These are further notes on Chapter 6 of EMI…
1. Trauma and the eco-image
One of the themes of this chapter is the connection between films about ecological disaster — real, imagined, or potential (future disaster) — and films about other forms of cultural or historical trauma.
How can film represent traumatic events? What if the trauma is as fundamental and collective as the end of the conditions of life as we know it, which is what happens in devastating disasters? What if the events have not yet taken place, but are only imagined as a possibility on the horizon? Read more »
The second week of the animality and “biomorphism” chapter (chapter 5) moved us into an exploration of human-animal interactions and human “becomings-animal.” A screening of Werner Herzog’s “Grizzly Man” (discussed extensively in the chapter) was supplemented by bits and pieces from “Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill,” Robinson Devor’s unusual documentary “Zoo” (which you can watch in full here), and several others.
Now we move into the home stretch of the course. Chapter 6 is intended as the culmination of the book’s several strands, so it would be useful to recap things as we move into it. The first section of the chapter does just that for the main theoretical apparatus of the book (notably, the three “morphisms” and the three moments of the film experience). Beyond that, however, are the various mappings provided in the preceding three chapters.
This week we’ve moved on to the topic of “biomorphism,” which refers to the dimension of life and sensuous interactivity in a film-world – the liveliness that’s found between the passivity of the object-world (the geomorphic) and the human activity of the subject-world (anthropomorphism).
Here is where a film depicts objects as alive, or animals as social, like us, or humans as animal-like. I’ve argued that this is where everything ultimately happens – in the action and interaction between sensorial bodies, things that can perceive and respond to other things. The geomorphic and the anthropomorphic are two ends of the continuum that stretches across the biomorphic field of possibilities.
But since we’ve already dealt with nonliving things (chapter 3) and with humans (chapter 4), we’re focusing here on living, animate things – or what film depicts as living, animate things. Nature films, wildlife documentaries, animation, horror and monster movies, and certain kinds of science-fiction are the genres that most commonly engage this biomorphic realm in the most interesting ways.
The class went on a field trip to see The Act of Killing last week, which fit our reading of Chapter 4 of Ecologies of the Moving Image better than I could have planned. (That’s the chapter that deals with “anthropomorphism,” that is, the “becomings-human” — or “becoming-subjective” — within the world of a film.)
The Act of Killing is Joshua Oppenheimer’s chilling documentary about the perpetrators of the mass murders committed by the Suharto regime’s paramilitary death squads in mid-1960s Indonesia. The filmmakers interview some of the worst of the perpetrators and — controversially — invite them to re-enact the killings for the camera, filming these scenes in the style of their favorite film genres. This interplay between mass murder and Hollywood movies — gangsters, westerns, and musicals — is a focus of the film.
What Chapter 3 did with the world (and, specifically, nature), Chapter 4 does with people (and, specifically, their relation to nature). In particular, it deals with contrasts between a normative, “modern” (western, industrial) relationship to nature and a non-normative one: non-western, pre-modern, “primitive,” and all those other characterizations that carry so much baggage in the modern creation narrative.
(“We ‘moderns’ are what we are because we . . . [ascended from, descended from, evolved out of, transgressed, superseded, conquered, etc.] this more . . . [primitive, natural, better, worse, etc.] way of being.”)
Continuing with notes for Chapter 2, beginning at p. 49…
1) Chapter 2 (from p. 49 on):
(a) “Peirce’s Categories and the Film Experience”
The first three paragraphs Read more »
The following notes are reading notes provided to students in an upper-level undergraduate course entitled “Ecopolitics and the Cinema.” The course name is a little outdated, as the course has evolved in the direction of an ecophilosophical exploration of cinema, but a new title has not yet been approved.
As an Environmental Studies course, it is tailored to students majoring in interdisciplinary environmental studies. Concepts from other disciplines — such as philosophy, film or cultural studies, and others — are introduced and explained more carefully than they would be in other disciplinary contexts.