Friday, March 06, 2009

Discipline Synopsis

All of sociology in four bullet points.

Anyone want to try for film studies?

ADDENDUM: I don't like to write such non-post posts, so I'll try to answer my own question. With two caveats. First, Richard Dyer's introductory essay to the Oxford Guide to Film Studies is the best one-shot summary of the field I've seen, and I'm not sure what more concision offers, other than bloggy parlor game. Second, looking at the levels of Fabio Rojas's schematic, I realize that a similar schematic for film studies would not be, well, all that similar. The levels of inquiry are on different levels, in large part because film studies is a field whose inquiries and explanatory tools are borrowed from other fields. 

Which may help schematize the field:

1. Film studies as a literary-interpretive project: Deeper meaning is embedded in literary-style devices and cinematic devices and capable of being reclaimed through interpretive argument. The style of argumentation may change with the discipline, from humanist-thematic (the auteurists) to semiotic-psychoanalytic (70s film theory) to a sympathy with resistant ideological positions (cultural studies, broadly speaking). 

2. Film studies as a historical-explanatory project: Films (and all the phenomena we associate with "the movies") provide traces of broader or related phenomena.  Or film as a mass medium is significant and distinctive enough to merit charting its development. To either end, the historical project insists on a) retrieval and verification of historical fact or b) increasingly adequate causal relationships to make sense of  the empirical. Note that while history is the ur-discipline here, economics  or more rarely sociology or political science can help foster causal relationships.

3. Film studies as an aesthetics-systematizing project: David Bordwell uses the term historical poetics to designate for film studies generalizing schemata to make sense of the wealth of cinematic expression and the aesthetic possibilities for makers within such aesthetic systems. Arguably, too, much of classical film theory (Arnheim, Kracauer, Bazin, et al.) does something akin, particularly in its central concern to articulate the aesthetics of the medium. Possibly cognitivism deserves a separate category, but I think there's a good argument for including it here, not simply because the historical poetics scholars are often against psychoanalytic film theory, but because a substantial portion of cognitivists are not psychologists studying

4. Film studies as a philosophical project: Maybe "project" is too strong a word, since the scholars do not always seem themselves as "studying" film in the way the above three do. And maybe "philosophy" is misleading, since other theoretical approaches have their philosophy, too. What distinguishes this realm of scholarship, though, is the operating assumption that films present or inhabit complex philosophical ideas. The work of the scholar is not to use ideas to illuminate (and in the process temporarily simplify) an object of study, but to articulate and present the ideas in their full complexity. This sounds similar to#1 but is different in sometimes subtle ways. Deleuze and some phenomenology-infused theory is the ideal type of this approach. To my eye, for all the conceptual abstruseness, it's the least methodologically self-reflexive. Is that because it's relatively new in the field? Or because it is anti-heuristic in aim? I will have more to write about this, as I get my head around it.

1 comment:

Matthew Holtmeier said...

Maybe a bit 'blog parlorish,' but still an interesting exercise! I'm going to link here from my blog, thank you for your thoughts.