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Open Access Agamben’s cinema: Psychology versus an ethical form of life

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Agamben’s essay on gesture is perhaps his most influential piece of work for film studies, in which he argues that cinema at its inception captures the moment at which humans have lost control of their gestures, manifest in a crisis of communicability. Comparing the traces of the gesticulating bodies of Gilles de la Tourette’s patients with those in the proto-cinematic series of photographs taken by Eadward Muybridge, Agamben suggests that these are the twin processes of a biopolitical production of life; respectively, the body as the site of investigation and the exemplary body put to work. Yet the ethico-political implications of Agamben’s essay on gesture and the biopolitical production of life are relatively under-developed. This article pursues not only cinema’s relation to biopolitical capture but also the way in which cinema came to compensate for such a reductive version of corporeality by constructing the concept of an individual located as complex interiority. When gestural communication declines at the close of the 19th century meaning is relocated to the internal space within the human body; commensurate with this production of human interiority as a site of truth, cinema becomes a machine whose task is to decipher the turmoil of the inside, a process reproduced as narrative explication.
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Keywords: X-ray; biopolitics; gesture; interiority; transmission

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Janet Harbord is Professor of Film at Queen Mary, University of London. Her work crosses the disciplines of film studies, visual culture, and philosophy. She is the author of several books, including Chris Marker: La Jetee (Afterall Books & MIT, 2009), The Evolution of Film (Polity Press, 2007), and Simon Starling, with D. Roelstraete and F. Manacorda (Phaidon Press, 2012). Her book Excentric Cinema: Giorgio Agamben and Film Archaeology (Bloomsbury, Thinking Cinema Series) is forthcoming in Spring 2016.

Publication date: September 1, 2015

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  • NECSUS is an international, double-blind peer reviewed journal of media studies connected to NECS (European Network for Cinema and Media Studies) and published by Amsterdam University Press. The journal is multidisciplinary and strives to bring together the best work in the field of media studies across the humanities and social sciences. We aim to publish research that matters and that improves the understanding of media and culture inside and outside the academic community. Each volume includes feature articles, a special thematic section, a video essay section, and a reviews section that covers books, festivals, and exhibitions. NECSUS is targeted to a broad readership of researchers, lecturers, and students, and will be offered as a biannual open access, online journal.

    The journal is published in Open Access, with the following Creative Commons copyright license: Attribution-Non Commercial-No Derivatives (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0).

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