Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Shock and contemplation: “Close Up” and the female avant -garde
by Troxell, Jenelle, Ph.D., Columbia University, 2009, 235; 3393613
Abstract (Summary)

My dissertation explores the literary writing and film criticism of H.D., Dorothy Richardson, Bryher, Gertrude Stein, Virginia Woolf, Nancy Cunard, and Marianne Moore, which appeared in the transnational, feminist film journal Close Up between 1927 and 1933. These writers, I argue, challenged the standard position within the aesthetic debates of the 1920s and 30s, which maintained that film induced shock by creating a state of distraction in the viewer. The contributors to Close Up developed what I term an alternative “contemplative aesthetic”—locating film's shock effect in its capacity to generate states of intense contemplative absorption. Close Up writers' novel critical approach emerged from their interest in psychoanalysis, melodrama, and from their investigation of mysticism and specific “mind-cure” practices which cultivated an active absorption in the image as a means of bringing about psychic healing. Against claims of cinema's pernicious effects (due largely to its dangerous hypnotic influence), Close Up writers offered a critical intervention, describing a mode of viewing which could trigger personal and collective memory in a manner, which rather than re-traumatizing the spectator, facilitated healing by offering structural support for the traumatic memories individuals often carried in isolation.

Bringing together political activism, aesthetic experimentation, and psychoanalysis, Close Up, anticipates the feminist film criticism of the 1970s and provides valuable insight into contemporary theoretical approaches to both feminist and transnational cinema. Written in an era where the cinema spectator was hyperbolically feminized and treated as a repository of bad taste, Close Up writers' polemics were aimed at reorienting conceptions of the female spectator, analyzing and celebrating women viewers' cinematic pleasure, and reclaiming a contemplative, absorptive mode of perception which was denigrated as unsophisticated, uncritical, apolitical, in short as “feminine” in much historical criticism. In espousing an aesthetic of contemplative absorption and empathy within the political avant-garde, Close Up writers diverged from the tradition of Brechtian defamiliarization and anticipated the late writing of Sergei Eisenstein (also a Close Up contributor), who asserted that by enabling a dialectical leap into a radically different social position, empathic absorption could serve as a powerful means of bringing about social and political change.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Hirsch, Marianne
School: Columbia University
School Location: United States -- New York
Source: DAI-A 71/02, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Comparative literature, Womens studies, British and Irish literature, Film studies
Keywords: Avant-garde, Close Up, Feminism, Film criticism, Modernism, Transnationalism
Publication Number: 3393613
ISBN: 978-1-109-60488-7
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