Animated Film as Philosophical Text

Curator's Note

As Ian Bogost observes, the creative medium of a scholar is assumed to be writing. (Bogost, 89) The act of writing, as opposed to oration, is the only way in which the philosopher is considered to be productive. The value of philosophical discourse must be recorded in prose, to be published, if it is to have any merit at all. Is philosophy bound to book form only by convention? The medium of animated film can make philosophical arguments as well as poetry, art, and film. Animation, however, has a special capacity for metamorphosis, condensation of form and meaning, anthropomorphism, and the fabrication of interiors. (Wells, 82) Fabrication is especially fecund; animation can depict in motion impossible spaces of the psychological, physical, and metaphysical. The ability of animation to render the unreal allows it to liberate the ambiguity and multiplicity of text. Animators can transmute philosophical texts by finding theories that lend themselves to an exploration of their plasmatic potential, procedurally tracing interiority/exteriority of procedural outcomes, and playing with ideographical logic and visual rhetoric. The animated medium especially thrives in the realm of phenomenology, a philosophy that explores the nature of the bodily experience. Robert Breer's Fuji (1974,10 minutes), for example, attempts to portray the pre-reflective world, or rather a world of sensation prior to narrative thought. (Linsenmaier, 2009, web) This supposes that there is a brief period between sensation and recognition, an affective moment open to neither psychoanalysis nor to conventional filmmaking. Breer offers a reality filled with abstract shapes and colors racing by, with only a hint of context to suggest the formation of a narrative process. In spite of a few successful films in the avant-garde arena, animation is seldom employed for the purposes of making a philosophical argument. The reason for this may come down to the fact that animation is extremely labor intensive. It takes a certain monk-like determination to render so many frames. Those that persist, however, may will find new means to explain subject matter otherwise impossible to depict. Work Cited: Bogost, Ian. Alien Phenomenology, Or, What It's like to Be a Thing. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota, 2012. Print. Linsenmaier, Timo. "Dirk De Bruyn – Performing a Traumatic Effect." Animation Studies Online Journal (2009): n. pag. Animation Studies on. 12 July 2009. Web. 11 Jan. 2016. Wells, Paul. "Literary Theory, Animation, and the 'Subjective Correlative': Defining the Narrative 'World' in Brit-lit Animation." Animated 'Worlds' (2006): 79-93. Print.


Interesting reflections here. After reading the piece, I started to think about the concept/technique of phantasmagoria, "a sequence of real or imaginary images like those seen in a dream" (Google definition search), and the role of psychoanalysis and (post-)modernism in philosophical thought. I haven't seen any game-scholarship on the concept (e.g., Bogost), but I think there's a lot of potential for working out those connection. However, the piece did make me think of the first animated film: Fantasmagorie (1908) [link:]. Also, there's Winsor McCay's Gertie the Dinosaur (1914): The latter would be a place to make a philosophical connection between graphic novels and animation.

I have recently been sorting through all of the Miyazaki films. There really is a beauty to them, and a raw experience that I encounter when watching them. I am sure interviewing the animators of this diverse, existential world especially of there early rough scribbles much like the work of Gertrude Stein and automatic writing, would encounter some terrific responses on phenomenology.

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