Colloquium | Thomas Elsaesser

Wednesday, February 10, 2016 - 12:00pm

Thomas Elsaesser

Film as Thought Experiment: Some Philosophical Perspectives on Contemporary European and American Cinema

Now that digital cinema, computer generated imaging and post-production effects have become the norm and default value of filmmaking the world over, certain fundamental categories of film theory no longer seem to have salience or traction. Whether we think of realism and fantasy, documentary and fiction, indexicality and simulation: the ontological ground and epistemological value of these terms has shifted.

The lecture proposes a different conceptual frame for cinematic modes that acknowledge these altered states, namely that of “film as thought experiment”. At once speculative and self-reflexive, films as thought experiments invite a variety of hermeneutic approaches, and permit one to ‘think the unthinkable’, while generating rules that may redefine what we understand by ‘realism’, ‘narrative’ and ‘reference’.

Thomas Elsaesser is Professor Emeritus at the Department of Media and Culture of the University of Amsterdam. From 2006 to 2012 he was Visiting Professor at Yale and since 2013 is Visiting Professor at Columbia. He has authored, edited and co-edited some 20 volumes on Early Cinema, Film Theory, German and European cinema, Hollywood, New Media and Installation Art. Among his recent books as author are The Persistence of Hollywood (New York: Routledge 2012), German Cinema - Terror and Trauma: Cultural Memory Since 1945 (New York: Routledge, 2013) and (with Malte Hagener) Film Theory – An Introduction through the Senses (2nd revised edition, New York: Routledge, 2015). Film History as Media Archaeology-Tracking Digital Cinema will appear later this year. He is currently completing a book on European Cinema and Continental Thought (London: Bloomsbury, 2016).

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