CIMS Spring 2020 Colloquium | Jennifer Fay

Wednesday, February 12, 2020 - 12:00pm


Jennifer Fay

Thinking on Film: Arendt and Cavell

This talk connects the theory of Hannah Arendt and the philosophy of Stanley Cavell to the questions of what thinking is and how it appears. It focuses on two rather theatrical trials (one historical, the other fictional and on film) in which the questions of thought and thoughtlessness are at stake. Whereas Arendt considers the ways that thinking poses challenges to representation (there is, she writes, a “scarcity of documentary evidence”), Cavell turns to cinema and the camera’s “knowledge of the metaphysical restlessness” that becomes manifest when the mind thinks and the body fidgets. He goes so far to argue that cinema may even “prove thinking.” Though they arrive at opposite conclusions, Cavell and Arendt share a critique of modern subjectivity that these trials bring to light: loneliness has replaced solitude, reason has replaced thinking, and skepticism of the world has replaced consciousness in it. But film, as read through Cavell, may reveal a crisis of altogether different order. It is not that thinking cannot be represented; in the age of cinema, thinking cannot be concealed. If anything, thoughtlessness defies representation.

Jennifer Fay is Professor of Cinema & Media Arts and English at Vanderbilt University where she also directs the film program. Her most recent monograph, Inhospitable World: Cinema in the Time of the Anthropocene, was published by Oxford in 2018. Her new project is tentative titled “Sincerity and the Media of Appearance.”

Cinema Studies Program
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