“An Uncertain Atmosphere”: Towards a Sensorial Reading of Strange Films
In her Dictionnaire des Intraduisibles, philosopher Barbara Cassin elaborates on the difficulties of translating the German notion of "Stimmung". The word seems to manifest an interesting and complex combination between its musical sense (stimmen often means "to tune an instrument") and a mental disposition. In other words, "Stimmung" may indicate a state of harmony or attunement between outside (the environment) and inside (body/mind). The goal of this presentation is to analyze the usefulness of a theory of "Stimmung" (or "ambience') in the field of film studies. The critical approach of "reading for Stimmungen", as proposed by Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht in his most recent works, seeks to explore the 'material dimension' of the artwork, by engaging with its sensible rather than hermeneutical facets. According to Gumbrecht, this mode of cultural consumption is already prevalent nowadays among non-professional readers of literature. Contemporary culture, he argues, is characterized precisely by its orientation towards non-hermeneutic readings and the fascination with the sensorial/sensational facets of the artwork. In that sense, Gumbrecht’s ideas seem to be particularly fit for the analysis of cinematic works that Joan Hawkins, among others, identify as pertaining to the complex category of "body genres" (horror, pornography, science-fiction etc). Given that one of the main traits of these genres is precisely the lack of proper aesthetic distance, a trademark of "degraded cultural forms", the spectator feels directly affected by the images at a corporeal level. By means of a careful reading of Belgian filmmaker Harry Kümel's ambitious, but also campy, film Malpertuis (1971), I intend to show how Gumbrecht's non-hermeutic techniques can be richly combined with semiotic readings in order to produce a more integral appreciation of the artwork. The sentence in my presentation's title comes from Huguette Poitras' early review on Kümel's film (characterized as having an "atmosphère mystérieuse et incertaine") and works as a token of the importance of the notion of "Stimmung" for hard-to-classify films like Malpertuis. Perhaps, what is most remarkable about them is precisely their peculiar "Stimmung" or "atmosphere".
Erick Felinto is a visiting scholar in the Department of Media, Culture and Communication at New York University and holds a professorship in Media Theory at the State University of Rio de Janeiro (UERJ) since 1999. His research focuses on German media theory and the contribution of Czech-Brazilian author Vilém Flusser to the field of media epistemology. For the past five years, Erick has been investigating the repercussions of Flusser’s ideas in the context of Anglophone scholarship. He is currently working on a book about the resonances of Flusser’s notion of “philosophical fiction” with contemporary cultural theories. Between August 2010 and May 2011, Erick was a postdoctoral fellow at the Berlin University of the Arts (Gastwissenschaftler), conducting research on the unpublished manuscripts housed in the Berliner Flusser Archive. In 2014 he contributed, as a translator and researcher, for the publication of the trilingual edition of the Flusseriana (University of Minnesota Press/Univocal, 2015), an intellectual “toolbox” presenting Flusser’s main concepts in alphabetical order. He was also the organizer and curator of the international series of conferences “The Secret Life of Objects” (2012/2015), which gathered scholars such as Bruno Latour, Richard Grusin, Lisa Gitelman, Siegfried Zielinski and Steven Shaviro in academic meetings in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. He authored six books in Portuguese, as well as several articles in Portuguese, English, German and French on digital culture, media theory and film studies.