Colloquium | Rebecca Sheehan

Wednesday, April 10, 2019 - 12:00pm


Rebecca Sheehan

Disoriented Bodies and the Philosophy of (Re)Vision in American Avant-Garde Cinema

My forthcoming book, American Avant-Garde Cinema and the Ethics of the In-Between, theorizes American avant-garde cinema's philosophical work in terms of its sustained reflection upon and exploitation of material, conceptual and dimensional in-betweens. This paper focuses on films by Marie Menken, Pat O’Neill, Ernie Gehr, Maya Deren and Sarah Kathryn Arledge that create embodied uncertainty for the spectator by pushing and pulling her between three and two-dimensional images, stillness and motion, up and down, left and right, the animate and the inanimate, forcing her to individually compose and decompose the images before her. In these films, suspending their spectator between dimensional poles elevates the prerogatives of individual vision (and revision, understood both perceptually and epistemologically) over the authority of the universal image. This practice constitutes a philosophical engagement not only with the Emersonian tradition that, as P. Adams Sitney has shown, undergirds much American avant-garde cinema, but also with the Pragmatist philosopher Richard Rorty's valorization of "truth that is made rather than found," which resonates with the philosophies of Nietzsche and Wittgenstein. I will show that embodied disorientation is essential for understanding the philosophies underpinning the experiments in dimension that join Marie Menken's erratic camera movement to the "push-pull" of Pat O'Neill's optical printing, the explosion of cinematic space as Maya Deren's camera interfaces between the camera and the dancer's body, and Sara Kathryn Arledge's use of bodily curvature to disrupt the linearity of the cinematic frame.

Rebecca A. Sheehan is Associate Professor of Cinema and Television Arts at California State University, Fullerton. She received her Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from University of Pennsylvania in 2008 and has been a Visiting Assistant Professor of English at Haverford College, and a Visiting Associate Professor of Visual and Environmental Studies at Harvard University. She has co-edited a book entitled Border Cinema: Reimagining Identity Through Aesthetics (Rutgers University Press, 2019) and has recently finished a manuscript entitled American Avant-Garde Cinema and the Ethics of the In-between forthcoming from Oxford University Press. Her work on topics ranging from experimental cinema, sculpture and cinema, epistolary cinema, the biopic and border cinema has appeared in edited book collections and various journals including Discourse, Screen, and Screening the Past.

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