Hysterical Cinephilia

Curator's Note

Cinephilia as such has always been theorized as a set of historical viewing practices, but what unites every cinephile from the Cahiers-crowd to today’s digital-obsessives is an interest in the play of excess and contingency in the moving image. What is considered excessive in the image changes from generation to generation (and from viewer to viewer), but the contingency remains the same – the cinephile is interested in the excess that wasn’t placed there, wasn’t intended – the proverbial “wind in the trees.”

What interests me about the “Hysterical Literature” series is the way in which these videos manifest, thematize, and problematize the relationship between excess and contingency. The unseen manipulations that provoke the paroxysms of orgasm also produce precisely the excess in the image that fuels cinephilic desire – the stray twitch or the slight squirm, the pure contingency of what line is last spoken before “control” is lost. But it’s difficult to judge how contingent these excesses are when provoked intentionally by an unseen assistant. More importantly, cinephilia has always been about an act of translation – from mute worship before a screen to a flood of words (and, more recently, images) intended to evoke and invoke the experience of viewing. From the strictly ekphrastic to the more effusive evocations of the viewing experience, cinephiles are united in a desire to communicate their experience. “Hysterical Literature” similarly troubles this desire. How do we speak of what we can’t see in the image yet know is there? Though digital media promise us more – more access, more reality – it can’t deliver here. “Hysterical Literature” similarly troubles the distinction between pornography and other forms of media, offering “adult” or “mature” content that’s available on YouTube. This willful blurring of what can and can’t be seen, this provocation is indicative of a new digital cinephilia.


Gordon, I think that the relationship between excess and contingency is key, and I think that your video proposes this dynamic nicely. I wonder, though, about your statement, "How do we speak of what we can’t see in the image yet know is there?" As I know you are aware, there have of late been a series of recut shorts in which a theorist/cinephile attempts to describe her or his own encounter with excess and contingency. Christian Keathley's "Pass the Salt" in particular comes to mind (http://vimeo.com/23266798). Given your response above, I was wondering to what degree this very recent (and very digital media reliant) style of film attempts to serve as an answer to just this question? Do you think that, by pairing the images with the description, this kind of affective moment can be more effectively communicated?

Kal, you raise a good point - I think projects like "Pass the Salt" are one avenue for giving these moments the time/space necessary for their wider appreciation. However, Keathley's project still feels more explanatory than affective (at least in that particular video - I know he wants to move towards less explanatory experiments in the future). Which might be the strength of the Hysterical Literature series - we know what's going on in the image - but the affective relationships that this knowledge produces exceed the abilities of the image to contain them. Perhaps then - and this is purely speculative - I'm calling for *less* explanation in favor of more affective modes of knowledge. I admit to be utterly baffled by what that might look like, but that's one of the reasons we turn to experimental media like Hysterical Literature in the first place - to signpost our investigations.

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