CFP: Realism in European Film Theory and Cinema (2/20/06; collection)

full name / name of organization: 
Trifonova, Temenuga
contact email:

Realism in European Film Theory and Cinema (2/20/06; collection)

Submissions are sought for an edited collection on European film theory and its relation
to contemporary cinema. Of particular interest are articles on the notion of realism in
European film theory and cinema. What are the philosophical and historical origins of
European film realism (in all its varieties: ontological, aesthetic, technological,
social)? How has the notion of film realism changed over the years? What film
techniques, styles, themes have been traditionally privileged as reflecting most
faithfully the ‘classical’ notion of realism? Does our current understanding of realism
privilege a different set of techniques, styles, themes? What is the history of film
realism in different European national cinemas? How has European film theory
distinguished itself from American film theory in its conception of film realism?
Please email an abstract (500-1000 words) and a short bio (including recent
publications) to or send a hard copy to:

Temenuga Trifonova
Department of English
The University of New Brunswick
Carleton Hall, 247
P.O. Box 4400
Fredericton, NB
E3B 5A3 Canada

Deadline for abstracts: FEBRUARY 20, 2006
Notification of accepted abstracts: MARCH 15, 2006

Here are some possible ideas to explore:

As Ian Aitken has argued, European film theory has been shaped by Kantian idealism,
Husserl’s transcendental phenomenology with its search for the ‘deep structures’ of
experience, Brecht’s theory of epic theatre, and the Frankfurt school’s critique of the
culture industries. The aesthetic of Kracauer, Arnheim, Balazs, Adorno and Marcuse,
which aimed at promoting non-cognitive and irrationalist forms of expression as a
resistance to instrumental reason, was based on a redefinition of the idea of
‘distraction’ into the more positively construed idea of ‘indeterminacy’. The
redemption of physical reality Kracauer envisioned was possible thanks to the homology
between the transient, undramatic, indeterminate nature of the Lebenswelt and the
equally indeterminate nature of the film image.

However, this concept of indeterminacy has undergone significant changes that have
indirectly led to a redefinition of cinematic realism. The indeterminate, transient,
accidental nature of reality and of the film image examined by Kracauer shares very
little with the emphasis on accident, chance, and destiny in recent films (e.g. films
by Kieslowski, Tykwer, Haneke, as well as various art films like Delphine Gleize’s
Carnage, Jacques Rivette’s Va Savoir, Agnès Jaoui’s The Taste of Others, and Tonie
Marshall’s Venus Institute).

While Kracauer and Bazin located cinematic realism in distraction and plotlessness,
which they saw as structurally analogous to the unscripted, indeterminate,
‘underplotted’ nature of reality, many recent films dilute even further the modality or
intensity of narrative, spatializing time into disconnected and, through editing,
treated as parallel narrative strands. This kind of indeterminacy proceeds from
overplotting, from an excess of disconnected, reversible (i.e. meaningless) phenomena,
events, and characters which acquire a minimal, purely formal kind of significance by
virtue of being placed alongside one another: their only ‘meaning’ consists in their
allegedly simultaneous existence with other phenomena, events and characters.

This gradual displacement of narrative by associational discourse is partly made
possible by mass culture. Only in mass culture can one achieve the sort of ‘pleasing
arbitrariness’ whereby arbitrary vignettes are strung together and still seem to make
sense, because under the conditions of mass culture all important differences between
things become blurred so that arbitrary connections between them become not only
plausible but the only ones possible. Are we to read the series of coincidences and
arbitrary connections between events in recent films positively or negatively? Is
coincidence or chance—both of which are types of sameness—an aspect of life in an
indifferent, anonymous, mass culture, or is coincidence a sign of the invisible,
magical (metaphysical?) interconnectedness of everything?

On one hand art cinema has made the formal indeterminacy of classic realist theory into
its new subject matter, obsessively staging chance encounters and coincidences and
oscillating between a positive interpretation of these (chance and indeterminacy
interpreted as liberating or as evidence of the interconnectedness of everything) and a
more pessimistic one (chance and indeterminacy interpreted as evidence of a
predetermined destiny from which there is no escape). On the other hand, in the last
couple of decades European cinema has been defining itself as ‘realistic’ by virtue of
the particular kinds of stories it tells (‘post-European’ narratives of displacement
told by exiles, expatriates, and migrants) rather than by virtue of the particular film
techniques it employs. There is a risk here of blurring the distinction between
‘realistic’ cinema and ‘representative’ cinema (in the sense that there are certain
things or identities that are in need of being represented). If that happens, cinematic
realism becomes implicitly identified with intentional or willed self-marginalization
and the ‘exotic’ subject--the most marginalized subject--is transformed into the prime
guarantor of the real. Not only is the marginal invested with the potential to give us
access to the real, but now it appears as though the real itself is defined by its
degree of unfamiliarity and otherness, in a word, by its difference. The local, the
concrete, the narrowly defined identity is elevated into a criterion for reality in an
often overcompensatory attempt to make up for all past ‘evil’ grand narratives (the
nation state, national identity, national cinema being the usual culprits).

              From the Literary Calls for Papers Mailing List
                         Full Information at
         or write Jennifer Higginbotham:
Received on Mon Jan 02 2006 - 07:15:25 EST

cfp categories: