Re-Vision: Moving Image Media, The Self, and Ethical Thought in the 20th Century
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Rennebohm, Katherine Shanne
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CitationRennebohm, Katherine Shanne. 2018. Re-Vision: Moving Image Media, The Self, and Ethical Thought in the 20th Century. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractIn “Re-Vision: Moving Image Media, The Self, and Ethical Thought in the 20th Century,” I contend that in order to come to grips with cinema’s effects on ethical thought it is necessary to approach cinema as a medium of self-viewing and self-encounter. In taking this approach, I develop the original concept of “reviewing.” Reviewing here refers to the actual and imagined act of encountering oneself and one’s past experiences as moving images, as well as being seen in the same manner by others. I argue that this is a concept that emerges into ethical thought as a direct result of cinema’s unique forms of self-presentation. I take ethical thought to encompass not only philosophers’ writings about ethics but also more broadly individuals’ expressed concerns about their selves, lives, and relationship to the world. In claiming that film should be understood as a medium of the self, I make a strong departure from the dominant view in film studies, where cinema’s relation to the self is understood negatively, if at all. When film scholars have approached cinema as a medium of self-encounter—in studies of home movies, moving image art installations, or video surveillance—they have theorized these encounters as loci of nostalgia, narcissism, and biopolitical control respectively (Zimmerman, 1995; Krauss, 1976; Pauleit, 2002). In other words, the moving image operates in relation to the self only as a problem—at best a distraction, at worst a form of oppression. While this approach has considerable validity, its predominance has prevented scholars from acknowledging film’s more fundamental mediation of self- and ethical conceptions, a mediation that encompasses positive as well as negative effects. In other words, my claim is that moving image media, in giving a new picture of how one could relate to oneself and others, instantiated a new and as yet unanalysed framework for ethical thought. Importantly, my methodology acknowledges individual, cultural, and political differences within this framework—a fact that drives my choice of international thinkers and objects. The essential claim of “Re-Vision” is not that cinema changes what must be thought in the modern period, but what can be thought.
The Introduction to “Re-Vision” lays out my methodology in detail, examining my engagement with concepts from film philosophy, media theory, ordinary language philosophy, and Michel Foucault’s understanding of ethics. In Chapter One, I then trace early cinema’s provision of the new activities and questions of reviewing. The essential object for this analysis is “local” cinema, where exhibitors filmed spectators and then showed the spectators these moving images of themselves. In analyzing this under-studied aspect of cinema’s history, a precursor to the rise of home movie-making, I illuminate the fact that cinema came into popular understanding by way of ethically-framed questions about the value of one’s self, life, and relations to others. Reviewing and being reviewed thus became a new and ethically loaded activity for individuals. In Chapter Two, I argue that Ludwig Wittgenstein’s writings on cinema constitute an integral example in this history. My analysis of these “cinema remarks,” as yet unaddressed by either film scholars or philosophers, reveals how Wittgenstein’s thinking itself was affected by cinema and how, ultimately, cinema and reviewing came to play a crucial role in Wittgenstein’s later ethical philosophy. In the third chapter, I continue on to track how both moving image work and philosophy in the 20th century work out the ethical ramifications of reviewing. I examine the writings of philosophers and critics Edgar Morin, Stanley Cavell, and Rosalind Krauss, the role of video-based reviewing in artists, activists, and psychiatrists’ practices in the early 1970s, and key film texts that incorporate an aesthetic of reviewing into their formal structures. The Conclusion finally addresses the relation of the ethical to the political, analyzing the recent film Spell Reel (Filipa César, 2017) and its use of reviewing, and the question of the ethical and the “nonhuman” or “posthuman,” via a discussion of reviewing’s interrelation with the concepts of the “conscience.”
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:41128494
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