Melancholia; and film open access scholarship

Today marks the inauguration of REFRAME, “an open access academic digital platform for the online practice, publication and curation of internationally produced research and scholarship” on film, media, and music. REFRAME is edited by Catherine Grant, of the School of Media, Film, and Music at the University of Sussex; she also runs the invaluable Film Studies for Free blog.

Among other things, REFRAME is publishing Sequence: Serial Studies in Media, Film, and Music, a new, peer-reviewed open-access scholarly journal.

And I am proud to say that the first issue of Sequence features an article of mine about Lars von Trier’s 2011 film Melancholia, entitled Melancholia, or the Romantic Anti-Sublime”. This is the most sustained work I have done since my 2010 book Post-Cinematic Affect; it is about 18,000 words long — which is too long for a conventional academic article, but too short for a book. I am thrilled, therefore, that it can now be published digitally, as the online format allows for more varied lengths than is possible with conventional print. I am also thrilled that this publication is open access: which is something that, I strongly believe, all academic work should be. In this way, my essay is available to contribute to future work by others, who may respond to it in all sorts of ways.

9 thoughts on “Melancholia; and film open access scholarship”

  1. Very interested in reading prof. Shaviro’s views on Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis, what with its talks of protests against the future and passing-by barbershops of times past, or Manohla Dargis puts it “from the way that Eric’s business is quickly spiraling downward, money appears to have stopped talking to him. This may be why he wants a haircut, but only from his father’s old barber, a yearning that summons up family, tradition, simplicity and those old lost days when money bought something tangible, something you could touch as effortlessly as the bristles of newly shorn hair.”

  2. I just got done reading your Melancholia piece (and xeroxing it for anyone in my office who likes film) and I just wanted to tell you that it is one of the finest pieces of film writing I have read in a long, long time. Bravo.

  3. I agree with CBO completely. I hope more people will take Shaviro’s advice and use his work to stir us towards coming up with our own. Such a noble instigation. I felt energized by reading his piece on Melancholia, the result of which moved me into Cosmopolis realm for what I see, reflected through what has been written, as striking parallels. All of this led me to Springsteen’s “Born to Run”, which is referenced in the movie by virtue of its absence, notwithstanding the subliminal name of the record store displayed after the words are pronounced. ROCK VARIETY. A specter is indeed haunting the world. The specter of what. “Now I’ve got blues and I’ve got blues Let’s get acquainted and loose those blues Let’s go Times a wastin”. And in the words of Seth Brundle:
    What? Heh. You know I just don’t think I’ve ever given me, a chance to be me. But, of course interestingly, at the exact same moment that I achieved what will probably prove to be my life’s work, that’s the moment when I started being the real me finally. Listen, not to wax messianic, it may be true that the synchronicity of those two events might blur the resultant individual effect of either individual. But it is nevertheless it is also certainly true, I will say now however subjectively; that Human teleportation, molecular decimation, breakdown and reformation is inherently purging. It makes a man a King. From the moment I walked out of the pod I felt like a million bucks. You know, I think I am gonna have a cemoli after all. Waiter! I mean, What an accomplishment. But, what have I really done? All I’ve done is say to the world, “Lets go, Move. Catch me if you can”. Waiter. Jesus Christ!

  4. Delillo: “The car crossed Madison and stopped in front of the Mercantile Library as planned. There were eating places up and down the street. He thought of people eating, lives running out over lunch. What was behind such a thought? He thought of bussers combing crumbs off the tables. The waiters and bussers did not die. It was only the patrons who failed to show up, one by one, over time, for soup with packaged crackers on the side.” Waiter. Jesus Christ. I messed up my order. I meant canoli. “The yen has to drop.” “This is loss of faith. It will force the yen to drop.” “The dollar will settle up.” “The yen will drop,” she said.

    “Where is Chin?” she said.
    “Working on visual patterns.”

    What are the questions he asks himself from this position in the world? Large questions maybe. Questions such as science obsessively asks. Why something and not nothing? Why music and not noise?

  5. And lastly, Eric Packer’s experience of the sublime. Until it becomes a half of a haircut.

    The noblest thing, a bridge across a river, with the sun beginning to roar behind it. He watched a hundred gulls trail a wobbling scow downriver. They had large strong hearts. He knew this, disproportionate to body size. He’d been interested once and had mastered the teeming details of bird anatomy. Birds have hollow bones. He mastered the steepest matters in half an afternoon.

    Ingram did an echocardiogram. Eric was on his back, with a skewed view of the monitor, and wasn’t sure whether he was watching a computerized mapping of his heart or a picture of the thing itself. It throbbed forcefully on-screen. The image was only a foot away but the heart assumed another context, one of distance and immensity, beating in the blood plum raptures of a galaxy in formation. What mystery he glimpsed in this functional muscle. He felt the passion of the body, its adaptive drive over geologic time, the poetry and chemistry of its origins in the dust of old exploding stars. How dwarfed he felt by his own heart. There it was and it awed him, to see his life beneath his breastbone in image-forming units, hammering on outside him.

    “It’s interesting, isn’t it?” she said. He waited.
    “About men and immortality.”
    They covered the burnt body and wheeled it away, semi-upright, with rats in the streets and the first drops of rain coming down and the light changing radically in the preternatural way that’s completely natural, of course, all the electric premonition that rides the sky being a drama of human devising.
    “You live in a tower that soars to heaven and goes unpunished by God.”
    She found this amusing.
    “And you bought an airplane.”

    From The Body Artist:
    She went to pour water for her tea and paused at the stove, waiting for him to say yes or no to coffee. When she started back she saw a blue jay perched atop the feeder. She stopped dead and held her breath. It stood large and polished and looked royally remote from the other birds busy feeding and she could nearly believe she’d never seen a jay before. It stood enormous, looking in at her, seeing whatever it saw, and she wanted to tell Rey to look up.
    She watched it, black-barred across the wings and tail, and she thought she’d somehow only now learned how to look. She’d never seen a thing so clearly and it was not simply because the jay was posted where it was, close enough for her to note the details of cresting and color. There was also the clean shock of its appearance among the smaller brownish birds, its mineral blue and muted blue and broad dark neckband. But if Rev looked up, the bird would fly.

    So the whole economy convulses,” she said, “because the man took a breath.

    For the limousine that displaces the air that people need to breathe in Bangladesh. This alone.

    Sleep failed him more often now, not once or twice a week but four times, five. What did he do when this happened? He did not take long walks into the scrolling dawn. There was no friend he loved enough to harrow with a call. What was there to say? It was a matter of silences, not words.

  6. It occurred to me that upon first inspection one of the main changes, Cronenberg makes in Delillo’s text is that by choosing to end the movie with the frozen moment between Benno and Eric, their own naked lunch moment (or simply Eric’s moment, since the case can be made that Benno is an extension of Eric psyche – how else would he be there at the right place and at the right time and in close proximity to the location where the answer to Eric’s question of where the limos are taken to at night could be found -), the director is actually signaling to some hope for the world, his world, after all. (Resonances of this can also be found in A History of Violence). Delillo said it himself that he was curious to find out how Cronenberg would deal with Benno’s journal, and that he was surprised that he dealt with it by leaving it out. Of course the book leaves “no doubt” that Benno does kill Eric, as far as his nature as an unreliable narrator goes. It is this very nature, therefore, that makes the changes in the adaptation superficial, that kind of betrayal of the text which results in a faithfulness to it.
    “The phenomenon of reputation is a delicate thing. A person rises on a word and falls on a syllable.” This leaves room for Eric, given all that he has potentially learned in the course of that day (and in answer to another question he asks at the beginning, “what have we learned?”), to save himself, and by extension the world that “lives in his shadow”. (When he died he would not end. The world would end.). According to that logic, it would take nothing but a word from Eric, Eric’s word, that he will grant Benno his wish and save him. That requires pretty powerful words and/or an admission of the power of words. Although Cosmopolis is to a large extend about suicide, unlike Videodrome, which ends with the protagonist shooting himself (or rather with us hearing the sound of his gun being fired after the fade out), in Cosmopolis what we hear is Metric’s song about (not) having (a) long to live. However, what complicates this view is the fact that both Eric and Max Renn as clearly seen by the end literally as condemned vessels (after the limo itself, his exoskeleton but also his “relentless will”, has been destroyed). He is fleshed open and, since this is Cronenberg, that process of evisceration leads to all kinds of ramifications (male hysteria, regression, self destruction and feminization from a negative perspective, i.e. transcendence is possible through it, but the result being invariably death.) It is interesting to point out that Eric’s ex-wife at this point, who unlike Eric is still a billionaire, gives him the word that she is willing to help him rebuild himself, “at his own pace”. Also noteworthy is the fact that his chief of finance is a woman, a “single struggling mother” (Am I honor-bound to think of her as an executive and a mother?), and that Eric makes various remarks about his wife’s mother’s “stand-up tits”, etc. Obviously another one of Cronenberg’s plays on the “complex”, after Spider and a Dangerous Method put that whole convulsion into the level of the text. When face to face with his chief of finance, during the “pro-state” examination – the word itself – his doctor, possibly a double agent of sorts, in all his clinical subversiveness, not unlike his chief of theory, and not unlike Cronenberg as an artist himself, “was probing for some murky fact. Jane [the chief of finance] was the fact.”

  7. From Blade Runner:
    Holden: Describe in single words only the good things that come into your mind about… your mother.
    Leon: My mother?
    Holden: Yeah.
    Leon: Let me tell you about my mother.
    [Leon shoots Holden with a gun he had pulled out under the table]

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