Nano-Narrative Exercise

July 29, 2009 - Leave a Response

I’ve been in this situation too many times. As I attempt to purchase a bottle of red wine, the cashier asks for identification. So many places have given up on carding that I rarely remember that the formality exists. I exasperatedly search my bottomless bag, eventually revealing a West Virginia State ID. Clearly, this is not a common occurrence for him; the cashier takes one quick look at the card and scowls. “I’m sorry, but I can’t legally accept this. Don’t you have a license?”

I know that he’s lying about the law. He thinks my ID is fake, and I wonder why. Is it that my youthful face betrays my 22 years, or is it so unbelievable that a non-driving West Virginia citizen wants to buy a bottle of wine in New York City?

I leave rather than argue.

Academic Plan, or whowhatwhenwherewhyhow

December 13, 2008 - Leave a Response

Before I describe my academic plan, I think that it’s important to identify what I want to do in life. In short, I want to be a film professor. I want to teach and help first generation college students (like myself). I want to get my Ph.D. and publish tons of papers. I want to write a book of essays on David Lynch because, frankly, the ones out there right now are hit or miss. I want to have tenure and do lots of work with horror movies and film noir. I’d love to at least have a visiting professorship at Oberlin College, my alma mater.

So, how do I get there? Here’s a list of what I’d like to accomplish each semester of my MA program.

Fall 2008

  • Take 3 courses: Understanding Media Studies, Media Studies: Ideas, and Noir of the 90s.
  • Research academic journals and conferences. These are how people get into academia, after all. Learn how to apply.

Spring 2009

  • Take 3 courses: Media Studies: Concepts, Museums as Media, and Media and American Modernity.
  • Apply to (and hopefully attend) at least one conference.
  • Further research getting published. What do the page limits look like? What are the requirements?
  • Attempt to write down every film I watch.

Summer 2009

  • Take one class, potentially online. This will probably be a production or methods class.
  • Use my free(-ish) time to write a new piece.
  • Read as many journals as possible.
  • Keep in touch with professors — they’re a great resource for connections and advice.

Fall 2009

  • Take three courses — one in production, one or two in theory, and zero or one in methods.
  • Keep up with the journals, as always.
  • Constantly submit to journals and conferences, even if it is annoying and emotionally trying.
  • Look into Ph.D. programs. I’m not sure how soon I’ll go for my Ph.D., but it’s smart to get ahead and be aware of what’s available.

Spring 2010

  • Finish up my courses.
  • Decide where in the world I’d like to live.
  • Apply — to jobs, to journals, maybe to other academic programs, maybe to weird scholarship programs. Just apply.
  • Of course, graduate.

At the end of this adventure, I’d like to have published at least one article and have attended at least one conference. While that’s not all it takes to be an academic or get a job, I think that it’ll be a terrific start.

abstracts

October 27, 2008 - Leave a Response

The following are three academic abstracts for a course of mine. These three items were chosen on the topic of David Lynch’s Lost Highway. Hopefully, they will come in handy for a paper in the near future.

Žižek, Slavoj. The Art of the Ridiculous Sublime: On David Lynch’s Lost Highway. Walter Chapin Simpson Center for the Humanities Series. Seattle: University of Washington, 2000.

1. In two or three sentences, what is the central thesis of the work, or what is the major problem it is addressing? Essentially, Žižek is analyzing the film Lost Highway from a psychoanalytic perspective. Most scholars have studied Lynch’s work from a very strict, conservative position, so Žižek is criticizing their closed-minded interpretation. Instead, he is studying Lost Highway from a more flexible perspective, taking into account the important histories of psychoanalysis, film noir, and Lacan.
2. In two or three sentences, on what assumptions or points is the thesis of the work built, in logical order? Very early on, Žižek takes the position that films can have simultaneous opposite interpretations that still make sense; the focus of the film is not the exact series of events, but rather, how the audience (and the characters) understand the events. Žižek also makes the argument for psychoanalysis: “We can locate the need for psychoanalysis at a very precise point: what we are not aware of is not some deeply repressed secret content but the essential character of the appearance itself [sic]. Appearances DO matter” (page 6).
3. What are the major terms and concepts central to this work, and how does the writer define these terms? Žižek defines post-theory (and Lacan’s interpretation) through an anecdote about Casablanca, agreeing with scholar Richard Maltby’s conclusion that Casablanca (and film) “’deliberately constructs itself in such a way as to offer distinct and alternative sources of pleasure to two people sitting next to each other in the same cinema,’ […] Our only correction to Maltby would be that we do not need two spectators sitting next to each other: one and the same spectator, split in itself, is sufficient” (5).
4. What are the methods of research and argumentation and kinds of evidence used to develop and support the thesis of the work? Žižek provides a great deal of contextualization by referencing similar films, quoting (and summarizing) scholarly materials on film noir and Lynch, and thoroughly explaining his Lacanian analysis.
5.In your judgment, what are the limitations, shortcomings, errors, or weaknesses in the work? While Žižek provides many great examples to clarify his writing, these extraneous ideas can cause him to stray too far from his argument. Because psychoanalysis is such a common tool for film analysis, I wish that Žižek would have been explicit about how Lacanian interpretation is superior to typical Freudian readings; I think that the answer to this is implicit in Žižek’s work, but it could have been made more obvious. The book could also stand to be longer, as it seems that Žižek has much more he could say about Lost Highway and Lacan.
6. In your judgment, what are the major contributions of this work to your understanding of the field? Most critical work on Lynch is, frankly, incredibly closed-minded and judgmental. These critics spend far more time trying to understand the exact events of the film than the film itself. By breaking out of the cycle of the “what” and focusing on the “how”, Žižek is able to analyze Lost Highway much more thoroughly than most other scholars. After all, nontraditional films, like those of Lynch, beckon to be analyzed by nontraditional scholarly means. It seems to me that Žižek is one of the few people up to the challenge. Best of all, Žižek is able to tackle this difficult academic task while keeping his paper relatively straightforward and easy to read.

Rhodes, Eric Bryant. “[untitled review of Lost Highway.]” Film Quarterly, Vol. 51, No. 3 (Spring 1999): pp. 57-61. JSTOR. 25 October 2008. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/1213603&gt;.

1.In two or three sentences, what is the central thesis of the work, or what is the major problem it is addressing? Rhodes is defending Lost Highway against the numerous film critics who dismissed it as impenetrable.
2.In two or three sentences, on what assumptions or points is the thesis of the work built, in logical order? Like Žižek, Rhodes asserts that films can have simultaneous opposite interpretations: “[Lynch] has designed a film with an open architecture in which equally plausible interpretations of the film can be constructed, and which enables the audience to use its imagination to fill in the blanks” (57).
3.What are the major terms and concepts central to this work, and how does the writer define these terms? Rhodes compares the cyclic structure of the film to the Möbius strip, which he defines as “a strip twisted 180 degrees and then looped by connecting the opposite ends” (59).
4.What are the methods of research and argumentation and kinds of evidence used to develop and support the thesis of the work? Rhodes uses specific examples from the film to support his reading. He also uses other scholars’ work to show the arguments he is refuting.
5.In your judgment, what are the limitations, shortcomings, errors, or weaknesses in the work? All reviews are innately subjective, as they are the opinion of the author.
6.In your judgment, what are the major contributions of this work to your understanding of the field? Rhodes’s review goes against the popular opinion of most reviews. By publishing such a review, Rhodes is providing the field a variety of opinion.

McGowan, Todd. “Finding Ourselves on a Lost Highway.” The Impossible David Lynch. New York: Columbia University Press, 2007.

1.In two or three sentences, what is the central thesis of the work, or what is the major problem it is addressing? McGowan asserts that Lost Highway is not pointless. Rather, he believes that Lynch is setting up parallel universes of desire and fantasy (as opposed to reality and fantasy).
2.In two or three sentences, on what assumptions or points is the thesis of the work built, in logical order? Fantasy and desire are not the same. Fantasy constantly brings us back to reality because of its imperfection. Thus, the film is cyclic because reality must return.
3.What are the major terms and concepts central to this work, and how does the writer define these terms? McGowan’s major concept is fantasy, which he defines as“not an escape from an unsatisfying social reality but a way of repeating it” (155).
4.What are the methods of research and argumentation and kinds of evidence used to develop and support the thesis of the work? McGowan uses psychoanalytic theory, as well as drawing examples from his viewings of the film and other writers’ reviews.
5.In your judgment, what are the limitations, shortcomings, errors, or weaknesses in the work? As is the case with many theorists, McGowan relies too heavily on Freud’s theories – particularly of the superego and the phallus. He does cite psychoanalyst Lacan, but his primary judgments remain too based upon Freud.
6.In your judgment, what are the major contributions of this work to your understanding of the field? McGowan indirectly addresses the idea of enjoyability near the beginning of his article, raising the question of whether a film must be immediately understood and enjoyed to be “good” (McGowan would answer in the negative.)

Intellectual Autobiography, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Essays

October 6, 2008 - Comments Off on Intellectual Autobiography, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Essays

The first movie I can remember watching was Clive Barker’s Hellraiser at the tender age of four. My father was watching a horror movie marathon on the USA Network, and he thought it would be funny to let me be terrified. I vividly remember seeing all of the nightmarish characters – Pinhead, Chatterbox, and so on. Instead of being scared, I was mesmerized. Everything about the crazy sounds and the unnatural colors amazed me. This very early experience taught me how to watch films with a passion.

Growing up in Wheeling, West Virginia definitely shaped my future. I have a love/hate relationship with the area; it was infinitely suffocating during my youth, but it made me all the more creative and driven. I noticed early on that the majority of America did not care about West Virginia, including the media – either the entire state is ignored, or it is grossly insulted. Popular depictions of West Virginia told me that I was, frankly, a stupid redneck. Think about Jodi Foster’s awful accent in The Silence of the Lambs or the inbred cannibals of Wrong Turn. Instead of ignoring the insults, I became incredibly vigilant of media stereotypes of West Virginia. I began reading national newspapers and watching the national news. My anger created a great motivation for media awareness.

Fast forward to age nineteen. I grew to adore horror movies and film noir, but I never imagined that I could have a future involving cinema. I always assumed that I would end up teaching modern poetry in some high school, which is a perfectly respectable profession. Halfway through my undergraduate work at Oberlin College, I met Pat Day, a professor who split his time between the English and Cinema Studies departments. The way that he was able to balance his interests in modern literature and cinema (including horror movies and film noir) was incredibly inspiring to me. Under his wing, I developed an earnest interest in film theory. Simultaneously, I grew more and more interested in independent film, particularly that of David Lynch. Under Day’s advising, I completed my senior thesis on Lynch’s Blue Velvet; specifically, I explored the significance of the severed ear and its impact upon the sound in the film.

It was this final paper that made me realize my passion for academics. I loved every aspect of that essay, from the extensive research to the lengthy, at times grueling writing process. I knew then that I wanted to pursue an advanced degree. Accordingly, I draw most of my research inspiration from those key moments in a film that are strange, surprising, confusing, fascinating, or all of the above. That inspiration will hopefully lead me to some conclusions about the film and maybe, just maybe, some conclusion about art and humanity. The beautiful thing about cinema is that no one will ever view a film the same way that I do, so there is always the possibility of delving into a subject never before explored. I also want to explore how we – as viewers and as academics – attempt to verbalize fundamentally non-verbal inspiration, such as lighting, color, and sound. After all, what can I really say about the Black Lodge in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks?


Ideally, I would like to take these inspirations and write essays, publish books, and teach cinema theory to others. (Look for my book on sound and noise in the films of David Lynch in 10 years.) I am incredibly interested in ideas of curating and programming. Who decides what is good enough – or artsy enough – to be screening in a museum? Rather than operating within the standard museum context, I would like to explore the film curating underground, including independent film screenings (like those operated by Rooftop Films) and student film festivals. At Oberlin College, the local one-screen movie theater is up for sale, and several faculty members (mainly in the cinema department) are looking to purchase the venue. They want to use the theater space to screen professional films for study and student films. This is the sort of alternative education that I am interested in studying.

One of the reasons I chose the New School is its focus on such alternative means of education. Rather than focusing on books and formal essays, we are able to consider websites, films, video games, television shows, and other forms of media our textbooks. This allows my classmates and I to have the distinct advantage of anticipating new trends in media and academia. Subsequently, we are able to shape the future of both media and how media is taught. New York City obviously provides a multitude of opportunities for my research interests. Specifically, I want to utilize the Museum of Modern Art’s archives and study centers. I love researching with physical (not digital) objects, so the more I can work with books, journals, prints, and movies, the better. I also adore the feeling of sitting in a room specifically meant for thinking.

In short, I want to get my degree and teach film theory. I do not know exactly what will happen along the way. Hopefully, I will publish some articles. Hopefully, I will dabble a bit in some creative projects. This is, after all, but one blueprint connecting the past to the future.