Thomas Elsaesser | Cinephilia – Film Studies – Cultural Studies


In this article I want to look at a double conjuncture around an object of study – the cinema – which has itself only recently been accorded the status of a discipline: film studies. Precisely because of its somewhat ‘performative’ position in the academy compared to literary studies, art history or philosophy, film studies is constantly called upon to construct for itself a viable relation to history, theory and cultural studies, while at the same time knowing full well that disciples such as ‘art history’ ‘literary theory’ and ‘cultural studies’ are themselves mediated and constructed by other fields of force, not least by one that now calls itself ‘media theory’. The positioning of film studies within these wider fields, where it is at times central, at times quite marginal, is thus the function of a process that in many ways has only just begun: the transformation of the classic humanities based on written texts, their history [‘influence’] and hermeneutics [‘interpretation’], within a different, more ‘dynamic’ and unstable media environment. Dependent on the space allowed and allotted to the study of images, representation and symbolic action in society at large, film and media studies is under constant and increasing pressure to legitimate itself vis-à-vis the hard and social sciences. This means that while film studies’ ‘place’ in the university curriculum is largely secured – thanks to the double conjuncture of the cinema’s popularity among the university’s primary ‘clients’, the students, and the perceived social and economic relevance of what in the jargon is known as ‘the media’ in general – the place is far from uncontested, because in each case it is already fully-occupied by sitting tenants that are unwilling to cede territory.

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