Monday, April 02, 2012

Some Thoughts on SCMS

A personal note about the blog: I’d like to try a new experiment. I’m giving myself a deadline to post regularly every 2 weeks — on every other Monday. No matter how much or how little material I’ve accumulated each time, I’d like to stick to this magazine-style posting schedule and put up what I have. We'll see how it goes!

I recently returned from an energizing four days at the SCMS (Society for Cinema and Media Studies) conference in Boston. The highlight of the trip was spending time in extended conversations with fellow cinephiles — friends both old and new such as Chris Keathley, Catherine Grant, Zach Campbell, Joe McElhaney, Victor Perkins, Nico Baumbach, Steve Shaviro, Dave Johnson, Michael Talbott, and Jenna Ng. (I thank them all for the long, fun conversations!) I participated in two panels: one on film criticism and cinephilia put together by Steve Rybin, and the other on the “video essay” spearheaded by Chris and Catherine.

I was struck by the sheer size of the conference: it was common for as many as twenty-five panels to be taking place at the same time. The cinema/media studies field has expanded promiscuously over the last couple of decades, and the topics for the panels included such areas as TV studies, gaming, radio studies, production histories, reception studies, technological histories, fan cultures and practices, historical research methodologies, early cinema, global media industries and infrastructures, digital media, and more.

This was my second trip to SCMS — the first was to New Orleans last year — and I am eager to return to the conference each year. The conversations and social aspect alone make the trip eminently worthwhile.

But I can’t get away from the fact that I have a slightly peculiar relation to SCMS. I’m not a research professional within the cinema/media studies field. Instead, I approach the conference as a cinephile who is passionate about two broad strands of activity: (1) Individual films themselves, their concrete details, their analysis and interpretation, their evaluation, extending then to filmmakers, performers, genres, etc., and (2) Theory, by which I mean film theory but also, more broadly, philosophical thinking that is on some level politically motivated (structuralism, Marxism, feminism, psychoanalysis, and so on, and the broad field one loosely labels post-structuralism). Thinking about cinephilia and film criticism is also, for me, part of this theoretical curiosity.

(1) and (2) are crucially related in that the former is primarily criticism and the latter is primarily a speculative, philosophical kind of activity we call theory: each feeds and responds to the other, and each activity sharpens and deepens the practice of the other. Doing either criticism or theory exclusively, without close and constant relation to the other, seems insufficient and unappealing to me.

Given the vast scope of the cinema/media studies field today, the majority of the panels weren’t directly related to my two primary areas of interest. But it was easy to find, in each time slot at the conference, at least two or three strongly interesting sessions.

The field has been through its share of upheavals since its establishment in the 1960s: auteurism, the “Screen theory” of the 1970s, the turn to history in the last couple of decades, and two developments that I personally find especially interesting: the emergence of cinephilia and film criticism as itself an object of close study in the last 10 years; and a “philosophical turn” which is surveyed by recent books like John Mullarkey’s Philosophy and the Moving Image: Reflections of Reality and Robert Sinnerbrink’s New Philosophies of Film: Thinking Images. The fact that this “film-philosophy” project has reached a certain critical threshold of interest is signaled by the fact that Sinnerbrink’s book aims to effect a sort of synthesis of two broad philosophical traditions — analytic and Continental — within film studies, and proposes a kind of pluralist film-philosophy that tries to draw together what is best and most useful from both traditions in order to do so.

I’m very curious to hear from those working in the field: Are there certain areas within cinema studies which are seeing an increase in interest? And in terms of the two broad areas of cinephilia/criticism and film-philosophy, are there certain directions that appear to hold particular promise? Any speculations or predictions about the future of the field? Or the future of SCMS? I’d love to hear them.

* * *

Links to recent reading:

-- Caboose has announced the release of Jean-Luc Godard's Introduction to a True History of Cinema and Television, translated by Timothy Barnard, and has made available a sample chapter for download.

-- Nicole Brenez in Sight & Sound on the revolutionary, activist film The Hour of the Furnaces: "Taking the Marxist concept of praxis seriously, The Hours of the Furnaces wages its battle not only on the Argentinian political front but also on the aesthetic and theoretical fronts [...] As Jean-Luc Godard once said about Solzhenitsyn: “We already knew all about what he wrote, but he was listened to because he had style.”"

-- At Film Quarterly, Jonathan Rosenbaum reconsiders A.I. Artificial Intelligence.

-- Cristina Álvarez López and Adrian Martin exchange letters in Spanish on the Rotterdam film festival at Cine Transit. Also: Adrian on Lynne Ramsay's We Need to Talk About Kevin. Via Adrian: an issue of the journal New Readings with the theme "Truth Claims in Fiction Film"; and "10 Photographers You Should Ignore" at Wired magazine.

-- In the new Senses of Cinema, two interesting pieces by Daniel Fairfax: an interview with Jean-Louis Comolli; and an essay on director Artavazd Pelechian. Also, an article by Comolli, "Ginette Lavigne’s La belle journée," which first appeared in Trafic, now translated into English by Fairfax.

-- A recent blog discovery: Steve Rybin's Cinephile Papers. Also, via David Hudson, the cinephile Tumblr site This Must Be The Place. Related: I notice that Steve has put out a call for essays for the book project "Cine-aesthetics: New Directions in Film and Philosophy."

-- After having followed her blog for almost 10 years, it was a treat to meet Amy Monaghan in person at SCMS.

-- Steven Shaviro's SCMS paper, "Post-Continuity," is now available at his blog.

-- Via Catherine Grant: A 7-minute video essay by Omar Ahmed on the representations of Naxalism in Indian cinema.

-- Trevor Link whets our appetite for Abel Ferrara's new film, 4:44 Last Day On Earth. At Fangoria: an interview with Ferrara.

-- Good news: friend, cinephile and filmmaker Dan Sallitt's latest, The Unspeakable Act, has been chosen to play the BAM Cinemafest in NYC.

-- Michael Sicinski on Derek Jarman's Wittgenstein at Fandor.

-- I've been checking in regularly on Nicholas Rombes' terrific "Blue Vevet Project": he posts 3 times a week, spurred each time by a frame from the film.

-- Owen Hatherley at The Guardian on "How Patrick Keiller is mapping the 21st-century landscape".

-- I've heard through the grapevine that a North American Werner Schroeter retrospective is in the offing. Does anyone have additional information to share? I'd love to know more.


Blogger girish said...

Luc Moullet on Antonioni, translated by Ted Fendt.

April 02, 2012 11:19 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Jerry Lewis dossier in the new La Furia Umana, with pieces by Zach Campbell, Steve Shaviro, Gina Telaroli, B. Kite, David Phelps, Peter Nellhaus, Murray Pomerance, and others.

April 02, 2012 11:23 AM  
Blogger Michael Guillen said...

Great to hear you had a good time, Girish, and look forward to seeing how the experience continues to shape your approaches.

April 02, 2012 12:13 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Thanks, Michael! And interesting to hear of your pleasant encounter with Kevin Brownlow.

April 02, 2012 12:28 PM  
Anonymous Jim Gerow said...

MoMA is planning a monthlong Werner Schroeter retrospective in May and June: (screening times to be announced).

April 02, 2012 5:29 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Thanks for this, Jim!

April 02, 2012 5:49 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Zach's essay on Jerry Lewis begins thus:

"Almost any essay that takes up Jerry Lewis must be a defense of the man's reputation. Whether it's implicit or explicit, the mere choice to write about Lewis means navigating a minefield of tastes and opinions about taste. In this landscape, whatever Lewis' perceived reputation is, it is not what he deserves. He's either overrated and over-analyzed, or he's underappreciated and widely misunderstood. In other words, to think of Lewis is often to think of how others have thought of him — even if these “others” are in fact a kind of illusion, like those proverbial French who “love” le Jerry. In the course of Lewis' directorial career this theme emerges as a progressively developing engagement with the vagaries of industry and waning critical fortunes. We might compare it to the way that someone like Nicholas Ray interpolated the drama of the author's resistance against a system into his very authorial persona, and into the substance of his films."

April 02, 2012 8:01 PM  
Anonymous Dave Johnson said...

Hi Girish,

Sorry I’m a bit late to your thoughtful post. My sense is that the field is in many ways more open than it’s been in years. As I mentioned during the conference, I was stunned by how many essays quoted Andre Bazin without even a gesture to the theory and criticism that displaced his writings for so many years (or at least made drawing upon them more complicated). I certainly think this is partly because of the increased interest in cinephilia within the field, so I would count that area among those receiving more attention of late. I don’t feel, however—and this is really more intuitive than based on any formal survey—that those who still work within the traditions of theory and criticism that displaced Bazin would find themselves or their work unwelcome in contemporary film studies. I suppose what I’m getting at is that the field seems more pluralist, to borrow your description of the philosophy text above, but whereas you were using it to describe an approach that synthesizes multiple ways of working, cinema studies seems at present to reflect several different, at times even incompatible, approaches. Of course, that is not to say that all ways of working hold equal sway, and pluralism itself can create its own problems—we don’t want to see several discrete conversations taking place or scholars walling themselves off from their peers and their insights, for example. That said, I cannot help but feel encouraged by what you’ve indicated in your post and by my own sense of the field as well.
I also appreciate your idea here of a kind of dialectic between criticism and theory. You talked at the conference about Ignatiy Vishnevetsky’s working in this vein and how this is the kind of work Andre Bazin also produced. I think there’s a pedagogical dimension there, in the way that the writer attempts to educate his or her readers about some larger question related to cinema or at least show the readers how they might ask that question themselves. So perhaps the teaching function here is not just about educating readers on the specific film or the larger question about cinema but, going still further, about encouraging them to make those connections themselves (which ideally leads to more writing, more discourse, more exchange).
Anyway, it was great seeing you—always a real pleasure!

April 04, 2012 8:41 AM  
Anonymous Christian Keathley said...

I agree with Dave. Compared to 10 years ago, I see more panels on topics in areas in which I don't work and to which I feel little connection (TV, new media, social networking, etc.); but I also see more panels on issues I am most interested in, especially those involving questions of aesthetic value. Rather than seeing presentations that use films to illuminate theory, I see theory being used to illuminate films -- and this is where theory and criticism come together most perfectly.

April 04, 2012 11:30 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Dave and Chris, thank you for your thoughts!

I agree: I did get the feeling at SCMS that even if multiple approaches didn't always converse with each other, at least they weren't antagonistic to each other in a way that tried to shut down discourse. And I was reminded that there was a time when they did. I was just re-reading Dudley Andrew's essay "The Unauthorized Auteur Today," written in the early 90s, and it begins: "Breathe easily. Epuration has ended. After a dozen years of clandestine whispering we are permitted to mention, even to discuss, the auteur again."

I'm thankful we are not living through such a period now...

Dave, I want to wish you the best on the imminent release of your Richard Linklater book!

April 04, 2012 8:22 PM  
Anonymous caboose said...

When I went back to grad school in Iowa as a "mature student" in the late 1990s - if I had followed the "proper path" I would have lended up there 10 years earlier, in the midst of unspeakable theoretical abberations - I said something provocative about certain theories to Rick Altman once and he said with a sly grin: "We would have thrown you out of the program for that 10 years ago". Whew.

April 04, 2012 9:25 PM  
Anonymous Adrian said...

Personally, I miss the days of Hard Theory, ha ! Students read more, mastered more ! These days theory is like a sauce you dab on top of your impressions - or not, according to flavour. As Throbbing Gristle sang: We Need Discipline !!!

April 05, 2012 3:21 AM  
Blogger girish said...

The French filmmaker Claude Miller has died.

April 05, 2012 11:05 AM  
Blogger girish said...

At Cine Europa via David Hudson: "Bergman was an avid film buff, with a VHS collection of more than 1,500 titles, alphabetically organised, with personal notes on his favourites – "but also several thousand video films that were not catalogued, including a lot of popular culture", recalled Swedish film critic Hynek Pallas."

April 06, 2012 5:16 PM  
Anonymous Corey said...

I've been pondering a proper response to all of this but don't know quite how to do so without writing a long essay with footnotes ... but I agree with Adrian. Yes, we still draw upon theories, but in a rather haphazard way, and often without real stakes involved. Theories are invoked, but not at the core of much discussion in film studies now. Perhaps I'm just nostalgic for the high theory of my formative period, but those debates raged with a passion I don't see now. You embraced or denounced Metz: now an invocation of Badiou or Ranciere is simply a sign that you are keeping up with things, but hardly a provocation or declaration of allegiance. When is the last time a real intellectual battle over a theoretical stance took place at a film conference or in a film journal?

April 08, 2012 1:37 AM  
Anonymous Nico Baumbach said...

I share the feeling that even though there may be something healthy about the pluralism at SCMS these days, I'd like to see more papers and panels that do not play it so safe. The same way that high theory may once have been seen as a way to make the study of film sound serious and important, today too many scholars feel like they have to stay away from risky speculative thought or bold political arguments and stick to claims that do not go beyond codified common sense.

Re: Film + Philosophy
Christian Keathley says above, "Rather than seeing presentations that use films to illuminate theory, I see theory being used to illuminate films -- and this is where theory and criticism come together most perfectly." I would agree with him that it can be tiresome when films are just used for as grist for the mill of Theory X, but I think that one of the important contributions of Deleuze was to say that theories shouldn't be applied to films but rather films should be taken as forms of thinking in their own right that have a claim on philosophy. I think that this idea is the basis of a lot of the film-philosophy movement that you mention, Girish. (Unfortunately, I have serious problems with a lot of the recent writing on film associated with this "philosophical turn," but that's another story.)

April 08, 2012 11:44 AM  
Anonymous Christian Keathley said...

Thank you, Nico. Yes, the approach you describe does not note the way some film dumbly illustrates some theoretical/philosophical point; instead it acknowledges that certain films know something and they are showing us what they know. One of the crucial differences here is the way that the film under consideration is valued.

It seems that talk here has slid a bit from a recounting of the recent SCMS conference to a (somewhat nostalgic) consideration of the place of theory in contemporary cinema studies. For what it’s worth, the day before I arrived at SCMS, there was a panel on theory that I am told drew a very big crowd – 100+. (Perhaps Girish was there and can confirm.) So there is still interest – at least among scholars. Maybe not so much among students. When Adrian says students don’t read as much as they used to, I assume he means that students today don’t read as much as we used to when we were students. There are, I think, a variety of reasons for that. Corey is right, there was something exciting then, both about mastering difficult theory and about being part of a contentious debate. It was still that way when I first studied theory in the early 80s. But the point has been made: if auteurism (very contentious) got film studies a foot in the door of academia, then theory (extremely contentious) secured its position as a discrete discipline. It’s impossible to maintain this level of urgency indefinitely. Difficult even to offer something that registers as bold in a discipline that is secure enough in itself to be so open. Or that is so large that it can too easily go unnoticed.

April 08, 2012 1:26 PM  
Anonymous Corey said...

I'll put this all another way, and try not to sound simply nostalgic or cranky. The period of high theory regularly produced texts one HAD to read, and not just on film. Across disciplines, but including film studies, one had to be familiar with Barthes' S/Z or Foucault's DISCIPLINE AND PUNISH or Said's ORIENTIALISM, or the key essays by Mulvey, Bellour, Heath, and Baudry. These were reference points across the humanities, and love them or hate them conversations about film required the ability to refer to them. I'm not sure such texts exist now: there are of course wonderful books and essays published (or presented) all the time, but I'm not sure much presents itself as required reading for the field of film studies or the humanities more broadly. I suppose Deleuze's two CINEMA books were of that order, but what since? I want to resist seeing this as a narrative of decline, or to present a hymn to the good old days (some of those debates were not pretty, in fact), but what about the current climate prevents shared discussions around what are somehow recognized as key texts, almost upon their appearance? (As others have recounted, we were actually a bit slow to get to Deleuze.) What recent book or essay could one mention at SCMS and trust that every head in the room would bob in recognition?

April 08, 2012 7:20 PM  
Anonymous caboose said...

At Concordia University here in Montreal, which has the largest film studies program in the country, so-called Classical Film Theory is an option for undergrad film studies majors.

Of course the phenomenon Corey describes mirrors that in the culture and the arts at large - I don't doubt that it's possible to get a graduate degree in English literature these days without reading - pick your poison: Dickens, Joyce, James . . . Part of it has to do with the sheer proliferation of scholarly work and the attendant specialisation. A mere generation ago a scholar would turn out two or three books in his or her lifetime. Now 40-something assistant professors have three on the go. I'm not sure, in all honesty and sincerity, how or why this happened, although I've watched it happen, from the fringes.

But it's hard also not to see - like Corey, I strive not to sound nostalgic or worse, but it's difficult - all this as being tied up also with a decline of standards. But beyond that with a change in the Zeitgeist that also of course mirrors the larger society. Grad students and young professors simply aen't compelled to master a theoretical canon, and in fact that canon in film studies is getting mighty dusty, it not having been replaced for some time now. Or, some would argue, it *has* been replaced, decisively, by a different, historico-theoretical model, far from the abstract high theory of the 70s and 80s.

As the demographic and graduate education pyramid reaches its levee-breaking point, precisely at a time of economic crisis and cuts to teaching positions, publishing programs etc., one wonders if a radical revamping of university education is necessary, or will come about whether necessary or not. To teach even in an out of the way undergraduate college you have to have a solid publications record. The principle is great: it is meant to ensure that the person you hire is a serious scholar with something to contribute to the field. In practice, well, we all know that it's possible to publish decidedly second-rate material in copious quantities. Shouldn't some schools and graduates/professors focus on teaching undergrads and doing valuable scholarly work - archival research, say - outside the iron-clad model of the theoretical monograph, in which theory is dabbed on like a sauce here and there?

April 08, 2012 9:05 PM  
Blogger girish said...

These are great, fascinating comments: thank you, all!

As Chris mentions, I happened to attend a standing-room-only workshop at SCMS called “Where is Film Theory Today?” with Phil Rosen, John David Rhodes, Elena Gorfinkel, and others on the panel. From the audience, Patrice Petro observed that she was witnessing a “hyper-professionalization” of the discipline (with the attendant move towards increasingly specialized work) about which she had mixed feelings. On the one hand, the rapid proliferation of “caucuses” at SCMS was a sign of strong interest in specialized areas, but it also signaled a significant fragmentation within the discipline.

I would think that this fragmentation (accompanied by the escalating SIZE of an organization such as SCMS—and, by extension, the cinema/media studies field) also means that few texts now have the ability to cut across all the fast-narrowing, fast-deepening niches to become lingua franca for everyone in the field (let alone the humanities). Which is too bad.

April 09, 2012 10:17 AM  
Blogger girish said...

A couple more thoughts:

I wonder if "theory dabbed on as sauce" is a consequence of both the 'post-modernist moment' (with its pluralist, anti-hierarchical use of multiple approaches) and the rise of cultural studies (with its collage-like use of tools and texts and objects).

Also, on another note: as higher education becomes more and more assimilated to the modes of corporate capitalism (until recently it was, to some extent, an "industry apart," with several "un-capitalistic" features), its use of corporate-capitalist strategies such as increasing specialization, out-sourcing based on cost (adjunct faculty), and easily-measured productivity indexes (such as the sheer number of books, articles, etc produced) are surely transforming the cinema/media studies field, as they are all other fields within the academy.

April 09, 2012 10:43 AM  
Anonymous Nico said...

Girish, I think your last point is crucial.

Here’s the end of a recent commentary by Immanuel Wallerstein on his Binghamton website:

"The university as a critical institution - critical of dominant groups and dominant ideologies - had always met with resistance and repression by the states and the elites. But its powers of survival had always been rooted in its relative financial autonomy based on the low real cost of operation. This was the university of yesteryear, not of today - and tomorrow.
One can write this off as simply one more aspect of the global chaos in which we are now living. Except that the universities were supposed to play the role of one major locus (not of course the only one) of analysis of the realities of our world-system. It is such analyses that may make possible the successful navigation of the chaotic transition towards a new, and hopefully better, world order. At the moment, the turmoil within the universities seems no easier to resolve than the turmoil in the world-economy. And even less attention is being paid to it."

I received my PhD in 2009 so I don't have the luxury of nostalgia for better days. For all I know, I am the product of the weakening of standards. But whatever else one wants to say about the legacy of either high theory or cultural studies, I think it is worth preserving the idea that film and media studies at the university level might play some kind of role in the criticism of dominant institutions and ideologies. For a long time this was assumed. Today, I don’t think it is anymore. A lot of people argue that this is a good thing, because they see it as a turn to more modest scholarly ambitions, solvable problems, etc. I am not convinced.

One final thought: This is one reason I have some skepticism about the “philosophical turn.” On the one hand, it can be seen as a reaction to the increasing specialization and fragmentation that you mention. But I wonder if the turn away from “theory” and toward “philosophy” isn’t also related to the desire to still talk about big abstract ideas in relation to cinema while dispensing with messy political dimension.

April 10, 2012 9:21 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Nico, I'm very interested in the current concerns about the "corporatization of higher education," so thanks for the reference to Immanuel Wallerstein. I hadn't seen his commentary.

The "messy political dimension" and the critique of "dominant institutions and ideologies" to which you refer are things that are personally valuable to me, and I think that "high theory" (or an updated, present-day version of it), rather than becoming obsolete, is of particular, special value in these times.

And you make a persuasive point with your reservation about the "philosophical turn"!

April 10, 2012 3:13 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Great news: After a two-year silence, VERTIGO magazine is back with a special issue on Godard.

April 10, 2012 9:08 PM  
Blogger girish said...

This looks fascinating: A program of films called "The Films and Legacy of António Reis and Margarida Cordeiro," playing at the Harvard Film Archive.

Here's the introduction:

"Little known in the US, António Reis (1927-1991) is revered in his native Portugal as a visionary artist whose films and many years as a beloved teacher and mentor exerted an immeasurable influence over the post-Salazar rebirth of Portuguese cinema and the new generation of filmmakers that emerged in the 1980s and 1990s. Born in Oporto, Reis found renown first as a poet before meeting the great Manoel de Oliveira who invited Reis to be assistant director on Oliveira’s first radical masterpiece, Rite of Spring, working alongside another important collaborator, Paulo Rocha. The pioneering mode of poetic ethnographic cinema which Oliveira and Reis definedguided the course of the four extraordinary works Reis co-directed with his wife, the psychologist Margarida Cordeiro (b. 1939), culminating in Trás-os-Montes, a lyrical search for the very “soul” of Portuguese culture and history in the myths and peasant folklore embodied in Portugal’s remote far-north region. Admired by the likes of Joris Ivens, Jean Rouch and Jean-Marie Straub, the films of Reis and Cordeiro invented a poetically liberated and hypnotically cinematographic film language, a style and sensibility that set the course of Portugal’s lasting tradition of radical cinema, exerting a formative influence, for example, upon João Cesar Monteiro. Yet equally important was Reis’ career and legacy as a long-time senior professor of film production and aesthetics at Lisbon’s Escola Superior de Teatro e Cinema. As a tribute to Reis’ inspiration of the most important talents in contemporary Portuguese cinema, this retrospective includes a selection of works by Reis’ students including Pedro Costa, João Pedro Rodrigues and Joaquim Saphino."

April 12, 2012 10:32 PM  
Anonymous Jason LaRiviere said...

How exactly are we characterizing this "philosophical turn"? Is this Rodowick's turn toward Cavell? Or do we have something more pernicious in mind? If it is Daniel Frampton-style "filmosophy" then I can certainly understand the reservations. If the "philosophical turn" is to be made up of his downright silly prescriptions for film writing then it will be doomed -- but I still hold out hope for a Rancière ex machina to save this thing called film-philosophy.

April 14, 2012 6:03 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Speaking of, I can't wait for Rancière's LES ECARTS DU CINEMA to make its appearance in English translation...

April 15, 2012 8:50 AM  
Anonymous Nico said...

Jason- By "philosophical turn" I had in mind the sense that increasingly English language writing on film is aligning itself with "philosophy" rather than "theory." As you suggest, this "turn" has a lot of different manifestations some of them interesting and some less so. I am not, as a rule, against the current interest in Cavell and Deleuze, but I do think there is a more general question to be asked about why "philosophy" and not "theory" at this time?

I'm looking forward to the Reis and Cordeiro festival (also coming to Anthology Film Archives in NYC).

April 15, 2012 11:14 AM  
Anonymous caboose said...

Generalisations like this one - increasingly English language writing on film is aligning itself with "philosophy" rather than "theory" - are always dangerous. If I was asked to make a sweeping generalisation about recent turns in film studies, I would have said that such a turn today is away from theory and towards history. In those circles, philosophy barely registers. The book "Filmosophy" was mentioned a while back. What did people think of that? Apart from all my other complaints about it, I was struck by the tone. There isn't a single "question of cinema" in the book, only answers. Questions are more interesting than answers.

April 15, 2012 3:39 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Caboose, the recent book by Robert Sinnerbrink I mentioned in the post, New Philosophies of Film: Thinking Images (you can peek at the table of contents when you click on the link) tries to take stock of this recent "philosophical turn" -- e.g. a renewal or continuing of interest in Cavell and Deleuze plus the work of 'analytic' philosophers interested in film -- and provides a good survey of this turn.

(The turn to history, which you mention, and which has been with us for a decade or more, was very much in evidence in vast numbers of papers I saw at SCMS.)

How do we distinguish "philosophy" from "theory"? My guess is that the latter is descended from 1970s Screen Theory and includes under its umbrella various paradigms (Marxism, feminism, psychoanalysis, etc) but they all share in common one feature: they try to put some form of political critique front and center. This is not the impression I get from Cavell or Deleuze or the 'analytic' philosophers, who seem less interested in political critique than they are in doing other things. Just a couple of 'outsider' intuitions here...

I've not read FILMOSOPHY.

April 15, 2012 4:05 PM  
Anonymous Nico said...

Yes, Girish, that’s my concern. Theory can, of course, mean many things, but in English-language film studies it has tended to be associated with political critique. I could be wrong, but I wonder whether the emphasis on “philosophy” may in part be about getting away from that association.

I admire both Deleuze and Cavell a great deal. Both (in very different ways) suggest that film has a claim on philosophy. They write as philosophers and the question they pose is something like, what do films make it possible for the philosopher to think? My problem with a book like Filmosophy is that it goes a step further. The author argues that films do philosophy all by themselves. That may be fine and well but he is not clear what this entails or what if anything one can say about it that adds anything to our experience of the film. For both Cavell and Deleuze, philosophy is a specific kind of practice that is challenged by and opened up by cinema.

Caboose- To be clear, I am not saying that philosophy dominates film studies today (or that it has replaced more historical work). I don't think that's true at all. I agree with the sense that the field is quite open right now. All I'm saying is that there appears to be an increasing interest in writing about philosophy in relation to film and this "philosophical turn," if we want to call it that, is concomitant with the turn away from "theory."

April 15, 2012 6:01 PM  
Anonymous Jason LaRiviere said...

One other twist in this "turn" that we need to acknowledge concerns the M in SCMS--that is, the degree to which the migration and assimilation of "film studies" into "media studies" as opened up the field of philosophical inquiry into moving images writ large, especially evident in the widely renewed interest in phenomenology as it relates to cinema and new media. Call it the "Mark Hansen effect." The recent collection RELEASING THE IMAGE is a paradigmatic example of this phenomenological turn, and its attendant evacuation of politics.

April 15, 2012 6:25 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Nico, my impressions resonate with what you say: that there was a small but definite and noticeable presence of papers at SCMS that were interested in "philosophy" and its relationship to film.

"For both Cavell and Deleuze, philosophy is a specific kind of practice that is challenged by and opened up by cinema."

Wonderfully put.

Jason, I don't know Mark Hansen's work or the new collection: thanks for the tip.

April 15, 2012 7:05 PM  
Anonymous Jason LaRiviere said...

I attended this talk by Lauren Berlant on LAST TANGO the other day and couldn't help but think that this is a paradigmatic example of a kind "bad faith" film interpretation in the Bordwellian sense, what Nico refers to here as the "tiresome" tendency to use films as "grist for the mill of Theory X."

April 16, 2012 10:22 PM  

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