Saturday, June 23, 2007

Letters to my former professors, Part 2

In which Professor Namely J. Withheld responds. I don't know yet if I should bother to reply again, since he gladly affirms my accusation of seeing all films as political and the field of Film Studies as a political project. Relativists of priveleged societies make lousy art critics.


Hi ,

Good to hear from you. I`ll respond in more detail next week (I`m in Montreal presently), but I guess the first point I`d make is that I think all professors (like all students) have a political point of view which will influence their film selection, reading selection, teaching and lecturing, etc. I don`t believe that any Professor can lecture `neutrally`, as their beliefs frame who they are and what they do. Therefore, I think it`s more intellectually honest to say `this is where I`m coming from` than to try and cast one`s approach in òbjectivity` (which I guess is usually looked upon as neo-Liberalism).

Furthermore, I do believe that politics is not a peripheral concern to the study of film, but central to our understading of it. For better or worse, in the case of film theory courses (which `Readings..` definitely was; European is more arguable) film theory has been greatly informed by Leftist critiques, going back to the interwar years (1918-1933), if not earlier. Marxism, feminism, queer theory, gender poltics, etc. are the backbone of much of what has been produced in the field. You may feel that one ought to stick to aesthetics, or appreciating a text for its own merits (a `well-wrought urn`and all), but much
of what film studies does is draw upon paradigms from outside the discipline in order to raise questions about politics, sociology, philosophy, gender, ideology and representation.

In terms of the qualifications a Fine Arts Professor has in terms of engaging in this kind of approach, I`d reference the fact that the majority of the studies faculty have Doctorates in Social and Political Thought or Communications (which is what my Doctorate from is in) and so therefore bring political and social questions to the forefront. The debate around aesthetics and pedagogy is an old one though: should we, for instance teach `Birth of a Nation` or `Triumph of the Will`as great aesthetic texts and disregard the racism of the former and the Nazi, anti-Semitics propaganda of the latter, or, should we teach them as cautionary tales: yes, they are great aesthetic texts, but they use aesthetics to a ideologically pernicious end. Obviously, I go for door number two.

In terms of all the films in the European cinema course being pro-Communist, I was probably a bit dissmissive of your comment because (a) I didn`t think you`d seen all the films (if you have, I apologise), and (b) I fundamentally disagree
that they are all pro-Communist films (certainly, I`d have the filmmakers on my side on that one). And, Salaam Cinema was not scheduled as a retort to your point of view on Iran--I`m a busy guy and don`t have time to come up with screening ideas to respond to students who may not agree with me. I like debate in class and as I think you`d agree, don`t need to pick films to piss you off to just spark a debate; as you imply in your missive, I`m quite capable of doing that just by lecturing!

Finally, my courses, and indeed those of all the studies Professors, are not about the `nuts and bolts of film production`as you call it. My courses are about films, and aesthetics, and history, but I do look at all those things as being relevant to questions about politics, class, sociology, ideology etc. To give but one example: you mention that you want to know about film history, not politics. Well, it`s a truism that history is written by the winners; if that`sthe case, then history itself is political. To undertsand the history of anything is, at the very least implicitly, to ask political questions (and other kinds too, of course). There are some historians (often called Rankean or Positivist) that believe one can simply list the facts as they were and tell the `true`story. As you can probably guess, I see this through the framework of politics too, as even deciding what to list is an act on inclusion and exclusion (much like my screening lists), and therefore reflects a political point-of-view.

Let me think about your question(s) some more, and I will finish writing next week. In the mean time, if you want to respond to this tirade, do feel free...

Best wishes,



He mentions the first day of ("European Cinema: 1960-Present") to remind me I called his syllabus "communist propaganda." Take a look at the document back in Part 1 and tell me he doesn't think all art is ideological propaganda.

He doesn't understand the abuse of power he's making as the leader of a classroom. He justifies it to himself with RELATIVISM, the point of view that everyone's point of view is just as valid as someone else's, and all information is subject to creative omission if it interferes with your "view." Now imagine someone with that moral convolution using "The Bicycle Thief" to make another long-winded socio-political tangent as a room full of people half his age wait to regurgitate his indoctrinations without questioning his right to address them as ideologically empty vessels for his personal use.

Also note he pulls "Triumph of the Will" as an example of why he needs to teach his own version of history when teaching film, rather than "Iraq For Sale" or anything else more pertinent to the immediate present that gets shown so often. During his impassioned defense of the Iranian people, beset by irrational Western civilization, this guy didn't once mention the theocratic Iranian president publically denying the Holocaust and intending to nuke Israel, and he's lecturing me on needing to speak about anti-Semitism. The "Life of Brian" lecture, however, was a perfect opportunity to boldly decry Christian bloodlust. Hard to imagine any other, in the view of academia. He wouldn't have to make these kind of double standards if he didn't make that part of his job description.

"Marxism, feminism, queer theory, gender poltics, etc. are the backbone of much of what has been produced in the field."

Funny how that's omitted from the school brochures.

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