by Gordon Sullivan — University of Pittsburgh
December 11, 2012 – 00:00
Cinephilia as such has always been theorized as a set of historical viewing practices, but what unites every cinephile from the Cahiers-crowd to today’s digital-obsessives is an interest in the play of excess and contingency in the moving image. What is considered excessive in the image changes from generation to generation (and from viewer to viewer), but the contingency remains the same – the cinephile is interested in the excess that wasn’t placed there, wasn’t intended – the proverbial “wind in the trees.”
What interests me about the “Hysterical Literature” series is the way in which these videos manifest, thematize, and problematize the relationship between excess and contingency. The unseen manipulations that provoke the paroxysms of orgasm also produce precisely the excess in the image that fuels cinephilic desire – the stray twitch or the slight squirm, the pure contingency of what line is last spoken before “control” is lost. But it’s difficult to judge how contingent these excesses are when provoked intentionally by an unseen assistant. More importantly, cinephilia has always been about an act of translation – from mute worship before a screen to a flood of words (and, more recently, images) intended to evoke and invoke the experience of viewing. From the strictly ekphrastic to the more effusive evocations of the viewing experience, cinephiles are united in a desire to communicate their experience. “Hysterical Literature” similarly troubles this desire. How do we speak of what we can’t see in the image yet know is there? Though digital media promise us more – more access, more reality – it can’t deliver here. “Hysterical Literature” similarly troubles the distinction between pornography and other forms of media, offering “adult” or “mature” content that’s available on YouTube. This willful blurring of what can and can’t be seen, this provocation is indicative of a new digital cinephilia.