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Cinéma Discrepant and the Sonic Matters of Montage

Date and Time: 
Friday, March 4, 2022. 12:00 PM
Meeting Location: 
Zoom
Workshop: 
Working Group in Literary & Visual Culture
Meeting Description: 

Christian Whitworth (PhD candidate, Art History) presents a chapter from his dissertation, detailing the theoretical writings of artist and filmmaker, Isidore Isou, who established a new avant-garde aesthetic movement in Paris in 1946 named “Lettrism.” Revisiting his earliest texts within the context of the postwar Parisian purge (épuration intellectuelle), Whitworth shows how Isou drew upon a history of avant-garde poetic production (Baudelaire, Mallarmé, Tzara) to develop a “chiseled” language of montage based on a return to the pre-symbolic realm of echolalic speech patterns. Quasi-locutions like screams, stutters, and sighs resound within the perceived instability of Isou’s numerous pages of poetry—the theoretical foundation to his cinéma discrepant (discrepant cinema), a method of montage idealized as the complete and erratic separation of the image track from the soundtrack. Uncovering the “other side” of textual and cinematic grammar promised access to the source of France’s collective anxiety in a moment of radical sociocultural upheaval. But by analyzing select scenes from Isou’s 1952 film, Traité de bave et d’éternité (Treatise on Venom and Eternity), Whitworth shows how the artist and filmmaker repossessed the interval inserted in the system of signification—the sonic matter of textual and cinematic montage—as an abjected figure of racial and sexual difference. Simultaneously figured and forgotten, the body of the gendered and colonized other conditioned not only the category of the rational and autonomous modern French subject but also an aphasic occlusion of the knowledge of the colonial present. 

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Made possible by support from an anonymous donor honoring the work of former SHC Director John Bender, the Mellon Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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