Monday, February 07, 2011

Miriam Bratu Hansen

Many in the field have heard by now the sad news that Miriam Hansen has passed away. Catherine Grant has a fitting tribute of a video lecture that Hansen gave. I would like to reflect a little of the importance of Hansen not only on the field of film studies but on my intellectual path particularly.

I never met her personally, but as someone who did the bulk of his graduate work in the mid-to-late 1990s, I looked up to Hansen's work. Though her writings on early cinema, silent film fandom, and Frankfurt School critical theory predated this period, by the 1990s they took on an agenda-setting quality. Partly because of Hansen's skill popularizing lines of German thought previously unknown or overlooked in the Anglophone film studies field. Partly because she connected the two "hot" areas of early cinema research and work on contemporary, post-classical cinema. Partly because the way she offered a grand unified theory of sorts, bringing together the two challengers to film studies' theoretical hegemony - cultural studies and historicism - and reconciling them with theoretical concerns like ideological formation, film aesthetics, and the nonconscious experience of movies. It was this combination of history and theory that particularly excited me. Hansen was one of those who gave me the history bug (I was in a theoretical program) and moreover made me think I could pursue both conceptual reach and detailed empirical work simultaneously. I don't know how well I've lived up to that ideal, but I continue to strive for it.

That disciplinary moment may have faded a little, but Hansen's intellectual spirit, erudite but engaged, is still inspiring. Her model of vernacular modernism is one that I find provokes the most controversy when teaching film theory; I don't think students initially give the complexity of the idea full credit.

I can't be alone in saying that she will be missed.

1 comment:

kristi said...

Nicely written, Chris. Indeed.