Catherine Russell's lecture

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Friday, January 16, 2015 - 16:00
Film Studies’ Gamble with Walter Benjamin: A Tale of Two Journals
Concordia University, EV 1,605

Although Walter Benjamin is frequently cited in film studies scholarship, there is little consensus on what he really offers the discipline. Working with several PhD students, I have tracked citations of Walter Benjamin in two major film studies journals, Cinema Journal and Screen from 1990 to 2014. The summary of these findings provides a limited, yet indicative, map of the role that Benjamin has played in the discipline, and how that role has evolved over the last 25 years. Benjamin has provided the discipline with a vocabulary of concepts, which are all covertly interrelated, provocatively introduced, and rarely defined unambiguously, including “dialectical image,” “optical unconscious,” and of course “aura.” This presentation traces a variety of interpretations of these terms, and contextualizes the study with an account of other publications that have affected the reading of Benjamin. Our objective is to assess how Benjamin might continue to be of use to the discipline as it reinvents itself in the digital age. Because there are many dimensions to his cultural theory, and many interpretations of his work, the project is concerned with many Benjamins, with whom we continue to gamble, in hopes that he may continue to show us how to deploy avant-garde techniques within an expanding image culture.

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