Philosophy of the Essay Film | Animalities

Sat, Jan 17, 2015
2.30–4 pm
Free admission

Panel 1 . Philosophy of the Essay Film
Christa Blümlinger, Gertrud Koch, Esther Leslie; Moderation: Stewart Martin

Panel 2 . Animalities
Fahim Amir, Arianna Ferrari, Chris Wilbert; Moderation: Peter Hallward

Philosophy of the Essay Film
What is an essay film or an installation essay? Though their formal elements have existed since the early years of film, it is only recently that these terms have come to function as generic labels with certain aesthetic and conceptual stances: poetically wrought language, self-reflexion, a sustained rumination on one issue, and movement across disciplinary confines. What can essay films and installation essays communicate to, and about, philosophy?

People have always been in social relations with animals. In recent years, non-human animals are increasingly seen as part of sociality. New aspects of disciplines are emerging: multispecies ethnographies, anthrozoology, animal geographies, and cross-disciplinary areas rethinking agency. Yet to date, writing on biopolitics has given little attention to the human-animal relations. Can such concepts aid a radical politics or are new theories needed?

Christa Blümlinger: Film as metahistory
Morgan Fisher, Jean-Luc Godard and Alexander Kluge can be understood as filmmakers whose positions (films and texts) develop a form of thinking by their respective ways of conceiving collage and montage, and by an investigation concerning the relation between word and image. They belong to different traditions of avant-garde filmmaking and hence to different traditions of essayism. Nevertheless, a concrete mode of recycling archival material in all three cases contributes to a specific sense of history - albeit in terms of „metahistory“.

Esther Leslie: Art, documentary and the essay-film
Reflecting on his first attraction to film, Kracauer noted how he was struck by a tremble of wind crossing over the surface of a puddle in one corner of the screen. His eye was drawn to something unintended. This is a restatement of Walter Benjamin’s ‘optical unconscious’ of film. These are both filmic moments in which what is art and what is document collapse, in various ways. Equally Benjamin’s analysis of Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin focuses on the entry into the film of something not previously bidden into culture – the worker. This paper considers the passages in early essay film between film as artifice, managed, constructed, cut and reassembled, and film as document, as absorption of environmental givens, be they of nature or of historically constituted forces. It will explore Esfir Shub’s unmade essay film, Woman, from 1933-4, which provides an operative category of ‘artistic documentary film’, titled Woman, a category that might equally be presented as the sublation of the divide between art and politics.

Chris Wilbert: Trading Places and the Trade in Spaces of Animal-Human Encounters
Animals and capital impinge on one another in massively complex ways – indeed Nicole Shukin discusses how animals are produced as forms of capital. Animals are, of course, subject to and subjects of political practices in a wide variety of ways often in ways to ameliorate or intensify their productions. Yet it is important not just to see animals as subject to political practices, but as active affective political subjects that act beyond commodification, just as they are continually being absorbed within circuits of capital. This paper will reflect on how some of the spatialities of human-nonhuman interactions and subjectivities are being transformed in the 21st century.

Arianna Ferrari: The Animal Turn in the Humanities: Status Quo or Critical Perspective?
After first offering a brief reconstruction of the animal turn in humanities, this talk will discuss the challenges confronting radical discourses on human/animal relationships.

Fahim Amir: Zoooperaism: Provincialising the Human
‘Animality and Industrialism’ was Antonio Gramsci’s original title for his famous essay ‘Americanism and Fordism’ (1934) that popularized the notion of Fordism as a distinct social and economic constellation. The overall argument of this talk is that we may have lost more than just a title. Where Gramsci focused on the rearticulation of human animality in changing times, this talk argues through a reading of Sigfried Giedion’s ‘Mechanisation Takes Command’ (1948) that the role of animals in the prehistory of Fordism has to be rethought. While animals have been, until now, very often conceptualized in terms of ‘deficit’ or ‘lack’, Giedion’s depiction of the modernization of Chicago´s meat packing industry in the last third of the nineteenth century takes the opposite stand. Giedion’s multilevel argument that ‘the pigs resistance went beyond death” can be roughly summarized as follows: the pigs of Chicago resisted their integration into the mechanisation of death and meat packing due to their subjective capabilities, collective affects and corporal constitution – that is why the labour process as a whole had to become machine-like. The effect was an immense fragmentation of the labour force arranged around a rail at the ceiling where the killed animals would slide through the vertical slaughterhouse – the disassembly line was born and would later inspire Henry Ford to build his assembly line. Contrary to, for example, Adorno and Horkheimer´s Dialectic of Enlightenment (1947), where animals are epistemically incarcerated in the status of capitalism’s total victims, this paper argues that Gideon’s study succeeded –through its heterodox technique of montage and re-mixing of texts and images – in opening up a methodological alternative: animals were not conceived simply as passive addressees of human violence nor merely as material of human history. The resistance of animals provoked the modernisation of industrialism as we came to know it. The history of animals in class societies is the history of animal resistance.