CFP: The Possibility of Impartial Criticism
A recent overview of cinema studies, after condemning as conceptually
bankrupt one common approach to film, adds that this approach "may be
justified if its function is the political one of empowering socially
marginalized groups . . .." This overtly tendentious argument is but
an especially blatant versions of what is actually a very common
tendency - perhaps the most common tendency - in cinema studies today,
the tendency to choose one's way of approaching films on the basis of
how well they serve one's larger social or political agendas.
The history of this development is itself of significant interest, and
it's unlikely that many students of cinema are eager to return to a
criticism anchored in an apodictic formalism that divorces discourses
about films from the larger cultural contexts in which films inescapably
participate. Still, one sometimes suspects that despite the post-modern
uncertainties that surround - and perhaps constitute - us, something
approaching disinterest may still be possible, that there may be ways of
talking about cinema that aim at some version of accuracy or validity.
Or, to use a more archaic formulation, that there is room for a
criticism that aims at the true and the beautiful as well as the good.
To be sure, any such approach would itself be decidedly partial in that
it would necessarily be only part, perhaps only a very small and even
insignificant part, of the whole story. But must it therefore also be
partial in the other sense of being programmatically biased? I am
hoping to arrange a panel to address this question.
Papers might focus on
- the institutional history of cinema studies, exploring how
and why it developed as it did
- the epistemological premises that allow or preclude such
concepts as validity, accuracy, or truth
- the relationship of cinema studies as a "discipline" to
larger cultural discourses
- the tacit employment of conventional epistemes is
- the intersection of tendentious and impartial discourses
in the analysis of a single film.
but these are just a few exemplary issues, and any paper that wanted to
consider the possibility - or, if you prefer, the impossibility - of a
truly impartial criticism would be most welcome. And it should go
without saying that papers can either be purely theoretical, or can be
examples of practical criticism, exploring these issues in relationship
to a discussion of a specific film or films.
Depending on the kinds of responses this CFP gets, a panel will be
proposed either for the MLA 2008 convention - in San Francisco next
December - or the SCMS 2009 conference - which looks like it will be
held in Tokyo in late May or early June. Please note that both of these
dates are well in the future and permit for plenty of time in preparing
presentations. Nevertheless to help in planning I would appreciate
preliminary expressions of interest no later than October 30th. And of
course if there are enough quality responses there is always the
possibility of a book project, but that remains to be seen.
For now, please send proposals or inquiries to Mike Frank at
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