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Guest Editor's Introduction

Phenomenology Encounters Cognitivism

Robert Sinnerbrink

Abstract

Since the early 1990s, phenomenology and cognitivism have become influential strands of inquiry in film theory. Phenomenological approaches remain focused on descriptive accounts of the embodied subject's experiential engagement with film, whereas cognitivist approaches attempt to provide explanatory accounts in order to theorize cognitively relevant aspects of our experience of movies. Both approaches, however, are faced with certain challenges. Phenomenology remains a descriptive theory that turns speculative once it ventures to “explain” the phenomena upon which it focuses. Cognitivism deploys naturalistic explanatory theories that can risk reductively distorting the phenomena upon which it focuses by not having an adequate phenomenology of subjective experience. Phenomenology and cognitivism could work together, I suggest, to ground a pluralistic philosophy of film that is both descriptively rich and theoretically productive. From this perspective, we would be better placed to integrate the cultural and historical horizons of meaning that mediate our subjective experience of cinema.

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The Guilty Brelfie

Censored Breastfeeding Selfies Reclaim Public Space

Mari E. Ramler

Breastfeeding mothers and their babies are simultaneously in the public sphere and hidden from public view. Although social media has the potential to normalize attitudes toward breastfeeding by increasing visibility, Facebook and Instagram maintain an unpredictable censorship policy toward “brelfies”—female breast selfies—which has undermined progress. Combining Iris Marion Young’s “undecidability” of the breasted experience with Brett Lunceford’s rhetoric of nakedness, this article investigates what breastfeeding mothers communicate online via digital images when they expose their breasts. By deconstructing controversial case studies, this article concludes that brelfies have increased breastfeeding’s accessibility and acceptability in the material world.

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Loving and Grieving with Heart of a Dog and Merleau-Ponty's Depth

Saige Walton

Abstract

Maurice Merleau-Ponty's existential phenomenology has been crucial to contemporary film-phenomenology, yet his later thought has not received the same attention. Drawing on “Eye and Mind” and other writings, I apply the philosopher's ontological concept of depth to the cinema. Using Laurie Anderson's Heart of a Dog (2015), an intimate, experimental portrait of animal life, death, grief, and loss, I approach Anderson's film as “depthful” cinema, bringing Heart of a Dog into a dialogue with Merleau-Ponty, the film essay, and the lyrical film. Through its diffractions of the subjective “eye/I,” its poetic approach to grief, and its openness to nonhuman ways of being, I argue that Anderson's film is in accord with Merleau-Ponty's later thinking on depth in art and in the world.

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Elizabeth Jochum, Graeme Stout, and Brian Bergen-Aurand

Jennifer Rhee, The Robotic Imaginary: The Human and the Price of Dehumanized Labor (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2018). 240 pp., ISBN: 978151790298 (paperback, $27)

Soraya Murray, On Video Games: The Politics of Race, Gender and Space (New York: I. B. Tauris, 2018). xv + 315pp., ISBN: 9781786732507 (PDF eBook, $82.50)

Ari Larissa Heinrich, Chinese Surplus: Biopolitical Aesthetics and the Medically Commodified Body (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2018). 264 pp., ISBN: 9780822370536 (paperback, $25.95)

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Brian Bergen-Aurand

This issue acknowledges the work of Rosalie Fish (Cowlitz), Jordan Marie Daniels (Lakota), and the many others who refuse to ignore the situation that has allowed thousands of Indigenous women and girls to be murdered or go missing across North America without the full intervention of law enforcement and other local authorities. As Rosalie Fish said in an interview regarding her activism on missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG),

"I felt a little heavy at first just wearing the paint. And I think that was . . . like my ancestors letting me know . . . you need to take this seriously: “What you’re doing, you need to do well.” And I think that’s why I felt really heavy when I first put on my paint and when I tried to run with my paint at first. . . . I would say my personal strength comes from my grandmas, my mom, my great grandma, and I really hope that’s true, that I made them proud." (Inland Northwest Native News interview)

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Synthetic Beings and Synthespian Ethics

Embodiment Technologies in Science/Fiction

Jane Stadler

Abstract

The screen is the material and imaginative interface where biology meets technology. It is the nexus between science and fiction, where technological and ethical concerns surrounding synthespians, representations of replicants, and manifestations of synthetic biology come into play. This analysis of digital imaging and cinematic imagining of virtual actors and synthetic humans in films such as Blade Runner 2049 (Denis Villeneuve, 2017) examines the ethical implications of digital embodiment technologies and cybernetics. I argue that it is necessary to bring together science and the arts to advance understandings of embodiment and technology. In doing so, I explore commonalities between ethical concerns about technobiological bodies in cultural and scientific discourse and developments such as the creation of virtual humans and “deepfake” digital doubles in screen media.

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Toward a Model of Distributed Affectivity for Cinematic Ethics

Ethical Experience, Trauma, and History

Philip Martin

Abstract

Many contemporary applications of theories of affect to cinematic ethical experience focus on its consequences for empathy and moral allegiance. Such approaches have made advances in bridging phenomenological and cognitivist approaches to film-philosophy, but miss the importance of complex affects that problematize empathy and moral judgment. For example, the rendering of trauma in Aimless Bullet (Hyun-mok Yu, 1961) involves aesthetic shifts that reframe its depiction of postwar experience and build a complex emotional picture of sociopolitical conditions that affect individual and community life. In this article, I argue that to understand the ethical significance of complex cinematic emotion we can develop an account of how affective-aesthetic affordances establish distributed spaces for dynamic affective engagement. To do this, I draw upon theories of scaffolded mind, classical Indian rasa aesthetics, and phenomenological aesthetics. This hybrid account will allow us to articulate the ways that film can help us comprehend the ethical significance of complex affective situations.

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Sol Neely

This Screen Shot section includes three texts—an interview and two articles—that, together, occasion an unsettling movement in the development of an Indigenous phenomenology staged upon Screen Bodies’ concern for the critical tryptic experience, perception, and display. Such phenomenology, moreover, takes shape in the spirit of an enduring and persistent Indigenous cosmopolitanism, one organized by an appeal to a pan-tribal solidarity that is also not shy about drawing from efficacious sources of critique internal to European critical traditions. Together, these texts—and the source materials that inspire them—build rich ecumenical perspectives in the service of decolonial justice and pedagogy. And while the texts included here are composed in English, each draws from and references Indigenous languages, articulating one kind of Indigenous cosmopolitanism that makes use of English as a kind of “trade language.” To stage an Indigenous phenomenology by appeal to an Indigenous cosmopolitanism, in our contemporary political moment, thus calls for critical attention attuned to the perspectives, traditions, and imaginations of what Tlingit poet and author Ernestine Hayes describes as “Indigenous intellectual authority.” In this spirit, Indigenous cosmopolitanism occasions a decolonial-critical cosmopolitanism rooted not in the secular, Habermasian cosmopolitanism of Europe but in the modalities of consciousness, the literary genius and acumen, of Indigenous oral literary traditions. In the context of such a cosmopolitanism in which everyone is variably situated, across the spectrum that divides descendants of perpetrators and victims of settler colonialism, the critical imperative becomes a decolonial one, and non-Indigenous readers are called to shed the epistemological, ontological, and political priorities that broadly characterize European analytical and continental traditions, whatever their internal debates may be. Such an imperative forces phenomenological attention not only on the macrological instantiations of settler-colonial power but also against the “micrological textures of power” that ultimately shape the inner contours of self and, thus, what becomes phenomenologically legible to individuals situated in their cultural contexts.

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Sol Neely

Rhymes for Young Ghouls (2014), written and directed by Mi’kmaq filmmaker Jeff Barnaby, is primarily presented as a residential school “revenge fantasy.” Some critics and reviewers of the film value it for its pedagogical possibilities, arguing that the film occasions opportunity for dialogue between Indigenous and non-Indigenous audiences about the legacies of the residential school system. Yet, numerous decolonial scholars and activists understand that dialogue alone cannot effect the quality of decolonial justice needed in the wake of genocide. This article approaches the film as a saturated phenomenon and examines the kinds of radical phenomenological transformation that must occur, especially among non-Indigenous audiences, for decolonial imperatives to become legible. Beyond developing a more comprehensive historical panorama of the violence and legacies of the residential school system, this article calls for a kind of translation of experience occasioned by the film, one that dramatically subverts and transforms modalities of consciousness on which coloniality is predicated.

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Within the Whole Body

An Interview with Ishmael Hope and Will Geiger on Tlingit House Screens and Indigenous Phenomenology

Sol Neely, Ishmael Hope, and Will Geiger

On a cold, snowy January night in Juneau, Alaska, Will Geiger and I convened at Ishmael Hope’s home—with his wife, Lily, and their five children—for dinner and cordiality in advance of our recording session. The Hope family is exceedingly generous with their time and knowledge, and, as is the case whenever we gather at the Hope home, one can palpably discern the multigenerational inspirations and relations that sustain their work, artistry, and community involvement. Once the children went to bed, we dimmed the lights and pulled out our books.

When the editors of Screen Bodies told me that the journal was interested in expanding notions of screen beyond cinema, I inquired about the possibility of interviewing Ishmael Hope and others on Tlingit house screens and, by a kind of phenomenological appeal, of focusing the conversation through a concern for embodiment. Originally, Ishmael and I invited Will Geiger and Forest Haven, a brilliant Tsimshian PhD candidate from University of California, Irvine, to participate, but Forest was unfortunately unable to attend. Over the years, I have worked closely with these three on a number of academic projects, developing a tight and trusted friendship sustained by mutual respect and interwoven eruditions.