All posts tagged: Review

Designs for the Pluriverse: Radical Interdependence, Autonomy, and the Making of Worlds

Reviewed by Hanna E. Morris, Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania. Arturo Escobar. Designs for the Pluriverse: Radical Interdependence, Autonomy, and the Making of Worlds. Duke University Press. 2018. 312 pages. “The notion of oww [One-World World] signals the predominant idea in the West that we all live within a single world, made up of one underlying reality (one nature) and many cultures. This imperialistic notion supposes the West’s ability to arrogate for itself the right to be ‘the world,’ and to subject all other worlds to its rules, to diminish them to secondary status or to nonexistence, often figuratively and materially. It is a very seductive notion […]” (Escobar, Designs for the Pluriverse, 86). It is only fitting to begin this essay with a provocative quote—as the author of the book under review, Arturo Escobar, chooses to begin each chapter of Designs for the Pluriverse: Radical Interdependence, Autonomy, and the Making of Worlds (2018). Escobar, professor of anthropology at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and author of several, groundbreaking works such …

Immediations The Humanitarian Impulse in Documentary

Reviewed by Genne Speers, York University, Toronto. Pooja Rangan. Immediations The Humanitarian Impulse in Documentary. Duke University Press. 2017. 254 pages. “What does endangered life do for documentary?” This critical, and often overlooked, question is the point of departure for Immediations The Humanitarian Impulse in Documentary. In this book, Pooja Rangan, Assistant Professor of English in Film and Media Studies at Amherst College, articulates the paradox of participatory documentary and the problematic of “giving voice to the voiceless.” Rangan argues that the humanitarian impulse of giving the camera to the other is an ideological act. The gift of the camera appears as an invitation to the dehumanized other to claim and take up their position as a member of the community of humanity, however it doesn’t go far enough to engage the problematics of how we define the community of humanity, or how we can expand what we conceive of as the human/e. Crucially, this question of how we conceive of the human/e presents itself as a core concern of this book (158). Rangan’s neologism, …

Allegory and Its Interpretational Force in “mother!”

Jonathan Wright, York University Most critics agree that Darren Aronofsky’s 2017 film mother! operates as some sort of allegory. There are a few different allegories to choose from, including the biblical narrative of creation, fall, and sacrifice; the act of artistic (or even cinematic) creation as consuming and oblivious; and the depletion of natural resources by human cultures. The winding plot of mother! will not be recounted here, since it both relies on the element of surprise and is so baroque that it would take the larger part of this review just to present it. At its core, the film depicts a woman experiencing a set of increasingly dramatic trials involving her house, her husband, and her newborn child, most of which seem entirely inexplicable except within the schema of an allegory or extended metaphor. The idea of a film as a representation of other, different events is not unique to mother! After all, “reading” a film through a psychoanalytic, feminist, Marxist, or (more recently) queer lens has been an accepted approach in academia for …

The Networked Recluse: The Connected World of Emily Dickinson

Reviewed by Sarah Kinniburgh, College of William and Mary Colin Bailey, Michael Kelly, Carolyn Vega, Marta Werner, Susan Howe. The Networked Recluse: The Connected World of Emily Dickinson. Amherst, Massachusetts: Amherst College Press, 2017. 185 pp.  In The Networked Recluse: The Connected World of Emily Dickinson (Amherst College Press, 2017), a team of leading Dickinson scholars, curators, and poets takes up the task of contextualizing a figure in the American literary canon that has historically been understood as one-dimensional. In the popular imaginary, Dickinson is “lady in white” at best, total outcast at worst. A welcome complication of this portrait, Networked Recluse constructs Dickinson’s life as uniquely configured through her family and her broader circuits of correspondence in the town of Amherst in the years around the American Civil War. The volume was designed to accompany I’m Nobody! Who are You? The Life and Poetry of Emily Dickinson, an exhibit which ran from January through May 2017 at the Morgan Library & Museum, and, as such, benefits from the combined expertise and care of Mike Kelly, …

Organic Cinema: Film, Architecture, and the Work of Béla Tarr

Reviewed by Anthony Ballas, University of Colorado at Denver Thorsten Botz-Bornstein. Organic Cinema: Film, Architecture, and the Work of Béla Tarr. New York: Berghahn Books, 2017. 221 pages. Thorsten Botz-Bornstein’s Organic Cinema: Film, Architecture, and the Work of Béla Tarr features an impressive multidisciplinary examination of the concept of organicism through a complex yet sophisticated web of philosophical, aesthetic, architectural and cinematic examples. For Botz-Bornstein, organicism grates up against mainstream or otherwise popular philosophical and aesthetic theories, offering a divergent path away from the post-structuralist, deconstructive, leftist ideologiekritik, as well as the “competition of different universalisms,” ranging from Islamic fundamentalism to western capitalism, which dominate our contemporary social and aesthetic paradigm (2-3). Filmmakers such as Béla Tarr and Andrei Tarkovsky, architects like Frank Lloyd Wright and Imre Makovecz, writers such as Lázló Krasznahorkai and philosophers such as Gilles Deleuze and Henri Bergson, are the exemplars of organic thinking according to Botz-Bornstein, who highlights their theoretical and aesthetic import as advocates of contemplation, slowness, and ultimately the cosmic thought linking the relative to the universal, or, …

Socialist Senses: Film, Feeling, and The Soviet Subject, 1917-1940

Reviewed by Raymond DeLuca, Harvard University. Emma Widdis. Socialist Senses: Film, Feeling, and The Soviet Subject, 1917-1940. Indiana: Indiana University Press, 2017. 407 pp.  In Socialist Senses: Film, Feeling, and the Soviet Subject, 1917-1940, Emma Widdis offers a groundbreaking history of early Soviet cinema. The October Revolution, Widdis argues, inspired a radical, albeit undertheorized, cultural project of transforming human sensory experience. Cinema, moreover, became an important medium of this sensorial revolution. The moving image could simultaneously depict reimagined sensory encounters onscreen and, what’s more, could emotionally, psychologically, and physically make itself felt on its spectators. Film, then, helped transform Soviet citizens’ relationship to their material world. Drawing on a wide array of films, Widdis reveals how this sensory project, beginning with the 1920s avant-garde, evolved from one of transforming external sensations (i.e., touch, sight) to one of reeducating internal sensations (i.e., emotions, feelings) under the Stalinist doctrine of Socialist Realism. In Chapter One, “Avant-Garde Sensations,” Widdis recounts the origins of the Soviet avant-garde’s preoccupation with the material and textural qualities of artistic production, what, in …

Dying in Full Detail: Mortality and Digital Documentary

Review by Gwynne Fulton, Concordia University Malkowski, Jennifer. Dying in Full Detail: Mortality and Digital Documentary. Durham: Duke University Press, 2017. 264 pp. In Dying in Full Detail: Mortality and Digital Documentary, Jennifer Malkowski, Professor of Film & Media Studies at Smith College, looks at the intersection of death (as a corporeal and physiological process) and documentary (as a genre and mode of representation) in the digital era. Malkowski’s critical reappraisal of documentary death interrogates the desire to represent death in “full detail,” from analogue photography and film through live-streaming of digital video on mobile platforms. The desire to capture death, Malkowski notes, has “attracted many cameras” (3). It has been variously subject to cultural taboo and fascination; it persists in many modes and across multiple media, serving shifting social and political functions. In “Looking at War,” Susan Sontag registers 1945 as a pivotal turning point in representations of “death in the making.”1 New mobile lightweight technologies registered the brutal cost of modern warfare as never before, impelling debate about the incredible risk and imperious ethical necessity …

My East Is Your West

Review by Sophie Knezic, University of Melbourne. Shilpa Gupta and Rashid Rana, My East Is Your West. 56th Venice Biennale. May 5 – October 31, 2015. A satellite exhibition of the 56th Venice Biennale, My East is Your West was presented at the Palazzo Benzon, whose interior architecture of adjoining rooms, narrow corridors and cordoned-off, dimly-lit spaces suggested a mise en abyme of thresholds and crossings. Commissioned by the Gujral Foundation, conceived by its Director Feroze Gujral, and curated by Martina Mazzotta and Natasha Ginwala, the exhibition juxtaposed Pakistani artist Rashid Rana and Indian artist Shilpa Gupta’s respective explorations of geographical divides and subcontinental tensions. As nations locked in postcolonial conflict for much of the second half of the 20th century, neither India nor Pakistan has had the privilege of a permanent national pavilion at Venice, making this a particularly pointed curatorial pairing. Choosing to deploy a method of appropriation, Rana covered two walls with pixelated digital prints of two canonical works from Western art history: Caravaggio’s Judith Slaying Holofernes (1598-99) and Jacques Louis David’s Oath of the Horatii (1784), …