As ecocriticism expands and deepens in scope (of subject matter & media examined), extent (internationally), and diversity (in approaches, connections with other schools of thought, etc.), its interactions with non-literary fields such as cinema studies, theatre/performance studies, and musicology (as I posted about recently) are starting to develop in healthy ways. The ASLE conference had several sessions devoted to film — four panels, several papers within other panels, and a pre-conference session on film and media — which, I believe, is more than the conference has ever had. Since then, an Ecomedia Studies Wiki has been started, as has an Ecomedia listserv (with very little activity yet, only because I started it and I’ve been too preoccupied to get any conversation going). Among related ventures, the Media Ecology Association‘s 2010 convention will be on “Media Ecology and Natural Environments” (e-mail Paul Grosswiler for further info on that). A group of us are hoping to make a little splash at the Society for Cinema & Media Studies conference next year. If you have any interest in such things, feel free to e-mail me directly, but expect a slow response during the summer, as I’m on the road through much of it (between the cabin where I’m blogging from in Vermont and Amsterdam the week after next, then the west coast of British Columbia & Alaska, then New Mexico in mid-August).

Among the papers I heard and was impressed by at ASLE were ecocritical takes (which can mean many different things) on Luis Bunuel (particularly the lovely scene in The Phantom of the Liberty where he reverses the culture of eating with that of defecating), There Will be Blood, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, WALL-E, Werner Herzog, Manufactured Landscapes, Winged Migration and its making, and much else. Our theoretical panel included David Ingram’s perceptive ecocritical assessment of rival theoretical paradigms (the Althusserian-Lacanian, cognitivist, and phenomenological). My own paper presented the model of cinema analysis I’m developing in my forthcoming book ‘Ecologies of the Moving Image’. Here’s the extended version of the paper’s abstract:

In The Open: Man and Animal, Giorgio Agamben (2004) refers to the ongoing cultural construction of ‘the human’ in contradistinction to ‘the animal’ as the ‘anthropological’ or ‘anthropogenic’ ‘machine.’ This “optical machine,” he writes, “is constructed of a series of mirrors in which man, looking at himself, sees his own image already deformed in the features of an ape. Homo is a constitutively ‘anthropomorphous’ animal (that is, ‘resembling man’ [...]), who must recognize himself in a non-man in order to become human” (26-27). Starting from this notion of an ‘anthropological machine,’ and from Martin Heidegger’s description of the human (Dasein) as a world-bearing being and of language, poetry, and art as ‘world-disclosing,’ this article proposes a model of cinema as an “anthro-geo-animamorphic machine,” a machine that produces worlds. This machine is, at once, anthropomorphic in that it produces a cinematic version of or resemblance to the human, thereby generating an apparent social or ‘subject-world’; animamorphic in its production of an apparent world of animate, life-like and interperceptive forms, which are shown to see and be seen, hear and be heard, at the same time as we, the viewers, see and hear them and learn how to see and hear them; and geomorphic in that it produces a spatially organized or territorialized material ‘object-world,’ an apparent geography distinguished by hereness, thereness, and distances and relations between the ‘pieces of world’ displayed. In effect, cinematic worlds are held together by the dimensions of space (the territorialization of objective materiality), time (the temporal experience of narrative process), sociality (distinctions and relations among social subjects), and animacy (relations among inter-perceptive forms and substances).

“Each of these relational dimensions variously reflects, refracts, comments on, and reverberates within the world outside the film. Cinema, in this sense, adds a refractive or diffractive overlay of meanings onto a world that pre-exists it, and sets up an interactive oscillation between the two in the process. The relationship between the cinematic world and the extra-cinematic world is the relationship most amenable to a form of analysis that, following a related movement in literary and cultural studies, can be called ‘ecocritical.’ Various forms of film theory interrogate aspects of this set of relations: phenomenology its perceptual and embodied dimensions, psychoanalysis its intra-psychic dimensions, cognitivism its neuropsychological correlates, Marxist and feminist analysis its class and gender politics, and so on. Ecocritical film theory, I argue, can place all of these within the broadest frame of our relationship to the world at large. Through an ecocritical, ‘world-making’ analysis of an exemplary film, Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker (1979), I argue here that cinema ‘stalks’ the real world, and that our appreciation of its potentials should similarly involve a ‘stalking’ of its effects in the material, social, and perceptual dimensions of the world from which cinema emerges and to which it returns.”

This tripartite framework (geomorphic, animamorphic, anthropomorphic) is intended to correspond to the three ecologies (Felix Guattari’s term) within which cinematic production and consumption can be located: its material ecologies, social ecologies, and perceptual ecologies. My goals here are two-fold:

(1) To be able to situate film forms and meanings within a set of broadly ecological contexts that include the material world as well as the social world. The inclusion of a third element, the perceptual, is intended to break up the dichotomizing tendency that segregates the natural from the cultural (Latour’s ‘Modern constitution’). Human perception, while distinctive, is caught in the grasp of a world that is perceptual and communicative “all the way down,” as it were, with a ‘subject’ pole and an ‘object’ pole emerging out of the relations that constitute communicative and perceptual interaction. The ‘anthropomorphic machinery’ works at the subject pole, distinguishing between those who will count as subjects and those who will not; the ‘geomorphic machinery’ (the spatialization and territorialization of relations within the object-world) works at the object pole; and the ‘animamorphic machinery’ works in between the two.

(2) To allow for an examination of the ways in which film, alongside other art and media forms, disclose the world in specific ways. “World-disclosure” is Heideggerian language, though Heidegger was too caught up in his own metaphysical narrative about western history and its destiny. I’m more interested in specific ways of “worlding”, including cinema worlding, in a world that is characterized by many levels and scales of interactive dynamism and techno-perceptual change (i.e. globalization, new media ecologies, etc.).

Why Stalker? There are a number of films I could have chosen to focus on, but Stalker‘s creation of a cinematic world — a geography (consisting of a Zone set apart from the everyday world and that world itself, with a relationship of desire, fantasy, projection, affective investment, and interdependence between the two), an anthropology (this part requires a bit more work to summarize, so I’ll leave it for now), and an animacy (primarily related to the Zone itself) — and the multiple resonances between that world and the extra-filmic world (for instance, the way in which its depiction of a post-nuclear-like landscape captures the late Soviet toxic-industrial imaginary, including the ways in which that imaginary was set into motion several years later in the wake of the Chernobyl nuclear accident, with its resultant depopulated ‘Zone,’ its ‘stalkers,’ its biblical-apocalyptic interpretations of ‘wormwood,’ etc.; or the way in which the making of the film itself registered environmental toxins and anomalies on and in the bodies of the filmmakers themselves, resulting in several illnesses and premature deaths) makes the film paradigmatic of the (material, social, and perceptual) relationship between cinema and reality — that is, between a projected ‘zone’ of dreams, desires, fantasies, and fears, and a real, inhabited world of dreams, desires, fantasies, fears, and material engagements and interdependencies. (Forgive the run-on sentence.) I’ll come back to the film in a future post…

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