Recent postsHere are the most recent posts to the site, including blog posts by students and instructors in Arts One. Click on the titles to go to the original posts if you want to comment.
Instructor with the Seeing and Knowing team
Jason Lieblang is an Instructor in the Department of Central, Eastern and Northern European Studies, where he coordinates the first-year German language program and teaches courses on nineteenth and twentieth century European culture. To learn more about his teaching and research, visit his profile on the CENES website here.
He is also keenly interested in epistemology, the branch of philosophy that asks what it means ‘to know,’ as well as in cinema and comics, two cultural forms within which the relationship between seeing and knowing are a central concern. He will bring his enthusiasm for all of these to the Arts One program.
Laura Mulvey, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,”Screen (1975) 16 (3): 6-18.
Alfred Hitchcock, Vertigo (1958)
In the first half of this lecture Christina Hendricks discusses Laura Mulvey’s article, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” She discusses Mulvey’s own later thoughts on this article, compares what Mulvey has to say in it with what the class had read from John Berger in Ways of Seeing, and then goes through a reading of several of the points in the article. In the second half of the lecture, Jason Lieblang discusses Hitchcock’s film Vertigo, reading it in part through Mulvey’s arguments. He begins by talking about Hitchcock’s work more generally, then focuses on the themes of seeing/being seen in several of Hitchcock’s films, including Vertigo. In the last part of the lecture he looks at the film through Mulvey’s arguments about gender and vision, and ends with some questions we might ask about her arguments.
Please see this Mediasite link for the video with the sides attached.
- Compare Mulvey’s ideas regarding the male gaze in cinema with Berger’s assessment and analysis of the visual representation of gender roles in Ways of Seeing.
- Mulvey’s essay distinguishes between two modes of looking for the film spectator. Do either or both of these modes resonate with your own experience as a spectator watching Vertigo? Why or why not?
- Can Mulvey’s ideas about the male gaze and the representation of women be applied to literary texts? Discuss using one literary text we’ve read this year as your case study.
- Can Mulvey’s arguments in “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” be applied to any of the films we’ve discussed in our Arts One group so far (apart from Vertigo), or do any of them not seem to fit what she’s saying? Explain why or why not.
- Mulvey makes no mention of the other main female character in Vertigo, Midge. Does Midge fit into Mulvey’s analysis of mainstream Hollywood cinema?
- Discuss a film from Hollywood’s Classic Age (1930s through 1950s) that you consider exemplary of Mulvey’s charge that films of this period “coded the erotic into the language of the dominant patriarchal order” (8). Support your argument with sequence analyses that discuss both theme and film form.
- Discuss a film from Hollywood’s Classic Age (1930s through 1950s) that you believe subverts what Mulvey identifies as the “cod(ing of) the erotic into the language of the dominant patriarchal order” (8). Support your argument with sequence analyses that discuss both theme and film form.
- Discuss a film that you think transcends what Mulvey calls “outworn or oppressive forms” of the male gaze and/or dares “to break with normal pleasurable expectations in order to conceive a new language of desire” (8). Support your argument with sequence analyses that discuss both theme and film form.
A bit late, but finally here is my last blog post of the year – it’s been a long journey, with both ups and downs, but it was a fun one and undoubtedly a great experience.
Now, onto Weimar Cinema.
The expressionist films of the Weimar period are renowned for their visuals and dramatic tension, which was a result of attempting to compensate for the films’ lack of words and dialogue. Notably, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari directed by Robert Wiene features a unique, twisted set design, and exemplifies the dark, brooding atmosphere that is often found in films of this era.
The town in which the film is set in is all sort of distorted – the buildings are jagged, curved, and defy the laws of physics, the people drift aimlessly down the carnival, in a strange perspective, and the darkness clashes with light at every turn. A scene in which all of the set elements come into their greatest degree of influence is the film’s climax: Cesare, controlled by Dr. Caligari, sneaks through the night to kidnap Francis’ fiancee. The woman is lying vulnerable in a bed of pure white; the insomniac creeps through the windows, surrounded by a shroud of darkness, and flanked by the jagged pillars next to his entrance. As he approaches, his dark figure merges with the background, and it is as though the shadows themselves are encroaching upon the unprotected damsel. Here, the set design is not only laden with symbolic meaning, but is also a huge part of what makes the scene so dramatic.
Buddha Statue at Dawn (2009). In the public domain. Accessed from Wikimedia Commons.
Given my interest in reading manga, I was excited to know that we would have the chance to read and discuss Buddha, a work by the famed manga artist Osamu Tezuka. Although I knew the work would be touching on themes much more mature than those generally from that era of manga (which tended to be geared towards younger audiences), I was not sure what entirely to expect. I can now say that I was quite pleasantly surprised on how many interesting parallels between this work and the others we had read this year could be drawn.
While Tezuka’s work does not nearly approach the deep and philosophical questioning that is now occasionally found in some modern works, he masterfully weaves complex ideas into the entertaining medium of what was then children’s literature – while keeping the book humourous and easy to read, he explores many mature themes such as death, sexuality, social class, and the validity of religion. Throughout the novel, the brahmins’ religious legitimacy is questioned, and the class system seriously threatened by the controversy of Chapra’s position in the army and society. While in the end the rigidity of tradition and caste ends up banishing Chapra and ultimately takes his life, he poses a final challenge to the brahmin council:
“And so who decided it had to be that way? People? Or was it the gods?” (374)
Here, Chapra is not only defying his own fate, but the basis of Indian (and human) society – what is the right of humans to decide the rights of others? Who is the hand that writes fate – mere mortals, or a higher power? What is the meaning of belief, if all it benefits is a select few?
The graphic novel adaptation of Paul Auster’s City of Glass by Paul Karasik and David Mazzucchelli illustrates each significance voice with a distinct font. The typewriter font is used for the narrator to indicate the final draft of the narrative as the typewriter is an instrument that once marks the page, cannot be erased. If one makes a mistake, the entire page is to be re-typed which communicates the quality of professionalism and officially of the narrator’s words. The typewriter font is used to convey the authenticity of the narrative and the authority the narrator has in the novel.
Peter Stillman Sr.’s words are embellished with a capital letter of a calligraphy style as he is a member of the upper class and well educated. The ornamental letter describes his profession as a former professor who is wealthy and was respected. The capital letter that begins his speech bubbles are written in this style as his words are carefully chosen as his is a professor concerned with languages, specifically the language of God. As a professor, Peter Stillman Sr.’s words are intellectual with a higher understanding od the words that he uses, in comparison with the layman and the capital letter indicates his knowledge.
Peter Stillman Jr.’s speech bubbles originate from within to represent that his thoughts and words are different from the other characters. There are lowercase letters in his speech as a result of the abuse and neglect that he had experienced as a child. The trauma from his father’s experiments has changed his speech patterns as the different font indicated that his language skills originate from an abnormal processing method.
Virginia Stillman’s voice on the phone is captioned with un-bolded and several lowercase letters. The lines of the words are also not straight as the telephone distorts the words of the speaker and do not truly reflect the voice of the caller. The lowercase letters indicate uncertainty of the legitimacy of her concern and the ability of the investigator that she is calling. The lower case letters and wavy composition of the works from her voice through the telephone communicates the process of sound waves converting to pressure in the air. The different frequencies of each sound are also depicted by the fluctuating appearance of Mrs. Stillman’s words.
A different font is used to signify the diverse characteristics of each character in the graphic novel adaptation of Paul Auster’s City of Glass for metaphorical and atheistic purposes.
Yo guys, hopefully last post of all wooohooooo!!
I have to say that this book dedicates particularly long passages to architecture and the description of buildings for a book that is seemingly about the holocaust. Evidently, the book’s context and deeper content reveal that Austerlitz is more than a heartfelt post-holocaust story, one of its main themes being the suppresion of memory. Furthermore, one of my questions is how does the role of architecture relate to this theme, and why does Sebald make such a big emphasis on it?
I spent a while thinking about this one, I could understand that Sebald’s character was a an architecture historian and for that reason it was only natural that he talk about architecture and the stories behind buildings. However, I could not relate its connection with the overall book and its themes. After some investigation I came upon this quote:
“From individual memory to collective memory, architecture can impact what and how we remember. An architect’s design might make the most of “suggestible” memories by creating built form that helps to “preserve” a memory— like a memorial, for instance. On the other hand, architecture can bring new meaning into our present as well.”
This quote set me off in a better understanding of Sebald’s use of architecture to characterize Austerlitz. I began thinking exactly how it is that today’s architecture affects the way I reexperience memories that happened in particular spaces. Although at first I had a lot of trouble thinking exactly how I had been affected by modern architecture, especially because Mexico is too chaotic for me to generalize my experiences, I could not think how Vancouver’s architecture had affected me. In order to find the answer to my question I began thinking of experiences where architecture has certainly affected the way I remember experiences.
After backpacking through europe for a month and a half I was visiting the 19th city of my trip, Rome. As any person visiting this city for the first time it was of the utmost importance that I visited the Vatican and saw the insteriors of St Peter’s Basilica. This place stood out because of its architectural mounstrosity but the way I experienced it, now that I think about it, applies to all the memories of all the famous plaza’, buildings and streets that left an impression on me in my trip around europe. Each one had a distinct element to them that makes the memories that much more vivid, making it easy to recall moods and environments. Okay, so St Peter’s Basilica, I was standing there, inside the Basilica, its enormous pillars, enormous dome and its enormous everything. The sun rays were shining through, and everything around me looked magnificent, massive, awe-inspiring and imposing. I really don’t know how much the space I was in affected the way I experienced the following moment, but I just remember that this is one of the moments in my trips that I became very self aware of where I was standing and what I had gone through to get there. It was a rushing sensation very hard to describe and it only lasted a few moments, but I quickly associate with the magnificence of the basilica. It seemed as though my past experiences were gathering at that particular point in time and I was becoming part of the numerous lives that had crossed paths with such a large building and its signifance. Its hsitory and the stories behind it interconnected with what I had experienced through the 18 cities I had gone through to get there.
I feel this is the reason Sebald gives importance to architecture to spaces in Austerlitz. Austerlitz is a character that is trying to connect with his past, and for that reason he finds himself drawn to the history and functions of pieces of architecture such as the Antwerp Station in Brussels. Through spaces and how they fulfill a function Austerlitz creates a connection with the past. Each building contains a certain path that draws to different memories, and also adds to the mood of ‘lost memories’ that envelopes the novel. Austerlitz recognizes that all the spaces contain a certain path that is unique to thema and adds to the mood of lost memories that enevelopes the novel.
With this in mind, I came back to the buildings we have in vancouver, and again how it could be that through their function they affect the way I have experienced memories. In today’s arcitecture from what I have observed of my own experiences it seems that we give a lot of priority to the efficiency of spaces at completing a certain function. Years and years of studying old buildings, have given us knowledge of what exactly a space can do and how that space can achieve its function. We find it aesthethically pleasing when a space is efficient, so I cant help but say (again, this is from what I have gathered from my experiences as I am no expernt I might be entirely wrong of what I am saying) that our architecture is very function-driven. We only need look at the Nest in UBC to observe that its beauty can be found in the fact that it is able to perform specific functions very efficiently. Furthermore, if I were to say that today’s architecture has affected the way I recount past experiences can be seen by the high priority we have given as culture to going about our business. Especially moving from Mexico, I can say that coming to Vancouver evereybody is going about their own business and has the priority to complete an objective and sometimes because of this people don’t get to appreciate the beauty of chaos/disorder and the liveliness that comes with it. Maybe this is the reason I have not paid enough attention to the architecture surrounding me, and its because it seems to be only there to complete a function, and it does this so well that it does not seem to bring attention to itself and stand out to the buildings that surround it.
Hi all! Sorry my blog post is late! But nonetheless, here it is!
How does the use of images affect the reader?
Does it augment/heighten or decrease/contract from the imagination (of having no pictures)?
Austerlitz is a work of fiction but does the use of images create a set image that did not exist before?
Honestly I think that Sebald is manipulating the use of images so that we, as the reader, see what he wants us to see. On page 5, there is a comparison between the eyes of owls and philosophers. This may not seem like anything but I feel tricked because Sebald could easily have taken any images that could support his ideas.
It’s true that both sets of eyes indeed do look similar, but if Sebald had decided to choose a different pair of eyes, his analysis/comment would be void and quite untrue.
Also, the picture of the little boy on the cover of the novel, which is also on pg. 183 is another example of how Sebald’s use of images may affect us readers. The picture is a supposed picture of Austerlitz as a boy; thus creating the image of a serious little boy with a more than not-so-happy face. This ingrains the physical image provided Sebald and doesn’t allow us, as the audience, to imagine a face for ourselves since this novel is a work of fiction.
Although the pictures can be regarded as helpful or better, I believe that we- as the reader- have the right to imagine any images for ourselves, particularly the way Sebald’s novel is formatted because it is created in a way that seems non-fiction-like (not some illustration) but actual photographs.
Thanks for reading my post once again! Have a great day!
The gruesome legacy of Nazism is unavoidable in any discussion of Western (and especially German) culture. Theodor Adorno was one of many figures to address this bloody imprint, in his maxim that ‘to write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric’. The specific meaning of this statement is much-debated, but its relevance is unquestionable.
The Dadaists, following the First World War, formed their movement based on the credo that mankind didn’t deserve art for their complicity in that maelstrom of carnage. The result was an upsurge in ‘anti-art’, which was labelled degenerate upon the rise of Nazism. While this intent was not echoed directly after the Second World War, it is easy to see Adorno’s credo as an invocation of the same sentiment – the perpetration of these evils, by humanity at large or by the Germans specifically, is so great that those responsible, for the fact that this was allowed to happen, do not deserve the catharsis found in art.
The critical slant of the statement is the fact that art can be used for catharsis, and can relieve pain and anxiety; most chillingly, it can do this by glorifying actions that cause this pain and anxiety through the brutality of their perpetration. The banality of evil and the subtle contributions of an entire people to the crime make everyone complicit to an extent, and make it to easy to brush aside an evil that makes such gradual demands. To remember and learn from the horror of Nazism is to see inhumanity in its more pleasant and unassuming guises, and so to never forget the ultimate conclusion of the power that, a decade prior to its fall, had a sufficient portion of the popular vote and outspoken praise, even by some of those outside its borders. To take solace in poetry, that which can nullify the horror of participation, however insidiously in this brutality, is a greater offense than drowning it in liquor or offering tear-stained prayers for forgiveness, because it allows a conscious denial of responsibility where such is plainly an affront to sanity.
Last seminar we discussed a lot of interesting things, but one of the things I found most interesting was our many varied responses to the quote from Theodor Adorno, “to write poetry after Auschwitz is barbarism”. As a class we offered pros and cons and potential interpretations to this quote, but some of the most important things (I think) that were brought up were first the idea that it is important to use art as a way to remember and be conscious of the past while still moving forward from it, as well as the blurring between history and fiction that occurs when fictional characters embody the stories of true events.
This reminded me of a production of the musical Cabaret that I saw recently. Similar to Sebald’s approach with Austerlitz, one doesn’t quite realize the story’s connection to the Holocaust until towards latter half of the play in the second act. The show takes place in a cabaret in Berlin the early 1930s, on the precipice of the fall of the Weimar Republic – exhibiting the remnants of the “dancing on the edge of the volcano” attitude. In the opening of the show (0:40-2:30 in the video below), the Emcee encourages the audience to leave their troubles at the door because in the cabaret, “life is beautiful, the girls are beautiful – even the orchestra is beautiful”.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KW5eFCFnW9c (embedding was disabled on this video for some reason)
Both the audience and the characters leave their troubles at the door, but soon the reality of the polotical situation becomes undeniably present in their lives. While nothing is explicitly addressed, the audience has a sense of what the outcome will be. The closest to a direct reference to the Holocaust that is made in the play is in the final scene, linked below, though the ending is left somewhat to the audience’s interpretation and each production stages the ending slightly differently.
In the finale, the Emcee entertains the audience until the very last moment when he removes his coat to reveal his striped pajamas. In the specific production that I saw, silent figures representing nazi officer were shown applauding after the Emcee said “auf wiedersehen” and gave his final bow, suggesting that the cabaret performers wound up in a camp like Theresienstadt where they were then performed for their lives – similar to what may have happened to Austerlitz’s mother. Though they take place on opposite points in time in reference to the Second World War, both Cabaret and Austerlitz take the audience/reader on a guided tour through an artistic and beautiful story taking the weight of focus off of the atrocities that occurred while not forgetting them all together.
My main question is: do you think that creating fictional characters in a difficult historical period in similar situations to true events, as Austerlitz and Cabaret both do to an extent, helps to inform the collective perception of the holocaust or do they lean towards romanticizing the events?
*Note: since I didn’t end up posting this before seminar I figured I might as well include some of the responses we generated in our seminar. I think a point was made that Sebald very deliberately avoids talking about the Holocaust directly, and that his approach to leave space for the voices of those who did really experience it to be heard allows him to be safely within the boundary, though he does so in a way that does rely somewhat on the reader’s likely romanticized preconceptions of the Holocaust. I feel that Cabaret on the other hand is a lot closer to the boundary and has more potential to romanticized, depending on the particular production – the one that I saw I felt was very conscious of this and therefore was more in-line with Sebald’s technique of not hitting you over the head with the facts of the event. Instead they both give small suggestions here and there before turning around and returning to their narrative, leaving “ghost images” that the reader/audience creates in their mind.
Something that Professor Mota pointed out was that Theodor Adorno likely used this quotation “to write poetry after Auschwitz is barbarism” as a question or as a challenge to artists, and rather than saying that it shouldn’t be done he is really asking “how are you going to create art after Auschwitz? How is it going to be move forward without ignoring the past?” I think these two works both successfully explore the possibilities of this challenge.