Teaching my film course (especially in its current rendition as “Ecology Film Philosophy”) and the book that goes with it (Ecologies of the Moving Image, which will be publicly available in July) — and especially teaching the Andrei Tarkovsky film Stalker, which serves as a sort of template for the book — makes me feel like the Stalker in the film.
“Stalkers” are guides to the Zone, which in the film is a mysterious, anomalous, and prohibited zone into which people go in the belief or hope that their deepest wish will be granted. (It’s more complicated than that, as you know if you’ve seen it.) The word caught on among those who led unofficial tours into the Chernobyl exclusion zone, and among those who play the video game S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl.
In the course (and book), the Zone is the zone of cinema, the zone of the dream-world made possible by moving imagery that moves us in ways we can never quite fully decode or deconstruct. The Zone is also the process-relational ecophilosophical perspective on things, us, life, Earth, and everything. As the students’ guide to this territory, I’m selling them on the idea that there’s something worth exploring in this Zone, that it takes time (and patience) to get a handle on, and that they don’t already know what it is (though on some level they do, too).
Teaching the book is also making me want to find analogies to the relationship between the book and the course based on the book. That relationship is a little like the relationship between a musical score (or studio recording) and a live performance of that score (or recording). Or like that between the score/recording and a series of participatory performances stitched together by colloquium-like reflections and adumbrations of the material, which changes in the process of its being played.
It’s also like the relationship between a cookbook and a multi-course, several-day series of dinner engagements based on recipes in the book. The recipes don’t include the actual ingredients (the films), the taste of the dishes in the sequence of tasting and sipping as it unfolds around the dinner table (the viewing), or the conversations that emerge around it all.
On the positive side, though, the ideas are ingredients, too, and you can get them from reading the book. And to make all the dishes in the book, one would have to watch a lot of films — many more than could be fit into a single course.
I am enjoying it, and the students seemed to enjoy Stalker. For a slow, 2 hour and 40 minute Russian film from the 1970s, that is a feat in itself.