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Film Theory and Visual Culture Seminar

This seminar aims to foster dialogue among faculty and graduate students across campus working in film, visual culture, art history, literature, and cultural studies, as well as anyone interested in theories of the image, philosophies of perception, aesthetics and critical theory, media histories, and the history of vision. Seminar coordinators: Jennifer Fay (Cinema & Media Arts and English)  James McFarland (German) and Lutz Koepnick (German and Cinema & Media Arts)


FALL 2020

Friday, Oct. 30, 12:00- 1:00 p.m.

Yuriko Furuhata (McGill University).

“Manufacturing Perfect Weather: Cold War Geopolitics and Climatic Media"

Friday will be a discussion of a pre-circulated video presentation.

 close up of author

Abstract: In the past few years, film and media studies has witnessed “environmental" and “elemental" turns. This has led to an expanded understanding of media, beyond the narrower purview of telecommunication and storage technologies, and towards thinking about the material and infrastructural operations of natural, chemical, and synthetic “elements” as part of media environments. This talk presents a genealogical account of today’s media environments by offering a transpacific take on the intertwined developments of geoengineering, architecture, and networked computing in Japan and the United States in the mid-20th century. To do so, I focus on air conditioning and weather control as a set of cultural techniques. I will refer to these as “climatic media.” Climatic media reflects a desire to secure a livable future environment, whether through engineering the atmosphere itself, or engineering the built structures. My argument is that in the 20th century the technological control over the weather through climatic media took a central stage. To this end, this talk will look closely at mediatic techniques of controlling natural elements in order to manufacturing artificial weather and artificial climate.

Bio: Yuriko Furuhata is Associate Professor and William Dawson Scholar of Cinema and Media History in the Department of East Asian Studies and an associate member of the Department of Art History and Communication Studies at McGill University. She works in the areas of film and media studies, architecture, visual arts, and critical theory. Her first book, Cinema of Actuality: Japanese Avant-Garde Filmmaking in the Season of Image Politics (Duke University Press, 2013), won the Best First Book Award from the Society of Cinema and Media Studies. Her second book, entitled Atmospheric Control: Transpacific Experiments of Climatic Media (forthcoming Duke University Press) explores geopolitical connections across environmental art, weather control, climate engineering, and cybernetic architecture in Japan and the United States.


Friday, Nov. 20. 12:00- 1:00 p.m.

Iggy Cortez (Vanderbilt University): “Deathlessness: Nocturnal Economies as Media Ecologies in Leos Carax's Holy Motors."

Friday meeting will be a discussion of a pre-circulated video presentation.

 iggy cortez

Abstract forthcoming:

Bio: Iggy Cortez is Mellon Assistant Professor in Cinema & Media Arts. His research and teaching interests include world art cinema, critical race studies, diasporic thought, the visual and sensory culture of digital media, and questions of sexuality, cinematic performance, and embodiment. He is currently at work on a book project on nighttime as a conceptual and sensory threshold across recent world cinema. Through a global range of films by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Leos Carax, Diao Yinan, Mati Diop, Barry Jenkins, and Tsai Ming-liang, among others, this project looks at the relationship between technologically-mediated perception and the affective and sensory dimensions of the historical present. His article "Licking for the Nation: Auntie Genealogies in Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Rak ti Khon Kaen (Cemetery of Splendour)” is forthcoming in the Journal of Cinema and Media Studies (formerly Cinema Journal) and a second article “Incestuous Wanderlust: 35 Shots of Rum’s Atmospheres of Circulation” will appear in Camera Obscura. With Ian Fleishman, he is also co-editing a volume of essays on the relationship between negative affect, cultural politics, and acting through the lens of Isabelle Huppert’s performances.


Nadine Chan

Assistant Professor of Cultural Studies - Claremont Graduate University

nadine chan

"Colonial Worldmaking in an Unruly Medium"
Friday, Jan 17th 12:00- 2:00 Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities

Abstract: This talk draws from the author's current manuscript-in-progress, A Cinema Under the Palms: Colonial Worldmaking in an Unruly Medium. Through a study of colonial educational films in British Malaya and Singapore from the 1910s to the present, this project conceptualizes film as an unruly medium that is animated by both colonial and counter-colonial energies. On the one hand, cinema's ability to rupture space, rearrange time, and visualize the empire are forms of imperial worldmaking and extensions of the historicizing and ordering work of colonialism. Indeed, these very properties persuaded officials that film would be an excellent medium for mass education in the colonies. However, the "unruly" qualities of the cinema—its clumsy technology, slippery indexicality, untethered time, and untamed reception—reveals a medium that verges on the edge of precarity rather than positivism. Thus, while the author argues for a new genealogy of the cinema that locates its technologies, theories, and aesthetics in the logics and material practices of late 19th and 20th century colonialism, this project is also invested in the unruliness of the medium—in how its slippages, lapses, opacities, and irrationalities inadvertently lend themselves to riotous counter-colonial possibility. Bridging scholarship in postcolonial and environmental media studies, this particular talk focuses on the worldmaking endeavors (and representational limitations) of "extractive cinema"—empire films that not only feature the colonial tropics as zones of resource extraction and capitalist expansion, but whose aesthetic and mechanical qualities echo the logics of colonialism itself.

Bio: Nadine Chan is Assistant Professor of Cultural Studies at Claremont Graduate University. Chan has articles published in Cinema Journal, Studies in Documentary Film, Periscope for Social Text, Spectator, and in the new anthology Screening Race in American Nontheatrical Film. Chan's current manuscript-in-progress examines colonial cinema in British Malaya and Singapore through the framework of cinematic "unruliness." She is also researching a second project on visualizations of the Anthropocene in Southeast Asian rainforests. Her dissertation, "A Cinema Under the Palms: The Unruly Lives of Colonial Educational Film in British Malaya," received an Award of Distinction from the Society for Cinema and Media Studies (SCMS). Her research has been supported by a Social Science Research Council International Dissertation Research Fellowship, a Global Asia Postdoctoral Fellowship from Nanyang Technological University (Singapore), and other fellowships and grants. Prior to joining CGU in 2019, she was a Harper Schmidt Fellow in the Society of Fellows at the University of Chicago.






Tung-Hui Hu


Sleep Mode

The digital economy relies on platforms which turn human workers into technical objects, as in Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos's description of Amazon Mechanical Turk workers as "artificial artificial intelligence." In turn, this makes technical interactions increasingly resemble other forms of service work, such as call center operators, wait staff, and even sex workers, where protocols restrict client-server interaction to simply "inputs and outputs and no access to our or anyone else's inner life" (Peter Galison). By investigating the dissociative performances in Julia Leigh’s film Sleeping Beauty (2011), about a young waitress that agrees to be unconscious while naked and fondled by her clients, this talk argues that we might be moving away from the modernist premise of a subject's interiority and towards a cybernetic model of "black box" consciousness. This is not a nihilistic move, however, but an opportunity to reconceive what liveness, privacy, and humanness are today, and, as a result, what we take to be political action by workers who simply wish to endure rather than resist.

Tung-Hui Hu is the author of a study of digital culture, A Prehistory of the Cloud (MIT Press, 2015), which was described by The New Yorker as "mesmerizing... absorbing [in] its playful speculations," as well as three books of poetry, most recently Greenhouses, Lighthouses (Copper Canyon, 2013). Hu has received awards from Yaddo, MacDowell Colony, the NEA, the Berlin Prize from the American Academy in Berlin, and the San Francisco Foundation. He is an associate professor of English and digital studies at the University of Michigan.


Alex Dubilet

"Impossible Futures (On Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne’s Lorna’s Silence)”

What futures are imaginable in neo-liberal Europe and what forms do they take in the present? What kind of psychic attachments do these futures produce and what violences result from them? This talk thinks through these questions via an analysis of the work of the filmmakers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne. In Lorna’s Silence (2008), the complex narrative and visual imbrication of sites of futural investment (the circulation and accumulation of money, the desire for a child) demonstrates that the future, which is always imminent, nevertheless remains fundamentally foreclosed: the future cannot arrive. Lorna remains attached to her dreams of possible futures even though attempts to realize these futures not only fail, but produce ever-intensifying violence. Unable to metabolize the violence in which she, despite herself, has been complicit, Lorna finds her very psychic coherence undone. By the end, there are no possible futures left, and the film has become a site for the articulation of an impossible ethics for confronting irredeemable violence.
The talk is part of an on-going collaborative project (with Joshua Craze) that theoretically reexamines the import of the films of Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, tentatively entitled,The Afterlife of Attachment.
Alex Dubilet is currently a Senior Lecturer in the Departments of English and Political Science at Vanderbilt University. Dubilet works across a number of fields, including contemporary continental philosophy, critical theory, philosophy of religion, critical study of secularity and secularism, and, more recently, film and film theory. He received his Ph.D. in Rhetoric from the University of California, Berkeley in 2014.

His first book,  The Self-Emptying Subject: Kenosis and Immanence, Medieval to Modern  was published by Fordham University Press in 2018. He has co-translated (with Jessie Hock) into English François Laruelle’s  General Theory of Victims (Polity Press, 2015)  and  A Biography of Ordinary Man: On Authorities and Minorities (Polity Press, 2018) .
His recent work has sought to theoretically reconfigure the contours of political theology through a re-examination of figures such as Meister Eckhart, Karl Marx, Mikhail Bakunin, Georges Bataille, and Louis Althusser. He has co-edited a volume (with Kirill Chepurin) German Idealism and the Future of Political Theology: Kant to Marx, which is currently under review with Fordham. With Kirill Chepurin, he is also currently working on a speculative reassessment of 19th-century Russian thought through the lens of contemporary philosophical concepts, including immanence, nothingness, and utopia – the first fruits of which are appearing this year in the journals Theory & Event and Angelaki.
The talk he is giving is part of a different collaborative project (with Joshua Craze) that offers a reexamination of the films of Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, tentatively entitled, The Afterlife of Attachment.

Pooja Rangan


Inaudible Evidence: Counterforensic Listening in Contemporary Documentary Art

My talk examines the work of three contemporary artists whose speculative practices of listening stage a conversation between documentary and forensic aesthetics. Alison S. M. Kobayashi, James N. Kienitz Wilkins, and Lawrence Abu Hamdan all listen with forensic scrutiny to recorded voices as the basis of their artistic practice: a decades-old amateur wire recording, a downloaded transcript of a 2006 public hearing in a New York town, and cassette tapes of audio tests employed by immigration authorities. They listen for testimony that eludes the forensic gaze and ear and materialize the practices of listening whereby documentary evidence becomes audible. I situate their work in a long history of reflexive documentary practices that have sought to trouble the evidentiary basis of documentary realism.  Kobayashi, Wilkins, and Abu Hamdan diagram the usefulness of documentary as a civilian art of counterforensic listening: one that seizes forensics from state control and democratizes the forum of its interpretation.

Pooja Rangan is a documentary scholar and writer based in Western Massachusetts and Brooklyn. She is the author of Immediations: The Humanitarian Impulse in Documentary (Duke UP, winner of the ACLA 2019 Levin Prize for Outstanding First Book), a book that examines the humanitarian ethic of giving voice in participatory documentary. Rangan is Associate Professor of English and Film and Media Studies at Amherst College and Board President of the Flaherty. 

This seminar aims to foster dialogue among faculty and graduate students across campus working in film, visual culture, art history, literature, and cultural studies, as well as anyone interested in theories of the image, philosophies of perception, aesthetics and critical theory, media histories, and the history of vision. Seminar coordinators: Jennifer Fay (Cinema & Media Arts and English)  James McFarland (German) and Lutz Koepnick (German and Cinema & Media Arts)

The seminar meets once a month on Fridays (see schedule below) at the Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities, from 12:00- 2:00 p.m. Lunch is provided!!

Samantha Barbas

Professor of Law at the University at Buffalo School of Law

"How the Movies Became Speech" Pre-circulated paper 

Friday, Jan 25th, Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities. 




Samantha Barbas is Professor of Law at the University at Buffalo School of Law. She researches and teaches in the areas of legal history, First Amendment law and mass communications law. Her work focuses on the intersection of law, culture, media and technology in United States history. Barbas is the author of five books on media law and history: Confidential Confidential: The Inside Story of Hollywood’s Notorious Scandal Magazine (Chicago Review Press, 2018); Newsworthy: The Supreme Court Battle Over Privacy and Press Freedom (Stanford University Press, 2017); Laws of Image: Privacy and Publicity in America (Stanford University Press, 2015); The First Lady of Hollywood: A Biography of Louella Parsons (University of California Press 2005); andMovie Crazy: Fans, Stars, and the Cult of Celebrity (Palgrave Macmillan 2001).


Abstract: How the Movies Became Speech 

In its 1915 decision in Mutual Film v. Industrial Commission of Ohio, the Supreme Court held that motion pictures were, as a medium, unprotected by freedom of speech and press because they were mere “entertainment” and “spectacles” with a “capacity for evil.” Mutual legitimated an extensive regime of film censorship that existed until the 1950s. It was not until 1952, in Burstyn v. Wilson, that the Court declared motion pictures to be, like the traditional press, an important medium for the communication of ideas protected by the First Amendment. By the middle of the next decade, film censorship in the U.S. had been almost entirely abolished. 


Why did the Court go from regarding the cinema as an unprotected medium to part of the constitutionally-protected “press”? The standard explanation for this shift is that civil libertarian developments in free speech jurisprudence in the 1930s and 40s made the changed First Amendment status of the movies and the fall of film censorship inevitable. Challenging this account, I argue that the shift was also the result of a dynamic I describe as the social convergence of mass communications. Social convergence takes place when the functions, practices, and cultures associated with different media come to resemble each other. By the 1950s, movies occupied a role in American culture that increasingly resembled the traditional press. At the same time, print journalism took on styles and functions that were like those historically associated with the movies. The demise of film censorship reflected not only more capacious understandings of freedom of expression, but also convergent communications. The article focuses on the efforts of a nationwide anticensorship movement, between 1915 and the 1950s, to engineer the reversal of Mutual using an argument based on media convergence. 


This significant, lost chapter in the history of modern free speech has much to tell us about the ongoing relationship between the First Amendment and new media. It illustrates how courts and the public in an earlier time dealt with a question that is still pressing today: should the medium of communication have significance for free speech law? Illuminating historical patterns of judicial responses to new media, the work offers insights into what we may predict about the regulation of mass media in our own era of media convergence.



John David Rhodes

Reader in Film Studies and Visual Culture, Corpus Christi College, University of Cambridge

"The Prop and its Properties"

Feb. 8, 12:00- 2:00 p.m. Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities 




The prop names a category of ubiquity: props are everywhere in cinema. The term, short for property, is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “any portable object (now usually other than an article of costume) used in a play, film, etc., as required by the action.” The straightforwardness of this definition, however, belies the strangeness of the prop. The prop begs questions of scale, ambience, contingency, commodification, objecthood, and narration. In the context of narrative cinema, props seem as necessary as actors, sets, and locations. Regarding cinema through the lens of the prop—which is the lens of property—helps us to see how an ontological instrumentality courses through the very nature of the cinematic medium. This talk, which will veer from theory to history to questions of close reading, emerges from my recent book on domestic architecture and cinema, The Spectacle of Property: The House in American Film (2017). In the talk I hope to show how foregrounding cinema’s prop-ness summons into view some of the medium’s most curious and most unsettling features. 


John David Rhodes is the author  and editor of six books, including Spectacle of Property: The House in American Film (2017), Stupendous, Miserable City: Pasolini’s Rome (2007), and Taking Place: Location and the Moving Image (2011). He is the Director of the Centre for Film and Screen at the University of Cambridge and a fellow of Corpus Christi College. He is also a founding editor of the journal World Picture. 


Friday March 22, 12:00- 2:00,  Location: Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities 

Michael Wedel (Max Kade Visiting Professor of German, Vanderbilt University)

 "Murnau/ Hitchcock"  



Friday, April 12

12:00- 2:00 Buttrick Hall 162

Akshya Saxena (Department of English, Vanderbilt University) 

"Cinematic Englishes" 

 Abstract: How do we read language in film, and what can it tell us about reading literature? To answer this set of questions, this talk examines the visual and sonic ways in which the question of language manifests in a range of films from postcolonial India. Specifically, the talk pays attention to the cinematic production of English in an ex-colony, including the practices of censorship, subtitling, and dubbing that shape what is read under the sign of “English”.

Bio: Akshya Saxena is assistant professor of English at Vanderbilt. Her current book project, “Vernacular English,” brings together law, literature, and film to examine the life of the English language in post-independence India. Her scholarship has been supported by the American Council of Learned Societies and the Social Science Research Council, and has appeared or is forthcoming in Interventions: International Journal of Postcolonial StudiesSouth Asian ReviewCultural Critique, and LARB.




This seminar aims to foster dialogue among faculty and graduate students across campus working in film, visual culture, art history, literature, and cultural studies, as well as anyone interested in theories of the image, philosophies of perception, aesthetics and critical theory, media histories, and the history of vision. Seminar coordinators: Jennifer Fay (Cinema & Media Arts and English)  James McFarland (German) and Lutz Koepnick (German and Cinema & Media Arts)

The seminar meets once a month on Fridays (see schedule below) at the Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities, from 12:00- 2:00 p.m. Lunch is provided!!




Lisa Gitleman (NYU)

"Emoji Dick and World Communication"

12:00- 2:00 PM, Friday, Jan 19, 2018


Marco Abel (University of Nebraska)

"Is School Out?; or, The Berlin School as Event."

12:00-2:00 PM, Friday, Feb 2, 2018


 Haerin Shin (Vanderbilt University)

"Posthuman Microagression: The Asian"

12:00-2:00 PM, Friday Feb 16,2018


Brian Jacobson

University of Toronto

"Raw Materialism, Refined Form, and The French Art of Oil"

12:00-2:00 PM, Friday March 23,2017




Talks are held at the Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities.


2016-17 Schedule:

Fall 2017

Spring 2017

Spring 2017
Friday September 22, 12:00- 2:00 p.m.
Michael B. Gillespie (City University of New York)
“Death Grips: Film Blackness and Contemporary Cinema”

Spring 2017
Friday, October 20, 12:00- 2:00
Rob King (Columbia University)
“The Revelations of Bill Hicks, or, Rethinking Standup Comedy as a Mode of Social Critique.”

Spring 2017
Friday, December 1, 12:00- 2:00
Joseph Jeon (Pomona College)
"Wire Aesthetics: Tube Entertainment’s Flops and the Protocols of Late US Empire"


Spring 2017


Spring 2017

Fall 2016






Johannes von Moltke 
University of Michigan
"Of Humans and Things: Classical Film Theory as Media Theory"
September 9, 2016
12:00-2:00 p.m.



Davide Panagia 
University of California, Los Angeles
"Sympathy, Solidarity, Montage: The Moviola's Political Ontology"
October 7, 2016
12:00-2:00 p.m.



2015-16 Schedule:

Akira Lippit 
University of Southern California
"Jacques Derrida's Echopoiesis and Narcissism Adrift"
September 25, 2015
11:00-1:00 p.m.

Karla Oeler 
Emory University
"Thinking as Interior Monologue, or Eisenstein and Exteriority”
November 6, 2015
12:00-2:00 p.m

Nick Sousanis 
University of Calgary
"Unflattening: Reimagining Scholarship Through Comics"
December 4, 2015
12:00-2:00 p.m.

J.D. Connor
Yale University
“Hollywood Math after Math: Dataculture and the Obama Era”
March 4, 2016
12:00-2:00 p.m.

Candice Amich
Vanderbilt University
"Neoliberal Repetitions: Regina José Galindo’s Acts of Ritual Violence" 
April 22, 2016
2:00-4:00 p.m.


Daniel Morgan
Cinema and Media Studies
University of Chicago
"The Morals of Style"
Friday, Sept. 12, 12:00- 2:00 p.m.

Andrew V. Uroskie
Modern and Contemporary Art
Stony Brook University, State University of New York
"Site-Specificity and Expanded Cinema: Ken Dewey's Selma Last Year (1966)"
Friday, October 10, 12:00- 2:00 p.m.

Nora Alter
Film and Media Arts
Temple University
"Strange Songs: Lyrical Strains in the Essay Film"
Friday, Dec. 5, 12:00- 2:00 p.m. 

James McFarland

Department of German | Cinema & Media Arts
Vanderbilt University
"From Masses to Swarms: The Zombie Horde and the Mad Element of Biopolitics."
Friday, February 13, 12:00- 2:00 p.m.

Michael Moon
Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies
Emory University 
"Bare Life Revisited:  Senses of Nudity in Pasolini's Arabian Nights and Darger's Realms of the Unreal."
Friday, April 10, 12:00- 2:00 p.m.


Lutz Koepnick (Department of German and Film, Vanderbilt University)
"Notes on the Long Take: Contemporary Art Cinema and the Wondrous"
Friday, Sept. 27th, 2013

Paul K. Saint-Amour (University of Pennsylvania) Karen Beckman (University of Pennsylvania).
"The Visual Culture of Warfare"
Friday, Oct. 25, 2013

Lesley Stern (Department of Visual Arts, UC-San Diego)
"Can the Cinema Think (and Feel) Like a Thing?"
Friday, November 8, 2013

Ackbar Abbas (Department of Comparative Literature, UC- Irvine)
Junk Space, "Dogville," and Poor Theory
Friday, December 6, 2013 


Andrea Mirabile (Department of French and Italian, VU)
"Multimedia Archaeologies: D'Annunzio, Belle Epoque Paris, and the Total Artwork"
Friday, Oct. 26, 2012

Alison Griffiths (Media Studies, Baruch College, CUNY)
"Prison, Cinema, and the Senses:  The Social and Psychic Experience of Film Behind Bars"
Friday, November 16, 2012

Jan Mieszkowski (Department of German and Humanities, Reed College)
"Watching War"
Friday, December 7, 2012

Jonathan Flatley (Department of English, Wayne State University)
"Andy Warhol's Skin Problems"
Friday, Jan 25, 2013

Gregg Horowitz (Professor and Chair of Social Science, Pratt Institute)
"A Made-To-Order Witness: Women's Knowledge in Vertigo"
Friday, Feb. 15, 2013

Amanda Boetzkes (Department of Contemporary Art History and Theory, University of Guelph)
"Plastic Vision, Oil, Objectivity"
Friday, March 15, 2013


Justus Nieland (English and Film Studies, Michigan State University)
"Sensible Atmospheres, Plastic Worlds: In the Modernism of Expanded Cinema"
Friday, Nov. 11, 2011

Euginie Brinkema (Department of Literature, MIT)
"Horror is a Problem of a Line: Intermittency, Dismay, Anxiety"
Friday, Dec. 8, 2011

Zahid Chaudhary (Department of English, Princeton University)
"What Difference does Difference Make?: Adorno, Mimesis, and the Picturesque in India"
Friday, Jan. 13, 2012

Jacques Khalip (Department of English, Brown University)
Workshop on Releasing the Image
Friday, Jan 27, 2012

David Clark (English and Cultural Studies, McMaster University)
"Animal, Atrocity, Witness"
Friday, March 16, 2012