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Jennifer Fay

Chair, Department of English | Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Professor of Cinema & Media Arts
Professor of Cinema & Media Arts | English | German, Russian, and East European Studies

My research and teaching are broadly concerned with transatlantic film and media theory, environmental criticism (including critical Anthropocene studies), and the relationship between aesthetics and politics. These interests are at the center of my third book Inhospitable World: Cinema in the Time of the Anthropocene (2018, Oxford University Press). Chapters move from Buster Keaton’s weather designs to the Nevada atomic testing range and from China’s Three Gorges Dam to the icy shores of Antarctica. The book explores the relationship of media theory and aesthetics to the production of artificial worlds, weather, and climates in which hospitality and survival in the world are at stake. Film Quarterly published an interview with me about this book, and extended reviews appear in L.A. Review of Books and the Hong Kong Review of Books. Inhospitable World was named a Choice “Outstanding Title” by the American Library Association, won Honorable Mention for the 2019 ASLE Ecocritical Book Award, was shortlisted for the 2019 Best Moving Image Award, Kraszna-Krauz Foundation, and was recognized at Vanderbilt in 2020 with the Chancellor’s Award for Research.

A recent essay in Representations, “Do I Know the Anthropocene When I See It?,” extends some of this research to contemporary documentary cinema and the political theory of Hannah Arendt. This essay is open access and available to download here. More public facing is the month-long film series entitled “Wir leben im Anthropozän” that I co-curated with Marius Kuhn at Zürich’s Kino Xenix. You can read an interview with me about the film series here.

A second line of inquiry focuses on sincerity, opacity, and the media of appearance across the writings of Stanley Cavell, Hannah Arendt, and James Baldwin. A few essays represent initial forays into this topic. “Must We Mean What We Film?: Stanley Cavell’s Candid Camera,” is my contribution to a special double issue of Discourse I co-edited with Daniel Morgan entitled “Cinema, Modernism and the Perplexing Methods of Stanley Cavell” which appeared in November of 2020. I examine the unlikely affinity between Arendt’s account of thinking and Cavell’s exploration of thought on film in an essay published in Critical Inquiry (Winter 2022). Finally, a short meditation published in Screen entitled “Hollywood’s White Privacy” takes up the racialization of cinematic privacy in the writings of Cavell and Baldwin.

I serve on the editorial board of the Journal of Environmental Media and Film-Philosophy, and I coordinate the Film Theory and Visual Culture Seminar at Vanderbilt’s Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities. Currently chair of the Department of English, I was previously first director and then chair of the Department of Cinema & Media Arts at Vanderbilt from 2011-2022. In the Spring and Summer of 2021, I was a Fellow at Cinepoetics: Center for Advanced Film Studies at the Free University, Berlin. I delivered a plenary entitled “Refusing the World” at the 2023 International Screen Studies conference (Glasgow) that focused on the theme of “Screen Worlds.” In October of 2023, I gave a series of talks and seminars at a week-long residency at the University of Zürich’s Film Studies Seminar.