“The Failure of Narrative: Cinema and Storytelling at the End of the World”

zabriskie 2

My proposal for a talk at “Forms of the Apocalypse” a symposium at Université Paris 8 in March has been accepted.

In this paper, I draw upon examples from film and video to examine how the idea of apocalypse plays out in storytelling, not simply in terms of content: the trope of mass destruction, but in terms of narrativity, the processes by which a story is presented and interpreted. In keeping with the etymology of “apocalypse” as an uncovering or revealing, I define apocalypse not as the end of the world, but rather the end of the world as we have known it, that is to say, epistemologically.

What humans know of the world largely depends upon the technologies we use to “see” it. This, in turn, influences how we communicate this knowledge. The move away from written language to visual language, which cinema initiated, continues. As we transition from language- based storytelling to experiential storytelling most notably with the creation of virtual realities, the very notion of what we know and how we know it comes into question.

Using examples taken from feature films including Antonioni’s visionary Zabriskie Point as well as examples from video art : Mark Amerika’s Immobilité and Keren Cytter’s “French Film” and “The Hottest Day of the Year,” I will point out trends in narrativity which correspond to changes in technology. These include: the move away from what Hiroki Azuma calls “grand” and “small” narratives to “database” narrative and the accompanying changes in perceptions and evocations of time and space, the move away from characters to processes that create affective asymmetries that I will relate to Thomas LaMarre’s analysis of Japanese anime, the move from meaning-making to aesthetics including the tendency to emphasize musicality (rhythm, repetition, and tone) over verbal semantics that relates to Flusser’s theory of gesture and Kojéve’s meditations on the end of history, and the move from authenticity to kitsch and performativity and its relationship to virtuality that I will discuss via the writings of Walter Benjamin, Brecht, and Celeste Olalquiga. I will end with a discussion of desire, intentionality, presence, and subjectivity in storytelling using the example of my new work in progress Queerskins VR.

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