Postnaturalism reviewed in MEDIENwissenschaft


The latest issue of MEDIENwissenschaft: Rezensionen/Reviews includes a nice review of my book Postnaturalism: Frankenstein, Film, and the Anthropotechnical Interface. 

For those of you who read German, you can find the entire text of the review, by Anya Heise-von der Lippe (Tübingen/Berlin), here. For everyone else, here is a (rough) translation of the reviewer’s summary statement:

Postnaturalism offers a philosophical approach and an engagement with fundamental ontological and phenomenological questions of human and nonhuman materiality, which is indispensable especially for a post-postmodernity characterized by resource scarcity, climate change, and species extinctions, as well as the threat of a return to essentialist positions in politics and popular culture. Adapting a phrase from Bruno Latour, Denson counters the latter with a postnatural position: “We have never been natural” (24). Furthermore, Denson’s detailed examination — at the level of content, reception, and production — of Frankenstein adaptations is an asset for the analytical and production-aesthetic [produktionsästhetische] investigation of a central text (or modern myth) and its many adaptations in a wide range of text-critical disciplines: from media studies to literary to cultural studies.”

(Again, the translation is rough. Tweaks are more than welcome! Especially if you have suggestions for produktionsästhetisch or for making that first sentence more readable, drop me a line in the comments below…)

Finally, make sure you check out the entire issue of MEDIENwissenschaft, which is chock full of great stuff. Of particular interest to readers of this blog, among other things: the “Perspectives” section contains a longer piece on seriality and television series’ interrelations by Tanja Weber and Christian Junklewitz.

Check out the full contents of the issue here.

Postnaturalism reviewed in LWU

lwu-postnaturalismThe latest issue of Literatur in Wissenschaft und Unterricht, a special (English-language) issue on Serial Narratives edited by Kathleen Loock (a fellow member of the DFG research unit on “Popular Seriality”), includes a review of my book Postnaturalism: Frankenstein, Film, and the Anthropotechnical Interface. 

The review, by Dennis Büscher-Ulbrich of the University of Kiel, is mostly positive, though hardly uncritical. You can read the entire review here, but my favorite part must be a certain characterization of the book that appears in the midst of exposing what Büscher-Ulbrich takes as “the book’s theoretical Achilles’ heel” (namely, my lack of engagement with overtly political revolutions and with “recent post-Marxist political ontologies and metaphysics” in particular). In this context, Büscher-Ulbrich nonetheless flatteringly praises my “extraordinary powers of theoretical synthesis” and claims that

“[Postnaturalism] is one of the rare enough scholarly monographs whose collected footnotes alone provide an excellent education.”

Now, I recognize that it’s not for everyone (I have been criticized before for including “an entire second essay within an essay”) — and while I’m not sure I’d recommend taking your kids out of school and making Postnaturalism the primary textbook for their homeschooling (though you might do worse…) — I’m glad to see the footnotes getting some attention here from a reader who can appreciate the value of a page of text “below the line.”


In any case, if Postnaturalism ever sees a second edition, I’ll certainly suggest this as a fitting blurb!

Check out the entire review:

And check out the entire special issue of LWU on Serial Narratives!

Non-Diegetic Decapitation, or: The Animated Gif as Film-Theoretical Instrument


In my book Postnaturalism: Frankenstein, Film and the Anthropotechnical Interface, I follow Robert Spadoni in arguing that James Whale’s Frankenstein (1931) harnessed the energies of the recent transition to sound cinema, focusing them in the menacing figure of what Spadoni calls an “uncanny body.” I contend that Whale’s “capture” of these energies manifests itself,

above all, in the face of the monster, which, beneath the iconized veneer familiar to us all, undermines self-reflexivity of the conceptual sort with a non-reflective surface that refuses subjective correlation; the facial image, I wish to say, harbors a Teflon-like substrate to which phenomenological intentions just won’t stick. It is this substrate, this non-iconizable material excess of the monstrous facial image, that, in 1931, mediated the molecular force of transitionality.

To recover an experience of that visage, which would bring us face to face with the alien agency of Frankenstein’s filmic body, requires that we peel back the layers of popular-cultural associations that have accrued upon it over the years, that we rewind all the subsequent Frankenstein films and return to a situation prior even to Bride of Frankenstein’s melodramatic/ironic humanization of the face as the source of articulate words and expressive tears. We must try to imagine how terrifying the monster’s face was to its first audiences, who did not even have the comfort of a fixed genre label “horror” at their disposal with which to categorize, process, and thereby mitigate the disturbing nature of their experience. Indeed, this pre-stabilized horror film’s particular power to frighten was linked directly to the pre-iconic perception of the monster; as Spadoni points out: “How scary the film was on its first release is suggested by the fact that at that time, and unlike any time since then, the view of Boris Karloff’s monster as a sympathetic figure was not unanimously taken for granted” (93).

Clearly, there is no question of actually recovering the experience, or of seeing these images with the eyes of a spectator at a 1931 screening of the film. But, then again, I’m not quite sure what that would mean even if it were possible. For part of my argument about the “molecular force” of the image, which at some level “refuses subjective correlation,” is that horror was created here by bypassing conscious registration altogether. In this sense, then, there simply is no model spectator against which to measure my own experience of the images. Instead, if what I am suggesting makes sense, there is an experiential gap around which these images revolve and which they serve to invoke.


Thus, despite the monstrous facial image’s almost immediate degradation to a ubiquitous marketing gimmick, and despite the seemingly total transfer of its uncanny monstrosity to the diegesis (upon which basis Frankenstein served as a shining example for the subsequent generic stabilization of horror), it is possible, I maintain, to locate a gap in the net of textuality cast upon the image. In this gap, which is also a sort of hole in the narrative, the monster assaulted his first viewers with a physical shock, subject only to a visceral sort of processing, but which was just as quickly forgotten. Ground zero, where the impact of this experience is the greatest, and which marks a point of contact with an alien agency, is reached in the scene when the newly animated monster makes his first appearance onscreen.

All we can do, in other words, is circle around this “gap,” which I have done repeatedly in my work on Frankenstein, revisiting this scene over and over to think about it from all possible angles. But a “gap in the net of textuality” implies rather straightforwardly that, at least in certain respects, any textual description of the scene will necessarily be inadequate.

This is why, more recently, I have turned to videographic explorations of the images. My video essay “Sight and Sound Conspire: Monstrous Audio-Vision in James Whale’s Frankenstein” takes no fewer than three passes at the monster’s first appearance — without, however, stopping to dwell very long on the monster’s face and the breakdown of spatiotemporal relations that, I am suggesting, are occasioned by its first appearance. For my point, again, is that the forward motion of the film and its narrative is halted in its tracks, and a seemingly timeless space (or a non-spatialized duration) opens up and engulfs me, the viewer — though it all happens in the blink of an eye, so I may not be aware of anything beyond some vague feeling of dread or what we call “the uncanny.” Clearly, the seeming timelessness of the experience resists the linear exposition of the video essay as well, thus making repetition all the more necessary.


I want to suggest, then, that perhaps the closest approximation of this experience of timelessness is to be found in the form of the animated gif, the repetitive looping nature of which quite literally rips the images out of their diegetic contexts, helping us to understand how

this scene establishes the very possibility of [the head’s] detachment by first exposing the head from all sides, thus turning it into an object per se rather than a flat image, and the cut-in to the close-up seals the deal by making the head emerge from the screen, separated from the monster’s diegetic body. This non-diegetic decapitation stubbornly resists integration as pertaining to “one diegetic subject,” but the experience also lays the necessary groundwork for its retroactive textualization. This, then, is the very genesis of the monstrous face’s iconicity, the initiation of a process that will turn that face, seen from whatever angle and from whatever distance, into a sort of eternal close-up.

Here, finally, is my attempt to “visualize” this experience — where the “objecthood” per se of the head as a detachable thing (abstracted from the narrative and made available as a three-dimensional image, instantly destined to become a Halloween mask) is rendered visible through the subperceptible durations of a “flicker” gif. Look closely, for a little while, and (barring some negative physiological or psychological reaction, for which I cannot take responsibility), you’ll see the monster’s head start to assert its autonomy, to separate itself from the space around it, and to protrude outward from the screen to approach you. Still only an approximation, perhaps, the looping repetition of these microtemporal images intimate to us materially what takes place in the imperceptible “gap in the net of textuality”:


(After) After Extinction


A few weeks ago (April 30 – May 2, 2015), I had the pleasure of attending one of the most engaging conferences I have been to in recent memory: “After Extinction,” hosted by Richard Grusin and the Center for 21st Century Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. I’ll be posting my talk, “Post-Cinema After Extinction,” when I get a chance (so stay tuned…), but in the meantime I wanted to pull together all of the plenary talks (which, thankfully, were archived on video). As you’ll see in these talks by William Connolly, Joanna Zylinska, Daryl Baldwin, Joseph Masco, and Cary Wolfe, the conference brought together a diverse range of voices and perspectives and created space for an interesting and wide-ranging conversation about the conditions of life at our precarious moment.

#SCMS15 — Post-Cinema, Digital Seriality, and a Book Giveaway!

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Only two weeks until the 2015 Society for Cinema and Media Studies annual conference (March 25-29 in Montreal)! In case you haven’t seen it already, the official program is now up here (warning: opens as a PDF).

As I have posted before, I will be participating in two panels this year:

First, I will be serving as chair on the “Post-Cinema and/as Speculative Media Theory” panel (Session K7: Friday, March 27, 9:00 – 10:45am), for which I feel extremely lucky to have secured an all-star lineup of panelists: Steven Shaviro, Patricia Pisters, Adrian Ivakhiv, and Mark B. N. Hansen (click on each name to read the panelists’ abstracts). I also feel very honored that the Media and the Environment Special Interest Group has chosen this panel for official sponsorship!

Second, I will be co-presenting a paper on “Hardware Seriality” with my colleague Andreas Jahn-Sudmann in the “Digital Seriality” panel (Session Q20: Saturday, March 28, 3:00 – 4:45pm). Other panelists include Scott Higgins and Dominik Maeder (click for their abstracts). (Unfortunately, Daniela Wentz will not be able to attend the conference.)

Finally, just for fun: A BOOK GIVEAWAY! The first person to ask me (in person, during the conference) about my book Postnaturalism: Frankenstein, Film, and the Anthropotechnical Interface (excerpt here) will get a free copy! So be on the lookout!

Frankenstein 1910 Glitch Mix

Video meditation inspired by the final paragraph of my book Postnaturalism:

Recoding our perceptions of the Frankenstein film, including even our view of Karloff’s iconic monster as the “original” of its type, Edison’s Frankenstein joins the ranks of the Frankenstein film series, now situating itself at our end rather than at the beginning of that series’ history. Now, prospering among the short clips of YouTube, where it is far more at home than any of the feature films ever could be, the Edison monster becomes capable again of articulating a “medial” narrative—a tale told from a middle altitude, from a position half-way between the diegetic story, on the one hand, of the monster’s defeat by a Frankenstein who grows up and “comes to his senses” and, on the other hand, a non-diegetic, media-historical metanarrative that, in contrast to the story of medial maturation it encoded in 1910, now articulates a tale of visual media’s currently conflicted state, caught between historical specificity and an eternal recurrence of the same. The monster’s medial narrative communicates with our own medial position, mediates possible transactions in a realm of experimentation, in which human and nonhuman agencies negotiate the terms of their changing relations. With its digitally scarred body, pocked by pixels and compression “artifacts,” the century-old monster opens a line of flight that, if we follow it, might bring us face to face with the molecular becoming of our own postnatural future.

Postnaturalism in CUP Spring 2015 Catalog

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Some time ago, I posted that my book Postnaturalism: Frankenstein, Film, and the Anthropotechnical Interface had officially been made available by Columbia University Press, which serves as distributor in North and South America and Australasia. Shortly thereafter, massive restructuring of the CUP website led to the book’s temporary disappearance, but it is now back up here, and it has just appeared in CUP’s Spring 2015 Catalog (pictured above) as well.

If you’d like to preview the book, the best places to look are either at the Transcript-Verlag website (here; click “Excerpt” or “PDF” below the cover image) or the Google Books preview for the book (here).

Finally, it’s worth noting that you can get the book much cheaper than its official $60 price tag if you look for it on amazon or other outlets.