July 09, 2009 5:57 PM  
Blogger Ignatiy Vishnevetsky said...

I think the Hamrah quote is partly wrong, but it's the right thing to say.

Whether Hamrah knew it would or not, it provokes responses from people who read it. It's, for instance, provoked Adrian and Girish to come to the defense of Anglophone academic writing and provoked the readers of this blog to think about what entails academic writing and what their own relationship to it is. So I support the statement and what it does.

July 09, 2009 10:56 PM  
Blogger girish said...


-- You write: "...there are thousands of others whose work is just not read. That's not quite the same as jazz music or movies, contrary to what you say."

You're pulling my words out of context. I was making an altogether different point--about QUALITY--that only a small minority of movies or jazz records made each year will be rich enough to stand up to and reward repeated revisits. I stand behind this point.

-- Just because folks like Wollen, Naremore, and Gunning don't have as broad name recognition as Eagleton or Jameson does not prove that their work isn't, in its own way, as worthy or good. Think of the name recognition that film directors like Truffaut, Fellini and Bergman had in the 60s. Today's best filmmakers--like Hou, Denis or Kiarostami--don't have that kind of recognition but that doesn't make them artistically lesser filmmakers.

-- To end with this personal observation: I don't get a chance to look at the vast majority of scholarly film books put out each year. But the ones I DO get to read bring me new and interesting insights and knowledge, fresh ways of looking at cinema--and the world. I find this valuable and am thankful that these books exist.

What I'm against is a knee-jerk reflexive reaction that leads to a close-mindedness about engaging with the work of scholars. What I can't get on-board with is a skepticism about the VERY PROJECT of scholarly work on film in academia. This, to me, is close-minded!

I think we should all read, watch, and experience WIDELY and take what we can learn and use--whether it's from journalism or academia or anywhere else.

July 10, 2009 6:09 AM  
Blogger HarryTuttle said...

Anonymous: "in many cases, such as the French by and large, these authors originally wrote for a non-academic or largely non-academic audience. There being no large university library market in France the way there is in the English speaking world, publishers have to pitch their books to real readers."

Obviously there isn't as many in France than in the USA with a demographic 5 times larger (not to mention UK+Canada+Australia)! But all proportionality considered the (self-centred) university press in France is overproducing too like everywhere else...

Adrian and Girish already noted this debate is wrong-headed, the fact that scholar books are not read enough or not sold to the general public is a concern for people who try to make this industry (university press) a profitable business. The problem of paper publishers is hardly limited to film studies. And the tiny market of serious film writing shouldn't be put into question with mercantile/populist considerations... No entertaining style and vulgarisation will make intellectual books sell as much as J.K. Rowling.
The intrinsic quality of insights of such publications is however the only issue worth debating by the community of cinephiles.
Frodon says there are TOO MANY films produced, and now you say there are TOO MANY books written... how dare you suggest to cap the production of cultural goods???

If there are not enough readers, you can't always blame writers for failing to appeal to an anti-intellectual population! Developing film education amongst the wider public doesn't mean lowering standards, and making reading more "pleasurable", shorter, and with more pictures...

Please criticize the value of writing on one hand, and the interest of readers on the other hand, on their own terms, not against each others.

July 10, 2009 6:41 AM  
Blogger girish said...

"you say there are TOO MANY books written... how dare you suggest to cap the production of cultural goods???"

Ha! Harry's passionate cri de coeur makes me chuckle (in agreement)!

July 10, 2009 7:17 AM  
Blogger ZC said...

Well ... is our debate changed if we introduce, and include, in our topic non-academic film books and writing? Or if we place them side by side, and judge? Whatever the value of academic film studies' textual output may be, I can't say that other presses have fared better over the past few decades, or even as well, in terms of putting out quality texts on cinema. A.S. Hamrah's hyperbolic (we're all agreed it's such, not agreed on whether it's rhetorically justified) dismissal of academic film writing does come within the context of dismissing almost everything out there, saying it's not up to snuff ... including David Bordwell, who is often a hero to those who would otherwise attack "academic" film writing!

July 10, 2009 10:50 AM  
Anonymous Mickie said...

Ignatiy Vishnevetsky says:

Whether Hamrah knew it would or not, it provokes responses from people who read it. It's, for instance, provoked Adrian and Girish to come to the defense of Anglophone academic writing and provoked the readers of this blog to think about what entails academic writing and what their own relationship to it is. So I support the statement and what it does.

That's almost a defense of trolling. Oh well. I'm learning a lot here anyways. Thanks for the provocation Hamrah.

July 10, 2009 5:43 PM  
Blogger Ignatiy Vishnevetsky said...

That's almost a defense of trolling.

I've had to suffer more than my share of trolls (especially in the last few months!), but I'll say that I'll defend trolling if it comes down to it. The trolls you can't ignore are the ones that have a point. Nothing wrong with informed disruption.

July 10, 2009 10:07 PM  
Anonymous adrian said...

... and if you're going to remain anonymous, Anonymous, try not to be condescending as well. I didn't really need a lecture from you on "the Citizen Kane and Potemkin approach to film history", and the kinds of history we 'should' and 'should not' do.

July 11, 2009 6:22 AM  
Anonymous Corey Creekmur said...

I'm coming in late to this discussion, and grateful for comments that already express my views. I choose to willfully (mis)read Hamrah's statement as a surprisingly honest admission of his own limitations: "I can't think of ..." announces his own inability to come up with names and titles many of us could provide! But I'm writing from the heart of the beast -- the U.S. academy -- so my views will be easily discounted by those who denounce all academic writing, despite what seems to me a demonstrable range in such work. I'll just say that I re-read many "American and English academic film writers of the last 25 years" for both professional and personal reasons, and often with great pleasure. Let me provide just a few names not yet mentioned: Richard Dyer, Linda Williams, Judith Mayne, Ravi Vasudevan, Rick Altman, Jane Gaines, Tom Gunning, Miriam Hansen, Peter Stanfield, Ed Buscombe ... and to be fair to the original (unfair)l quote I'm leaving out French, Italian, and others whose work does not originate in English ...

July 11, 2009 9:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not discounted, Corey, but you have to admit that an admission by an academic that he reads other academics' work with pleasure is of somewhat limited relevance to the wider implications raised here of Mr. Hamrah's suggestion that non-academics like himself (i.e. non-university professors) don't do the same.

I wonder if you have any comments, on the other hand, on some of the other issues that have been raised here, and so eagerly misconstrued by some: What might account for the reported reluctance of many professors to spend their own money on their colleagues' work? Is the present pace of academic publishing sustainable? (In terms of everything from topics to write on to library acquiaition budgets to finding a publisher to reading all the work in one's field.) Is any of this reading pleasurable for an educated non-academic? If not, why not? How are the answers to any of these questions different from the general situation in humanities publishing 10, 25, 50 years ago?

But it's interesting to note - these remarks aren't addressed to Corey - that many people, including quite a few in the academy, are not aware of the current crisis in academic publishing (rising production costs, shrinking markets, technological challenges, increased competition, market fragmentation, etc. etc.). Until people are aware of that, how can we have a reasoned debate on the topic?

July 11, 2009 2:37 PM  
Blogger Jonathan Rosenbaum said...

I'm perfectly aware of the academic publishing crisis, being in the midst of signing another contract with an academic press, and I also qualify, I think, as an educated non-academic who takes lots of pleasure in the published prose of some (if not many) academic writers. I've also taken the trouble of reading the John Sutherland piece in the London Review of Books cited by Anonymous (who seems curiously reluctant to broach his or her academic credentials or lack of same, unless I've overlooked something), and even the partially dissenting response in the LRB of Alan Thomas at University of Chicago Press, who deems the article "accurate in broad outline but less so in many specifics," which he then spells out.

I've written before about the profound lack of curiosity of many (perhaps most) academics that I've known in all disciplines, which is certainly nothing new, so their lack of interest in spending money on reading the work of other boring academics is hardly surprising and, for me, not at all indicative of the present crisis in publishing (which is obviously not just academic publishing, and not even just book publishing).

The growth of online publishing clearly points towards some possible solutions to this problem (which I see as a paradigmatic change in reading and the delivery of printed material per se that shouldn't be seen in isolation from other changes), including Bordwell's welcome suggestion.

July 11, 2009 3:46 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Anonymous--I respectfully ask you to have the personal courage to sign your comments with your real name.

July 11, 2009 3:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Girish, I respectfully decline. My colleagues would run me out of the faculty - not for what I'm saying, but in a fit of squawking and wailing far removed from the issues, similar to what we have seen some commentators engage in here. Given the widely-held objection to my anonymity by your readers, I will, with your permission, withdraw, with apologies to all. In particular to the deeply aggrieved Adrian, who mistook my strong criticism for condecension, to the point of forgetting to reply to my (quite respectful and worth engaging I think) remarks.

July 11, 2009 4:14 PM  
Blogger girish said...

I also want add: Anonymous, I suspect from your comments that your definition of 'pleasure' is narrower than my own, but I have to say that I'm all for more academics writing for educated non-academics!

July 11, 2009 4:18 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Ah, Anon., I just saw your comment: fair enough! But let me say this: I did pick up on a slight condescending tone--perhaps it was a result of the provocation you readily admitted early in this thread. And Internet communication most definitely has a way of magnifying such things. So, while I would certainly have preferred that you use your real name, I certainly will not prohibit you from sharing your thoughts here if you don't! Please continue your commenting if you feel like.

July 11, 2009 4:31 PM  
Blogger J.R. LaRiviere said...

As a current grad student in film studies I look with a bemused indifference towards Hamrah's comments vis-a-vis academic film writing. His stance reminds me of some of my lesser colleagues who are in pursuing garduate degrees in film studies with the Quixotic belief that they are going to be practicing film critics after they get their MAs. Their inferiority becomes clearer to me by the day. Those that can't hack it as professional film scholars denigrate academic film writing by dismissing it in total; this seems to me to be the situation with Mr. Hamrah. To my mind, film criticism and film scholarship are completely different things and rarely the two shall meet. The esteemed Mr. Rosenbaum may be the rare exception. The snarky trolling of the critic for an irrelevant publication like n+1 need not discourage us young film scholars for pursuing challenging new theories and histories. That the masses won't understand us should be a counted as a virtue. We should look to the exemplary work of people like Jonathan Beller, whose THE CINEMATIC MODE OF PRODUCTION is the most important work on the cinema since Deleuze.

July 11, 2009 4:47 PM  
Blogger Ignatiy Vishnevetsky said...

The snarky trolling of the critic for an irrelevant publication like n+1 need not discourage us young film scholars for pursuing challenging new theories and histories.

I'm not sure what Hamrah said is meant to discourage. When someone states that, say, "there are no good writers any more," it's an invitation for whoever reads or hears the statement to fill the void the speaker / writer perceives. It's very different from someone writing "We'll never have a writer as great as _______ again," a statement that is for some reason much more acceptable but more defeatist.

July 11, 2009 5:27 PM  
Anonymous Adrian said...

On the 'crisis in publishing', one alarming phenomenon can be noted: book retailers are going bust at a rapid rate around the world, and this is having particularly disastrous consequences for 'small press' publishing, which depends on that direct income for cash-flow and basic survival. One very important film-book press (I won't/can't say which) is facing this problem in a dire way at the moment, and is speaking of maybe not existing past August because of it ... this is an economic problem, but not quite the 'culture of reading/culture of academia' problem Anon is raising.

July 11, 2009 8:15 PM  
Anonymous Adrian said...

I'm not laying this one on our beloved Anonymous, but the fascinating comment by J.R. LaRiviere (I wish I had your name, friend!) reminds me of how flabbergasted I get by a certain kind of self-styled populist academic-bashing - "Those that can't hack it as professional film scholars denigrate academic film writing by dismissing it in total", as JRLaR well puts it. Whatever the reason, such academic bashing starts early in life and persists for many people. It always comes with a denigration of imputed personal motives, like in this random quote from a recent piece by (I know I'm going to get a bucketfull for this, but ...) Erich Kuersten in BRIGHT LIGHTS, in a review of Genevieve Sellier's fascinating book on gender in the French New Wave:

"Sellier spends the bulk of the rest of the book trolling through "the canon" to point out bits of oppression and misogyny as if passive-aggressively following the instructions of her thesis advisor rather than engaging in a topic she truly loves and wants to share. One wants to ask why. Why drag us down, other than to get published for tenure purposes?"

(Don't you love, by the way, the assumption here that Sellier is writing her compliant PhD, rather than, as in actuality, having been a teacher, scholar and writer already for many years?)

But a far more egregious example is provided by Clive James in his recent popular tome on 20th Centrury intellectuals, where he says of Walter Benjamin, basically (and repeatedly), that he 'had his eye on the cozy Professorial Chair with every word he wrote' - this about a guy who struggled to make ends meet and could scarcely get any kind of university job all his life !!

It's all a very irrational form of anti-intellectualism. Drives me nuts, like no doubt several people here I have come up against it all my life ...

July 11, 2009 11:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Against my better instincts and contrary to all my promises to stay away I am back for one more, we all hope final, kick at the can. This time the can's name is J.R. "The River". It's amazing, the slightest hint of (unintended) condecension gets this author an earful, and yet this dweeb can cram the following breathtakingly arrogant and condecending (even more so for the obvious nobody status of its author) and quite intentionally so remarks into one eight-sentence blog comment - and where are the indignant polite police on this blog? Not even silent, they praise the man. Here we go for the recap that has offended no one but me:

- "bemused indifference" - at a commentator, Mr Hamrah, everyone else has agreed has stimulating ideas (but apparently no Ph.D., so he must not count)
- "lesser colleagues"; "inferiority" - yes, that's right, he's describing his own classmates in grad school. I'd hate to see what he thinks of the general public who aren't privileged enough to attend grad school
- "those that can't hack it" - his grad school chums again, only this time he thinks he's Patton in the war is hell academic trenches
- "snarky trolling" - I don't know much about blog lingo, but my understanding of a troll is someone who disrupts a blog with unwelcome and generally rude remarks. Is it really necessary to point out that Mr Hamrah made his comments far from here, in an interview in which he was asked his views and calmly stated them? That's trolling? Someone pleas enelighten me
- "that the masses won't understand us should be counted as a virtue"- I guess we now know what he thinks of the general public. No wonder academics are generally despised as insignificant toffs. Many of them are, and are proud to flaunt teh fact
- and to cap it off, he lauds Gilles Deleuze of all people, French theory's lame never-will-be, as one of the most penetrating film theorists ever.

Eight lines dripping with adolescent scorn for the unwashed masses and, by the sounds of it, anyone at grad school whose name isn't J.R. The River. If this is the future of higher education and these are the people in it today, give me a bricklayer any day.

July 11, 2009 11:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I forgot "irrelevant publication", n+1. So easy to dismiss, so har do say anything interesting.

July 11, 2009 11:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I forgot "irrelevant publication" (n+1). So easy to dismiss; so hard to do anything worthwhile yourself.

July 12, 2009 12:02 AM  
Blogger Ryland Walker Knight said...

The most apt thing i could think to share here after all this: there is no sign of land.

July 12, 2009 12:53 AM  
Anonymous caboose said...

Dear Girish,

A belated comment, if I may. Someone mentioned the importance of independent publishers and booksellers in all this. For those of you familiar with the city of Toronto, you will be sad to learn that Pages bookstore is closing next month on its 30th anniversary. Not due to financial failure; rather, it is more a victim of its own success.

After the proprietor Marc Glassman (a true cinephile and an old drinking buddy of mine way back in the day) helped found the city's fabled and now long-extinct "Queen Street West art scene" the gentrifiers and beautiful people moved in, driving up the cost of his lease at regular intervals. (He's being pretty low-key about it in press reports this week, but when this same situation arose once before years ago he told me a little more vehemently that he was getting screwed by the very same real estate developers he had unwittingly "pimped" for, drawing crowds into the neighbourhood and creating a hot real estate market.)

From $1,000 per month 30 years ago to nearly $20,000 per month today, with the landlord wanting close to $35,000 per month for the hub of what used to be the city's arts scene and is now completely jet set (both Paris and Perez Hilton can be spotted in the neighbourhood late at night...). No one can sell books and pay that kind of rent, so Marc is closing up shop. For out-of-towners planning to attend the annual Hollywood North Film Extravaganza (HNFE, similar in its deleterious health effects to H1N1 [a.k.a. TIFF]) in early September, it will apparently be too late to pay your last respects.

It's funny, the big chains drove all the smaller stores out of business - Pages is one of the last in Canada to fall - but they are even less inclined today than they were 15 years ago to sell books by smaller presses etc. They are more interested in high-margin knick-knacks. caboose's What is Cinema? is selling well in Canada, far better than any film book in the chain stores' inventory, but I know they would just laugh at me if I tried to get them to carry it. (A friend, a starving artist, recently wrote a book that was designed to make money for a change. At Christmas the big Canadian chain store told him they would take a laughable 100 copies for all their box stores country-wide, and their on-line sales operations as well. The book has sold 10,000 copies in North America, no thanks to them.)

Girish's site isn't accepting my long-winded comments. I'm going to try chopping them in two. Here goes, wish me luck...

July 13, 2009 9:30 PM  
Anonymous caboose said...

Part 2
A few weeks ago an editor at a major U.S. university press, a press with a very famous name, told me that they do hardly any business with the U.S. chain stores any more and that whatever individual sales they have is through Amazon (a whole other kettle of fish, far from shangri-la for publishers, but that's another story).

Critics and scholars writing only for their own small respective markets; bookstores and publishers going out of business; criminal chain store mafias restricting access to what is published; economic depression: it's all a very bleak book writing-publishing-selling-reading book landscape.

I understand that Pages is having a going-out-of-business sale, and Marc I know will not want for ways to spend his time - although some younger staff members are being thrown out of work at a very bad time unemployment-wise. Pages has a a dozen or so copies of caboose's What is Cinema? by Bazin; I don't know if they're on sale or not.

Perhaps, on that note, Girish, you and your readers would allow a little commercial break, now that most people's attention is turned to your newest post. Pages was a big part of distributing the caboose Bazin in Canada, both in-store and on-line. There is still one store in Toronto carrying it (and selling on-line to Canadian customers), Theatrebooks, which is having a not much easier time of it than Pages these days, and we urge you to patronise them (there are two stores here in Montreal selling it - "see the caboose web site for details").

However, with Pages (nearly) gone and given the extra burden on Canadian customers outside Toronto and Montreal buying the book through the mails (the postage for one book is about $15 on top of the $65 cover price and tax), caboose will soon be offering the book for sale directly to individuals in Canada via its web site. The price will be $50 plus $15 shipping plus tax, allowing people outside Toronto and Montreal to buy it for the same price as residents of those cities (and not unfairly taking business away from our retailers). Orders can be placed via our web site using Paypal just as soon as I get my web guy to make the change, by the end of the week I hope.

Finally, if I haven't exhausted everyone's patience and/or interest on this orphaned post of Girish's, I wonder if I could ask everybody's advice: is there any point, is it a good idea, would you participate, if caboose asked people familiar with our book to write to the University of California Press, which sells What is Cinema? worldwide, urging them to enter into a co-publication agreement with caboose to make the caboose translation available to all, given the lamentable quality of their product, the importance of the book in teaching film studies, and the availability of a viable alternative?

Thanks to all. Sorry for taking up so much time and space.

July 13, 2009 9:30 PM  

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