Colloquium | Eugenie Brinkema

Wednesday, February 25, 2015 - 12:00pm

Eugenie Brinkema

Violence and the Diagram (or, The Human Centipede)

My current project involves thinking about violence and finitude in relation to the affect-laden concept of horror, following on the argument in my first book that the affective turn wrongly separated sensation from form and structure, at the cost of impoverishing texts and affects. The founding move of this new project is to sever, as a destructive-generative act of critical violence, all presumed relations between horror and bodies (those wounded on screen; those affected in the theater). The minor claim of this book is that an emphasis on horror’s affect as bound up with an embodied reaction (appealing to the etymology of horrere as the bristling of hairs on the back of the neck) has operated at the expense of considering specific films’ use of form and horror’s potential for a “low formalism.” But the larger claim is that horror articulates an algebra of sensation that deploys systems of abstract forms (the alphabet, the ordinal, the grid, sequence, cartography, the nothing) in order to move critique to a formalization of an ethics of finitude.
This specific talk contemplates the figure of systematic enchainment in one of the more graphic films of contemporary horror and exploitation cinema, Tom Six’s The Human Centipede (2009), which literalizes intolerable fastening, an anxiety of overclose touching, in the conceit of its title—a cruel violence in which three bodies are sewn to each other, mouth to anus. Moving from a different account of captivation, Levinas’ insistence in De L’évasion of an ethic of bonded responsibility for the finite other to whom one is both host and hostage, this paper turns to the ways in which The Human Centipede articulates its mode of violence through the mechanism of a diagram, one that does not represent embodied experiences of violence, nor that provokes them experientially, but rather a violence whose reductive formalism is coextensive with its brutality.

Eugenie Brinkema is Associate Professor of Contemporary Literature and Media at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She received her Ph.D. in 2010 from Brown's Department of Modern Culture and Media. Her articles on film, violence, affect, sexuality, aesthetics, and ethics have appeared in the journals differences, Camera Obscura, Criticism, The Journal of Speculative Philosophy, and Angelaki: A Journal of the Theoretical Humanities. Forthcoming work includes an article on the figure of sincerity in the films of Larry Clark. Her first book, The Forms of the Affects, was published with Duke University Press in 2014.

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