Sci-Fi Ghettos

12.07.2010

The essay collection “Battlestar Galactica”: Investigating Flesh, Spirit, and Steel is published today in the UK. I have contributed with a chapter entitled “Sci-Fi Ghettos: Battlestar Galactica and Genre Aesthetics”, which analyses in detail the motifs of the production design and the handheld camerawork of the series. The editors, Roz Kaveney and Jennifer Stoy, have put together an engaging and wide-ranging collection. My heartfelt thanks to them (and to I. B. Tauris) for giving me the opportunity to be part of this project on a remarkable television series. Roz was especially supportive throughout the editing process, even mentioning my paper in her concluding text.

On Essentialism

10.07.2010

Next week, I shall be in England to participate in the third Film-Philosophy conference. The event will be held at the University of Warwick from 15 to 17 July. This is abstract of my paper, “On Essentialism: Thoughts Between Nöel Carroll and Stanley Cavell”:

Nöel Carroll has been one of the most eloquent proponents of an anti-essentialist view of art, in particular, of cinema. He seems to think that Stanley Cavell holds an essentialist view of film, put forward in his foundational work, The World Viewed,[1] and developed in later essays and books. While Carroll admires Cavell’s philosophical readings of particular films, he also criticises his conception of film as essentially connected with photography. The aim of this paper is to provide some thoughts on this exchange between Carroll and Cavell, or more precisely, to compose a conversation between them based on their positions and what they entail. Perhaps their views are ultimately reconcilable.

Carroll rejects the photographic basis of film and instead proposes a definition of the works of the moving image (not moving pictures), an over-arching category that includes films. He avoids essentialism, but we may argue that so does Cavell in his characterisation of film as a succession of automatic world projections. As D. N. Rodowick rightly points out, this ontology of film does not assume an essentialism or teleology[2] insofar as it also claims that the possibilities of the medium cannot be determined in advance — that is, that they cannot be deduced from the medium because the medium is not a given. Cavell is then anti-essentialist in a Wittgensteinian sense, one that does not reject categories so much as defines them from similarities, family resemblances.[3] Therefore, this categorisation does not obscure salient differences between works. It instead invites us to notice them.

This is not to deny the differences between Carroll’s and Cavell’s ideas. They must be acknowledged, but their contributions can be thought of as complementary when all is said and done. They have different conceptions of medium, from simply materials to instruments, forms, and uses, as well. Carroll’s general definition comes from a narrow concept of medium, while Cavell’s restricted definition broadens what counts as media. The former tackles film from a theoretical approach, what we may call movies, the latter from an ordinary perspective, what we usually call movies.

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[1] Stanley Cavell, The World Viewed: Reflections on the Ontology of Film, enlarged edn. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1979).
[2] D. N. Rodowick, The Virtual Life of Film (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007), p. 42.
[3] See Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations [1953], 50th Anniversary edn., trans. G. E. M. Anscombe (Oxford: Blackwell, 2001), sect. 67.

Coraline’s Soul

06.07.2010


Coraline.

I sent a proposal in May for the international conference, Cinema: Art, Technology, Communication, that will take place in Avanca, Portugal, this month. The energetic Avanca Cinema Club is organising this promising event for the first time. You can find more information here.

This is the abstract of my accepted paper, “Coraline’s Soul: Performance in Stop-motion Animation” that unfortunately I am not presenting because of some previous commitments:

This paper takes Coraline (2009), adapted from Neil Gaiman’s novella, as a case study of performance in stop-motion animation. Recent scholarly work on film performance by Andrew Klevan[1] urges us to pay close attention to films, moment by moment, and to understand postures, gestures, and intonations, not as merely conveying meanings, but as embodying personality. In stop-motion animations we usually do not see the animators; we see moving dolls—and so we have to posit an animating force that instils them with life. It is not by chance that “anima”, the Latin word for soul, is the root of “animation”. Stop-motion employs the technique of shooting successive altered figures to give them the impression of movement. The use of this technique in conjunction with 3D cinematography in Coraline is expressive because of its personal character: the visual depth and attention cues evoke the marvelled and fearful gaze of a child. In this sense, Coraline’s soul is not a spectral entity that commands the actions that she performs. Following Thomas Aquinas,[2] we can say that the soul is the principle of life—it is life, it is how a creature is alive, how it interacts with its surroundings. The soul therefore does not have to do with inwardness or the displacement of the spiritual world, but with outwardness and the inhabitation of the material world. Analysing Caroline’s performance, a performance with Dakota Fanning’s voice but without her body, is thus developing an analysis of how she is and how she acts in the world that the film projects and presents.

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[1] See Andrew Klevan, Film Performance: From Achievement to Appreciation (London: Wallflower, 2005).
[2] Thomas Aquinas, Selected Writings, ed. and trans. Ralph McInerny (London: Penguin Classics, 1998), pp. 410-28.