A Whirlpool of Things
by Christian Keathley — Middlebury College
May 14, 2007 – 03:00
Consider this clip from Otto Preminger’s Whirlpool (1949). Even within the context of the film at this point, the man’s actions are perplexing. What is the significance of these actions, these objects? The hidden scarf, the broken glass, the deliberate spill (and the pause that precedes it)? Ultimately, of course, this will all be answered by the film. Indeed, it must be answered. Until then, we can only wait … and guess.
Critical commentary often functions like the narrative explanation of actions like these. The explanation serves to evacuate ambiguity, and with it … mystery. But do we watch movies and television shows for the satisfaction of the explanation, or for the pleasures of the mysteries? Certainly the latter as much as the former. Following the analogy, what would a critical commentary be that resembled not only the satisfying and clarifying explanation of a mystery, but also the intense pleasure of the mystery itself?
A “publication” like MediaCommons demands that we consider this problem. Should not the object of study’s qualities – the poetical nature of images and sounds – be part of our own discourse? Digital technologies that enable the combination of images, sounds, and written text invite us not just to move critical discussion into a new presentational context, but demand that we re-imagine the very relationship between an object of study and critical commentary about it.