Elsaesser, Thomas. “Acknowledgements” In European Cinema and Continental Philosophy. Film as Thought Experiment, edited by Thomas Elsaesser, vii–x. New York, London: Bloomsbury, 2019.

European Cinema and Continental Philosophy: Film as Thought Experiment — Acknowledgements

Thomas Elsaesser

from European Cinema and Continental Philosophy: Film as Thought Experiment by Thomas Elsaesser

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This book was longer in the making than I would have liked, and so my first and foremost thanks go to the ‘Thinking Cinema’ series editors, Sarah Cooper and David Martin-Jones for their patience and persistence. It still feels like I let it go before its time – a feeling tempered by the thought that there is never a good moment to try and say something definitive, least of all about ‘Europe’ or about ‘cinema’.

Several intellectual itches prompted me to take up these challenging topics once more. One was an urge to further develop ideas first put forward in the chapter on ‘double occupancy and mutual interference’ from my previous book on European Cinema, and to do so by ‘enlarging the context’. Another had to do with a growing interest in film philosophy: our book on Film Theory: An Introduction through the Senses led me to think that some issues which had preoccupied film studies could do with a fresh approach and that film theory, too, might benefit from enlarging the context.

I also had the growing intuition that there was indeed another way of bringing European cinema face to face with Hollywood, given that cinema in the digital age requires a different ‘ontology’. The tendency among European directors towards ‘film as thought experiment’ corresponded in some yet to be fully specified ways to what I had earlier tried to identify as ‘mind-game films’ in American cinema since the 1990s, well aware that these mind-game films had European predecessors in the works of Fritz Lang, Luis Bunuel, Alain Resnais, for instance.

But it required specific occasions to make me take these thoughts to a point where I wanted to write about them. Sincere thanks go to my hosts at various conferences and to panel chairs: my good friends in Tel Aviv: Nurith Getz, Michal Friedman, Boaz Hagin, Raz Yosef, Sandra Meiri and Anat Zanger, who invited me to a conference on ‘Ethics and the Cinematic’, where I first presented on Fatih Akin and the Ethical Turn in 2008; Henry Bacon, of the University of Helsinki, where I was able to talk to a very knowledgeable audience about Aki Kaurismäki’s The Man without A Past in 2009; Anja Streiter and Hermann Kappelhoff whose conference at the Free University Berlin on ‘Singulär Plural Sein’ gave me the opportunity to reflect on Claire Denis’ Beau Travail, also in 2009. Hent de Vries invited me to Johns Hopkins University in 2012, where I first presented on Lars von Trier’s Melancholia. My thanks also go to Josef Früchtl, Natalie Scholz and Rachel Esner for watching Christian Petzold’s Barbara with me at the Cinecenter on a cold winter’s night in Amsterdam: our conversation afterwards was the impetus for me to want to find out why I liked the film so much. Cathy Portuges of the University of Massachussetts asked me to present Barbara at her annual Massachusetts Multicultural Film Festival in March 2013, and at Mainz University Oksana Bulgakowa was my host in December 2015 for another lecture on Barbara. My one regret: that I was not able to tell Harun Farocki how much I loved this film, on which he is credited as co-writer.

In 2010 I resolved that these isolated talks on films and directors I admired should become part of a book, since common themes, similar constellations and an overarching idea about a ‘cinema of abjection’ had taken hold of me. A conference at King’s College London on The Europeanness of European Cinema in June 2010 had given me the opportunity to sketch the outlines of such a book, and the chapter ‘European cinema into the 21st Century: Enlarging the Context’ is an expanded version of the talk given at King’s.

The opportunity to think more coherently about the relation of film and philosophy came during my time as Fellow at the Internationale Kolleg für Kulturtechnikforschung und Medienphilosophie (IKKM Weimar) in 2012, where I had the good fortune not only of having Lorenz Engell and Bernhard Siegert as my amazingly inspiring hosts, but was able to share my work and benefit from regular conversations with Christiane Voss, Francesco Casetti, David Rodowick, Michel Chion, Tom Levin, Siegrid Weigel, Rick Altman and Jimena Canales. A version of the chapter ‘Film as Thought’ was presented there in December 2012 under the title ‘Film and Philosophy After Deleuze’. My thanks also to Philippe Gauthier who was kind enough to invite me onto his 2014 SCMS panel, where I talked about philosophy and film as either a friendly or a hostile takeover bid, which gave rise to a lively discussion with William Brown, echoing my topic.

At Yale in 2011, and later Brown University in 2012, I was fortunate enough to have a captive yet critical audience of graduate students with whom to explore further the concept of the abject as I detected it also in films of Michael Haneke, Mike Leigh, the Dardenne Brothers, Chantal Akerman, Agnes Varda, Bela Tarr, Pedro Costa, but in many Asian films, too, notably from Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand. Thanks to Edwin Carels, I was invited in 2017 by the director of the International Film Festival Rotterdam, Bero Beyer, to give a talk on ‘A Cinema of Abjection’, using some of the festival’s films of that year as my examples. There, Kevin B. Lee, of whom I had long been a fan, thrilled me with his probing questions. Other productive presentations of ‘A Cinema of Abjection’ in 2017 were at the Arsenal, Berlin (my thanks to Michael Wedel and Hermann Kappelhoff of Cinepoetics), the University of Regensburg (with thanks to Christian Wagner and Markus Stiglegger), at New York University (my thanks to Marina Hassapopoulou) and at King’s College London (organized on behalf of the graduate students by Hannah Pavek).

The chapter on ‘Film as Thought Experiment’ was first presented at the University of Pennsylvania in February 2016 – my thanks to Tim Corrigan, a loyal friend for decades – and subsequently at Stanford University in March 2016, on the kind and generous invitation of Scott Bukatman. My former Yale students Seung-hoon Jeong and Jeremi Szaniawski asked me to contribute a chapter to their book on Global Authorship, which allowed me to gather my thoughts on the dynamics of autonomy and (in)dependence, of creativity and constraint typical of festival films also in relation to my theme of ‘abjection’.

My thanks to them for agreeing to let this essay serve a double function. Throughout the years the chapters benefitted enormously from the on-going conversations with my many friends and trusted colleagues in New York, London, Berlin, Frankfurt, Paris and Amsterdam: among them Alex Alberro, Nora Alter, Dudley Andrew, Nico Baumbach, Claire Bishop, Barton Byg, Zoe Beloff, Noam Elcott, Angela Dalle Vacche, Jane Gaines, Lev Manovich, Charlie Musser, Dominic Pettman, Dana Polan, Amie Siegel, Shelly Silver, and Kenneth White; Laura Mulvey, Geoffrey Nowell-Smith, Murray Smith and Ginette Vincendeau; Noll Brinckmann, Gertrud Koch, Raya Morag, Hito Steyerl and Robert Burgoyne; Malte Hagener, Vinzenz Hediger and Danny Fairfax; Raymond Bellour, Christa Blümlinger, Michèle Lagny and Antonio Somaini; Patricia Pisters and Josef Früchtl, with whom I started the first Amsterdam School of Cultural Analysis Film-Philosophy Graduate Seminars in 2006. From our ‘Cinema Europe’ group, Melis Behlil, Tarja Laine, and Ria Thanouli continue to be valued interlocutors. And thanks also to my friend-at-large, Dina Iordanova, who shares my concern over the future of Europe and its ‘abjects’.

The greatest debt of gratitude for keeping me at it, and for fully engaging not only with my thinking but also with my prose is owed to Warren Buckland. His intellect, logic and erudition were particularly valuable in the discussion of the philosophical turn in film studies, where his broad knowledge of both continental and cognitivist-analytical philosophy proved a special asset. Floris Paalman also read substantial parts of the manuscript, and offered a particularly helpful summary of the chapter dealing with Europe as political thought experiment. With Seung-hoon Jeong I have shared over many years my thoughts on the various uses and abuses of the concept of abjection, and he was one of my closest and most painstaking readers of the chapter in question. Drehli Robnik’s familiarity with and lucid exposition of the film-philosophy of Jacques Rancière have also been most welcome and appreciated. While presenting from the manuscript at Gdansk University in the winter of 2017, Mirek Przylipiak and Agnieszka Piotrowska also offered generous comments.

My thanks, finally, to the publishers and editors for granting permission to use previously published material, details of which are below. Besides the editors already mentioned, I want to acknowledge the excellent editorial work of Mary Harrod, Mariana Liz and Alissa Timoshkina, as well as of Bonnie Honig and Lori Marso. When it comes to editorial work, however, I must return to Sarah Cooper and David Martin-Jones: they read all the chapters with great care and sensitivity, making helpful suggestions throughout and generally being most constructive. They also provided me with two outstanding assistants: Laurence King and Chelsea Birks, who checked the footnotes, completed the bibliography and established a filmography, with Laurence also providing the index. They have my warm and heartfelt thanks.

At Bloomsbury, my manuscript was expertly steered through the production process by many hands, with special thanks to Katie Gallof and Erin Duffy.

The book is dedicated to Silvia, with love, and for support that only she knows how to give.

Chapters that have been previously published are:
Chapter 1: Thomas Elsaesser, ‘European Cinema into the 21st Century: Enlarging the Context?’, in Mary Harrod, Marina Liz and Alissa Timoshkina (eds), The Europeanness of European Cinema: Identity, Meaning, Globalization (London: I.B. Tauris, 2014), 17–32.

Chapter 7: (in German) Thomas Elsaesser, ‘Postheroische Erzählungen: Jean Luc Nancy, Claire Denis und Beau Travail’, in Hermann Kappelhoff, Anja Streiter (eds.), Die Frage der Gemeinschaft: Das westeuropäische Kino nach 1945 (Berlin: Vorwerk 8, 2012), 67–94.

Chapter 8: Thomas Elsaesser, ‘Hitting Bottom: Aki Kaurismäki and the Abject Subject’, Journal of Scandinavian Cinema, vol 1, no 1 (2011), 105–122.

Chapter 9: Thomas Elsaesser, ‘Politics, Multiculturalism and the Ethical Turn: The Cinema of Fatih Akin’, in Boaz Hagen, Sandra Meiri, Raz Yosef, Anat Zanger (eds.), Just Images: Ethics and the Cinematic (Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars, 2011), 1–19.

Chapter 10: Thomas Elsaesser, ‘Black Suns and a Bright Planet: Melancholia as Thought Experiment,’ in Bonnie Honig and Lori J. Marso (eds.) Politics, Theory, and Film: Critical Encounters with Lars von Trier (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016), 305–335.

Chapter 11: Thomas Elsaesser, ‘A Thought Experiment: Christian Petzold’s Barbara’ in Christy Wampole (ed.), Special issue ‘Narration and Refl ection’, Compar(a)ison I/ II , 2010 [2015], 187–206.

Chapter 12: Thomas Elsaesser, ‘The Global Author: Control, Creative Constraints and Performative Self Contradiction’ in Seung-hoon Jeong and Jeremi Szaniawski (eds.), The Global Auteur: Politics and Authorship in the 21st Century (London: Bloomsbury 2016), 21–42.