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Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages and Linguistics


FSS Abstraction

FSS Abstraction: Cinematic Abstraction

Course Convenor: Prof JD Rhodes (, Director of Centre for Film and Screen

Cinema, theoretically, resists abstraction. Cinema, so it is often claimed, is an art of the real—of realism of documentation, representation, recognition, and identification. But cinema, like all the arts, exists at an ontological remove from the real, exists by way of abstraction—that is to say, of withdrawal—from the real. Abstraction can be understood as a refusal of the figure, of representation, and even of communication. But abstraction can also be a manner of handling and elaborating figuration and representation There are powerful examples in film history of a complete rejection of representation: for instance, in the hand painted films of Stan Brakhage, or the animations of Len Lye. But abstraction in cinema also happens through the temporal organisation of narrative cinema, through the stereotyping of human characters, or through various forms of formal experimentation that thrust the artifice of moving image representation to the foreground (to name only a few of its modalities). This module will look at a set of case studies in cinematic abstraction, drawn from the archives of both experimental filmmaking and narrative feature filmmaking. Readings will be drawn from film theory and history, aesthetic theory, art history, political theory, and other fields of inquiry.

Preliminary Reading

Wilhelm Worringer, Abstraction and Empathy

Rudolf Arnheim, Film as Art

Siegfried Kracauer, Theory of Film

Georg Lukács, Essays on Realism

T.J. Clark, Farewell to an Idea

Theodor Adorno, Aesthetic Theory

Briony Fer, On Abstract Art

Jaleh Mansoor, Marshall Plan Modernism

Maya Deren, Essential Deren

Stan Brakhage, Metaphors on Vision

Steven Best, None Like Us: Blackness, Belonging, Aesthetic Life

Gilles Deleuze, Cinema 2: The Time Image

Michael Gillespie, Film Blackness


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