5th Spiral Film and Philosophy Conference
Toronto, Canada, May 8-9, 2020
In a recent essay examining the imperial legacy of the camera, Teju Cole writes of the camera as a weapon: “When we speak of ‘shooting’ with a camera, we are acknowledging the kinship of photography and violence.” Three decades earlier, Toni Morrison asserted in her Nobel Lecture: “Oppressive language does more than represent violence; it is violence; does more than represent the limits of knowledge; it limits knowledge.” Both propositions share the same ideas, yet they demand further examination. Cole’s comment on the relationship between photography and violence was made by a practitioner of photography. Morrison’s observation on the relationship between language and violence was brought to our attention by a novelist. In each case, the writer focusses on the material and social issues intrinsic to the use of a specific medium of expression. Refusing to look past the material and social conditions of expression, these two interventions allow us to imagine and to explore new, subversive paths of creation and criticism. It not a coincidence that Cole’s first essay on photography is entirely informed by the concept of the blind spot. And it is not a coincidence that Morrison’s speech, too, invokes a conjunction of blindness and knowledge: “Once upon a time there was an old woman. Blind. Wise.” In each case, the creation of images and thoughts stems from a joyous failure to comply and an imaginative refusal to go along. The work of art conjured in this process is one of generative interruption. In his study of the black radical tradition in poetry and music, In the Break, furthermore, Fred Moten has written of the interruptive power of such a poetics: “The history of blackness is testament to the fact that objects can and do resist. Blackness — the extended movement of a specific upheaval, an ongoing irruption that anarranges every line — is a strain that pressures the assumption of the equivalence of personhood and subjectivity.” Moten’s notion of “anarrangment” speaks here to the simultaneously disruptive and productive potential of paying attention to the social and material conditions of aesthetic forms and the radical potentiality inside aesthetic responses to such conditions.
Both film and philosophy have participated and still participate in sustaining systemic oppression. This has taken both overt and covert forms of violence and exclusion — each perpetuating the policing of what counts as compelling questions to ask, what forms of knowledge matter, who is heard and seen, and under what conditions and where a subject can appear. And yet, if film has the ability to do philosophy, to question itself and its limitations and possibilities, and to pose new problems for philosophy, then perhaps film also has the potential to challenge its own imperial and oppressive habits and conditions as well. In a hegemonic context, the interruption of dominant ways of thinking and showing allows for alternative modes of knowledge and imagination, subjectivity and being, to emerge. Christina Sharpe, in her recent study In the Wake, makes a compelling case for what she calls the analytic of “wake work,” a theory and a praxis that turns on the imagination’s ability to imagine otherwise with and against rupture. Alongside Cole’s and Morrison’s important points, in Moten’s and Sharpe’s work we discern a certain interruptive gesture that refuses the work of normative canons and formations of knowledge, an aesthetics and politics of interruption that can both expose the ideological underpinnings and assumptions of institutional conjunc tions like film and philosophy and contribute to new possibilities and spaces for (re)arranging subjectivities, communities, and the very legacies and practices of such institutions themselves.