Violation: Representations in Literature and Culture

An Interdisciplinary Conference Sponsored by the McGill University English Department.

February 20-22, 2015. 

Thompson House, McGill University. 3650 Rue McTavish, Montréal.

SESSION C – Saturday 10-11:30AM*

II. Cinematic Liminality

Troy Bordun, Trent University

A Slow Dream, “As if” it were Real: Carlos Reygadas’s Post Tenebras Lux

Yan Tang, University of Victoria

Violating the Cinematic Surface: The Specters of Socialism in Chinese Urban Generation’s Films

Robyn Clarke, McGill University

Environmental Precarity in Take Shelter and Beasts of the Southern Wild: Political Ecology and the Precariat

via Panels.

A Slow Dream, “As if” it were Real: Carlos Reygadas’s Post Tenebras Lux

In this paper I argue that Reygadas’s Post Tenebras Lux (2012) presents altered states of embodiment “as if” they were everyday experiences, first, for the fictional characters, and second, for spectators’ affective experience of the film’s reality. Reygadas offers us a difficult narrative film that is any combination of characters’ dreams, fantasies, and hallucinations. Narrative films usually treat altered states as mental rather than physical experiences, reinforcing Cartesian views of experience. Unlike narrative works that clearly mark a separation between the “real world” of the diegesis and a subjective reality unique to a character, Post Tenebras Lux refuses to do so. By not announcing which sequences are dreams, concepts, and fantasies, and through an aesthetics that aims to elicit bodily responses in viewers rather than character identification/empathy, such as depth of field, the “hyperbolic long take” (de Luca 2014), and a camera lens shaved flat so that the edges of the frame are blurred, the director constructed a film that allows spectators to feel “as if” in an altered state themselves. This aligns the film with Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s one-world hypothesis (Lingis 1996). For the phenomenologist, embodiment is a continuous flow of experience, thus dreams and fantasy are parts of being-in-the-world, not cordoned off states of mind. Media theorist and phenomenologist Vivian Sobchack (2004 & 2014) helps to reinforce these claims. She argues that films can touch us bodily, thus when we utter statements such as “the film felt ‘as if’ real,” we really mean that the film made contact with our corporeality. I conclude that Reygadas’s aesthetics turns viewers back on themselves to sense, and reflect upon, experiences otherwise unacknowledged as essential components of embodiment.

Keywords: Carlos Reygadas, phenomenological film theory, altered states, Maurice Merleau-Ponty


Jennifer M. Barker, The Tactile Eye, Touch and the Cinematic Experience (Berkeley, Los Angeles, & London: University of California Press, 2009).

Tiago de Luca, Realism of the Senses in World Cinema: The Experience of Physical Reality (London & New York: I.B. Tauris, 2014).

Alphonso Lingis, The Imperative (Bloomington & Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1996).

Laura U. Marks, The Skin of the Film: Intercultural Cinema, Embodiment, and the Senses (Durham & London: Duke University Press, 2000).

Sheldon Penn, ‘The Time-Image in Carlos Reygadas’ Stellet Licht: A Cinema of Immanence’, Bulletin of Spanish Studies, 90:7 [2013], 1159-81).

Vivian Sobchack, Carnal Thoughts: Embodiment and Moving Image Culture (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004).

3:30-5:15 PM –– Session Three: Insatiable Appetites (WHC 208)

Moderator: Name TBD, Title TBD, Yale University

Marco Bohr (Loughborough University): “Tampopo: Food, Hedonism and Decadence in Japan’s Bubble Economy”

Michael Turcios (University of Southern California): “The Appetite to Consume ‘Otherness’ in the French Colonial Cinema of Claire Denis”

Fareed Ben-Youssef (University of California, Berkeley): “‘Attendez la Crème!’: Food and Cultural Trauma in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained”

Troy Bordun (Trent University): “Porn in the Art Gallery: Aesthetics and Sensory Disciplining”


Porn in the Art Gallery: Aesthetics and Sensory Disciplining

I contend that before precise acts are represented onscreen, porn aesthetics presupposes a user who wants to control but not necessarily master the materials under his gaze. Porn users actively engage with images and video and simultaneously require an abandonment of that activity to experience visual and bodily pleasure (Paasonen 2011; 2013). If we presume the “pornification” of modern culture (Paasonen, Nikunen and Saarenmaa 2007), which includes at the very least a general familiarity with the phenomenon of pornography, contemporary spectators are ready for a gallery of porn, more so than spectators from earlier decades. Curatorship of an exhibition of pornography should therefore provide active and passive modes of interactivity for its participants, i.e., contain materials that command physical grabbing and perceptual touching to thereby cultivate some degree of sexual abandon.

In late August, 2014, I curated a small exhibition entitled Stags, Sexploitation, and Hard Core: Moving Image Pornography up to 1972 at an artist-run center in Peterborough, ON. I think the unusual setting for pornography offers me a chance to consider the genre’s aesthetics, as claimed above, and spectators’ relationship to disciplining spaces. For the exhibition I decided upon a number of films to play simultaneously throughout the gallery and designed panels composed of stills, promotional materials, and text. The purpose of the exhibition was to bring a small portion of pornography’s history to the public. Additionally, on the introductory panel, I suggested that pornography aims at eliciting bodily sensations from its spectators. I wrote that arousal, laughter, shock, surprise, and awkwardness were as valuable responses as critical (dis)interest. Through observation of visitors and reading anonymous surveys about their experiences, I discovered that the organization and architecture of the gallery maintained a critical distance between spectators and materials, as in a conventional gallery (Williams 1995; Dennis 2009), despite my efforts to produce the opposite effect.

Eye Candy: Yale Graduate Film Conference 2015

Eye Candy: Consuming Moving Images at the Cinema and Beyond”

Conference Program

All events are at the Whitney Humanities Center (WHC), 53 Wall Street. All events are free and open to the public.

4:30-5:30 PM –– Registration (WHC 208)

5:30-6:30 PM –– Keynote Address (WHC Main Auditorium)

Nicholas Mirzoeff, Professor of Media, Culture, and Communication, New York University: “The Cops and the Commons: Life, Love and Value After Ferguson”

6:30-7:30 PM –– Reception (WHC 108)

7:30-8:45 PM –– Special Screening: Daisies (1966, 35mm print, 74 min.) (WHC Main Auditorium): Introduction by Ila Tyagi

Screening generously co-sponsored by the Yale Film Study Center, the Department of Slavic Languages & Literatures, and the Department of Art History.


9:00-10:00 AM –– Late Registration and Light Breakfast (WHC 208)

10:00-10:05 AM –– Opening Remarks (WHC 208)
Swagato Chakravorty and Regina Karl

10:05-11:45 AM –– Session One: Auteurs and their…

View original post 454 more words

Paper Presentation: November 16th, Cine-Excess VII: European Erotic Cinema: Identity, Desire and Disgust, Midlands Arts Centre, Birmingham, U.K.

Paper Presentation: December 4th, Symons Seminar Series, Trent University, Peterborough, ON

Pornographic genre codes are appropriated by Breillat and twisted to produce a particular message, meaning, or truth: the shame of feminine sexuality under patriarchy. In this paper I argue she must be pornographic, and explicit, if some element of truth in obscenity is to be recovered. I situate Breillat within a style of cinematic pornography, recuperating the term from otherwise hostile definitions.

I first consider how her pornography is unlike the erotic. Sexual encounters within her films are ripe with dissatisfaction, distaste, and misery and therefore far from the classical definition of viewing erotic art as a composed spectator’s aesthetic appreciation. Secondly, I articulate the difference between Breillat’s films and a pornography designed to titillate a specifically male viewer. True, Breillat falls in with pornography defined by Williams (1991) as a body genre, producing intense sensations in the spectator; pornography, in some manner, should move the viewer, often to a state of arousal or if shared in a theatre amongst friends, in bursts of nervous laughter. Breillat greatly separates herself from hard core in her efforts to move spectators. The sensation Breillat is able to produce in spectators is a cinematic displeasure of both narrative and images. According to Brinkema (2006), Grønstad (2006), and Horeck and Kendall (2011), among others, Breillat transmits her message with this method of provocation by engaging the spectator’s senses, therefore calling the viewer to ethically and immediately respond to the work. She accomplishes this cinematic brilliance – treading a line which is pornographic yet not erotic and causing a sensation in the viewer which is not arousal – by frustrating habituated viewing, challenging the common film-experience of identifying with characters, or symbolically recognizing the genre.

Paper Presentation at Decadence/Decay, Art History Graduate Student Conference at Carleton, March 9 – March 10


In this paper I argue that Tsai Ming-liang’s narratives of ruin are also stories of enduring love, providing a depth of interpretation beyond a simplistic labelling of him as a cynic who merely fictionalizes and exaggerates a decaying Taiwan and the failures of the modern world to provide happiness, freedom, and companionship. It is true that in The Hole (1998) and The Wayward Cloud (2005) we see the falling away of civility and morality as such by situating characters in ruinous environments; in these settings, unable to band together for collective action the protagonists do not battle for the scarce resources but accept their positions and lead bland, bleak, and solitary existences, paralleling the emptiness of an autonomous, independent, decadent life elsewhere. However, in the sexually unfulfilled Hole or the drawn out and eventual sexual encounter of Wayward Cloud, Tsai presents a lasting love between his characters without the either/or of so-called love today, i.e., according to Badiou, the well-planned marriage with procreation or the fun, passionless sexual encounter. Love is instead obstinate, as in the plays of Beckett; it is a powerful unchanging element surviving “catastrophic existence.” I suggest Tsai’s films answer Badiou’s call to rally to the defense of love. The duration of shots, minimal editing, lingering camera, lengthy scenes and silences, sparse dialogue, crumbling and collapsed spaces, and importantly the refusal of an immediate and identifiable blossoming romance between characters, all contribute to the re-invention of love as a challenge to endure.

Paper presentation at Western University’s (Re)Activating Objects, March 1 – March 3, 2013


In this paper I argue that actors and actresses’ performances are key objects of analysis in addressing the ethical challenges of New Extreme films. Breillat’s Fat Girl (2001) and its fictionalized making-of, Sex is Comedy (2002), incites an ethical engagement not merely in the sense of textual analysis, but requires a deeper investigation inherent to the filmmaking process. The reflexivity of the paired films – the latter as a staged re-enactment of the sex scene of the former, re-performed by lead actress Mesquida – motivates the development of a theory of performance following Linda Williams’ reflections, and in so doing shifting emphasis from director-auteur to the equally important actor-auteur, as Dyer argued decades ago.

Breillat places high demand on her actors to perform (physicality) as well as act (deliver dialogue), evinced by Mesquida’s reluctance and difficultly in shooting the twenty minute scene in which her character, Elena, is coerced out of her virginity in Fat Girl, and its alternate but similar re-performance in Sex is Comedy. The unnamed character-actress of the latter bursts into sobs when director Jeanne finally utters “cut” after the long take. Her tears are powerful within the narrative to be sure, but reflexivity is used here as a method of rethinking Mesquida’s earlier role in addition to films of the New Extremism generally, as Breillat is an oft-cited name for the recent cinematic tendency for flesh and blood: it poses the question of whether onscreen acts of physical and emotional violence manifest in the bodies of actors and actresses off-screen, and further, to what aesthetic and ethical end. In making the parallel between the films (hitherto unaccomplished by scholars) I sidestep theorists who label New Extremism aesthetic pornography or transgressive cinema, and instead refocus the theorizing of these films to issues of performance, the actor-auteur, and ethics.