Last summer (2012), I participated in a roundtable discussion with Therese Grisham and Julia Leyda on the subject of “Post-Cinematic Affect: Post-Continuity, the Irrational Camera, Thoughts on 3D.” Drawing on Steven Shaviro’s book Post-Cinematic Affect, and looking at films such as District 9, Melancholia, and Hugo, the roundtable appeared in the multilingual online journal La Furia Umana (issue 14, 2012). For some reason, the LFU site has been down for a few weeks, and I have no information about whether or when it will be back up. Accordingly, I wanted to point out for anyone who is interested that you can still find a copy of the roundtable discussion here (as a PDF on my academia page). Enjoy!
Here’s the course description for a graduate-level course I’ll be teaching in the winter semester (October 2013 – February 2014) — a PDF of the full syllabus is embedded above:
Digital Film, Chaos Cinema, Post-Cinematic Affect: Thinking 21st Century Motion Pictures
Instructor: Shane Denson
In this seminar, we will try to come to terms with twenty-first century motion pictures by thinking through a variety of concepts and theoretical approaches designed to explain their relations and differences from the cinema of the previous century. We will consider the impact of digital technologies on film, think about the cultural contexts and aesthetic practices of contemporary motion pictures, and try to understand the experiential dimensions of spectatorship in today’s altered viewing conditions. In addition to preparing weekly readings, students will be expected to view a variety of films prior to each class meeting.
Course Themes and Objectives:
In this course, we set out from the apparent “chaos” that contemporary cinema often presents to us: the seemingly incoherent and unmotivated camerawork and editing, for example, by which many action films of the twenty-first century mark their departure from the “classical” norms of Hollywood-style narration and formal construction. From here, we seek to make sense more generally of cinema’s transformation in terms of new technologies and techniques (e.g. digital imaging processes, nonlinear editing, and attendant editing styles), in terms of new modes of cinematic distribution and reception (e.g. DVD, Blu-Ray, and streaming services, HD TVs, smartphones, and tablet computers, but also IMAX 3-D and similar transformations of the big screen), in terms of non-classical narrative styles (e.g. recursive, database-like, non-linear, and even non-sequitur forms of storytelling), and in terms of broader phenomenological and environmental shifts that inform our experience, our embodiment, and our subjectivity in the digital era.
Several key concepts will help to orient our thinking about twenty-first century cinema and its relation to earlier cinematic modes. The first is “chaos cinema,” a term which Matthias Stork popularized in a compelling set of video essays focused particularly on recent action cinema; beyond this context, however, Stork’s notion of “chaos” resonates with the feelings and fears of many critics and theorists in the face of digital-era cinema. This broader perception of chaos is sometimes traced back to the digital unmooring of images from the indexical referents to which photographic films remained tied; on this basis, the somewhat oxymoronic term “digital film” is often linked to an even more unsettling, because more basic, sense of chaos: according to some critics, the digital (and the moving images it produces and supports) is correlated with a sweeping transformation of human society and subjectivity itself. On the other hand, though, not all critics are similarly alarmed by digital-era chaos. David Bordwell’s concept of “intensified continuity” effectively denies the radical stylistic break announced in Stork’s analysis; Bordwell sees the newer films as perhaps faster and even more hectic than classical Hollywood fare, but basically constructed according to principles of classical continuity – just intensified. By way of contrast, Steven Shaviro’s notion of “post-continuity” – developed in the context of his analysis of “post-cinematic affect” – provides another view of contemporary moving image culture, one which links formal and aesthetic transformations not only with new technologies but also with broader social, cultural, and economic changes underway right now.
As we think through these and related concepts, we will engage a variety of recent movies from formal, phenomenological, affective, cultural, and environmental perspectives. We will seek to understand whether a radical change has taken place in recent cinema, to assess what its significance might be, and in this way begin to think through the implications of and for our viewing habits in the twenty-first century.
You can find more of my syllabi here: http://uni-hannover.academia.edu/ShaneDenson
At the upcoming conference of the Society for Cinema and Media Studies (March 6-10, 2013 in Chicago), I will be participating in a panel on “post-cinematic affect” with Steven Shaviro (who, literally, wrote the book on the topic), Therese Grisham (who organized a great roundtable discussion on the topic in La Furia Umana, which I was also proud to be a part of — and which can alternatively be found here if La Furia Umana is down), and Julia Leyda (who also participated in the roundtable and will serve as respondent on our SCMS panel).
Here is a description of our panel, which is scheduled for Thursday, March 7, from 3:00 – 4:45 pm (Session H):
Post-Cinematic Affect: Theorizing Digital Movies Now
If cinema and television, as the dominant media in the twentieth century, shaped and reflected our cultural sensibilities, how do new digital media in the twenty-first century help to shape and reflect new forms of sensibility? Continuing from roundtable discussions on “post-cinematic affect” in the online film journal La Furia Umana, this panel explores the emergence of a new “structure of feeling” (Raymond Williams) or “episteme” (Foucault) in post-millennial film, one that is evident in new formal strategies, radically changed conditions of viewing, and new ways in which films address their spectators. Contemporary films, from blockbusters to independents and the auteurist avant-garde, use digital cameras and editing technologies, incorporating the aesthetics of gaming, webcams, and smartphones, to name a few, as well as Internet media. For this reason alone, we argue, the aesthetic boundaries between art-house film and blockbuster have become blurred. Moreover, the aesthetic elements of contemporary film do not just simulate the environments created by digital technologies and media, but break more radically with the geometry and logic of films in the twentieth century. In this way, they reflect or transmit the effects, not only of digitization, but also of economic globalization and the financialization of more and more human activities. But these changes have only begun to be theorized. In this panel, we continue the work of theorizing a critical aesthetics of film culture today. The papers take as their critical starting-points David Bordwell on “intensified continuity,” Matthias Stork on “chaos cinema,” and Steven Shaviro on post-cinematic affect and “post-continuity.”
The papers explore key critical issues for analyzing post-cinematic affect, in terms of the ambivalent aesthetics of recent films exhibiting a longing for cinema as the lost object of desire (Therese Grisham on Martin Scorsese’s Hugo), post-continuity stylistics (Steven Shaviro on Tony Scott’s films, particularly his 2005 Domino), and philosophical and technological approaches to the contemporary camera (Shane Denson on images “discorrelated” from human sense ratios in a variety of recent films).
Bordwell, David. “Intensified Continuity: Visual Style in Contemporary American Film.” Film Quarterly, Vol. 55, No. 3. (Spring, 2002), pp. 16–28.
Grisham, Therese, with Julia Leyda, Nicholas Rombes, and Steven Shaviro. “Roundtable Discussion on the Post-Cinematic in Paranormal Activity and Paranormal Activity 2.” http://www.lafuriaumana.it/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=385:roundtable-discussion-about-post-cinematic&catid =59:la-furia-umana-nd-10-autumn-2011&Itemid=61
Shaviro, Steven. “Post-Continuity”. Blog posting: The Pinocchio Theory, March 26, 2012, http://www.shaviro.com/Blog/?p=1034
Shaviro, Steven. Post-Cinematic Affect. Winchester: Zer0 Books, 2010.
Stork, Mattias. “Video Essay: Chaos Cinema: The Decline and Fall of Action Filmmaking.” IndieWire, Press Play, August 24, 2011. Retrieved on August 30, 2012.
Finally, here are links to the individual abstracts:
[UPDATE: It appears that La Furia Umana is down right now. In the meantime, you can find the roundtable discussion here as well: http://www.academia.edu/1993403/_Post-Cinematic_Affect_Post-Continuity_the_Irrational_Camera_Thoughts_on_3D_]
Issue #14 of La Furia Umana just came out, and in it you’ll find a roundtable discussion between Therese Grisham, Julia Leyda, and myself on the topic of “post-cinematic affect” — Steven Shaviro’s term for the contemporary media environment, following cinema’s displacement as the twentieth century’s dominant medium. This is the second roundtable discussion on the topic, the first (involving Julia Leyda, Nicholas Rombes, Steven Shaviro, and Therese Grisham) having also appeared in La Furia Umana (here). While the first roundtable focused on the first two Paranormal Activity films, the discussion this time around touches on District 9, Melancholia, and Hugo, among others, and reflects on “post-continuity,” the “irrationality” of contemporary cameras, and the uses and abuses of 3D. In my own responses, I also connect these things to the topic of plurimedial seriality. Originally, Steven Shaviro was also scheduled to participate in the discussion, but he unfortunately had to withdraw due to other commitments (you can get a feel for how busy he’s been lately from his recent blog posts). Nevertheless, I think the discussion worked out quite nicely, and a further collaboration between Shaviro, Grisham, Leyda, and me is in the works. More on that soon…
I’m not teaching any courses right now, but if I were then Steven Shaviro’s “MELANCHOLIA, or the Romantic Anti-Sublime” would definitely be required reading! This is an important essay, and the new open-access journal in which it appears, Sequence: Serial Studies in Media, Film, and Music, is sure to establish itself as an important site of media research. Founded and co-edited by Catherine Grant (of Film Studies for Free fame), the peer-reviewed journal responds to the medial specificities of its digital environment in an innovative — but nevertheless quite “natural” — way: by structuring itself in terms of seriality. From the “About” page:
SEQUENCE will use its position outside of established academic publishing frameworks to work adaptively and responsively, using a sequential edited-collection format – its publication schedule set by its authors and readers, and their research and concerns. In other words, it will make an open-access virtue of its own low-fi, D.I.Y., modular blog format. It can only do this meaningfully, of course, because of the generous labour and research expertise of its authors, and of the editorial and advisory boards of its publisherREFRAME.
Each new scholarly SEQUENCE will begin with the publication of one valuable contribution to research in the fields of media, film or music – on a particular theme named in the issue title. But the editors of each individual SEQUENCE won’t necessarily know what the next in their series will be, or when exactly it will come. Each SEQUENCE could, theoretically, turn out to be ‘infinite’, or only as long as the first, self-contained contribution – a hopefully interesting and worthy, if possibly melancholic, kind of monograph.
In any case, each contribution to a SEQUENCE, and each evolving SEQUENCE as a whole, will go on to be published in a variety of electronic viewing and reading formats, with the web version only the first in a series of digital iterations.
Instead of regularity, we aim above all for spreadability and engagement. Readers will find out about new SEQUENCES, and new contributions and updates to existing SEQUENCES through the paraphernalia and pullulations of contemporary online serial publication: primarily, the project’s blog, its RSS feeds, and its Twitter and Facebook pages, and, hopefully, sharings on from those.
In this spirit, check out Shaviro’s excellent article, share it, and spread the word about this important new venue for online, peer-reviewed, open-access scholarship!
Tomorrow (Wednesday, May 16, 2012, at 6:00 pm in room 615 of the Conti-Hochhaus), the Film & TV Reading Group will meet to discuss Steven Shaviro’s take on the “chaos cinema” debates (and his alternative idea of “post-continuity”). Felix Brinker will be moderating the discussion, which will center around a recent talk by Shaviro on the topic (which can be found on his blog, here: http://www.shaviro.com/Blog/?p=1034).
As usual, everyone is welcome to join us!