Posts Tagged ‘body’

Avatar – Depth without depth.

Wednesday, February 10th, 2010

I took the opportunity of being back in Berlin for a few days to hop into a 3D showing of Avatar, even though I didn’t have particularly high expectations of the movie. But, as so many others, I decided to watch it to see how 3D cinema is done today and what its potentials might be. It was good to have watched the movie without expecting much from the storyline, the politics, or the characters, because all of these were extremely … flat. Rarely did I go to the cinema to see a movie where the characters lacked any kind of plausible background, the entire plot line was completely clear and without any interesting twists from beginning to end. Well, you could say that this complete lack of surprises was a surprise in itself, but that would be carrying things a bit too far. But, maybe there was one surprise: at one point I felt an emotional involvement even though I was really annoyed on an intellectual level. Maybe this is a hint at how one could see the movie when one does not wear several layers of aesthetic and intellectual doubts – at least I talked to a few people from completely non-academic backgrounds who enjoyed this movie tremendously and really thought that it was a very moving experience.

So back to the original motivation of watching this movie: getting an impression about the 3D thingy. First off, I am not one of those who like to sit in one of the back seats of a cinema, watching from a distance. For me, immersion is a treat. This went fairly ok with the 3D stuff too, but I think it might make watching a bit more difficult because I found myself watching at some detail of the scenery for a bit too long from time to time, thus running the risk of missing ‘the big picture’. But apart from that, I thought that they did a good job with using 3D for this movie. The special effects were nice and sometimes the landscapes were really interesting and beautiful and it was fun to explore them visually. This really adds a new quality to the aesthetics of the movie and can be used for much more than action-related effects. It will be nice to see how this is going to be used in movies that are exciting and touching – I do have some hopes for the next Pixar flick in this regard.
And one last remark: With the strong focus on bodily performance and sensations, I really felt uneasy about the way in which handicaps / handicapped people were portrayed. Instead of ditching the “crippled” body as practically worthless and only frustrating, it would have been much nicer to look the potentials that life in a wheelchair (or any other handicap) has to offer. Instead, this movie took a strong evolutionist/survival of the fittest turn. The use of all kinds of machines was portrayed as a sign of impotence – only the pure body, the handmade bow, and the symbiotic animal were worth anything. And aging or decay? Where were they? We see one dead body, which carries sign of old age, but what do the wonderful nature-bound, and always perfectly performing aliens do when they get old? *sigh*
IMDb entry | Trailer

Call for Papers: Absence. Materiality, embodiment, resistance.

Friday, December 18th, 2009

I am happy to announce that I will be co-organizing a session at next year’s RGS-IBG conference in London (September 1-3). Here is the text of the call for papers:

Convenors: Lars Frers (University of Oslo); Lars Meier (Institute for Employment Research, Nürnberg); Erika Sigvardsdotter (Uppsala University)

What is missing, for whom and why? How does that, which is absent, relate to the things and people that are present? In this session we wish to engage with the intersections of the material and emotional qualities of absence, focussing on the fact that absence is all but a void, manifesting itself in concrete places, people and things; that it is embodied and enacted.
To feel something’s absence, it needs to be part of a temporal pattern, it has to be a part of what is expected; something that used to be present. A factory is shut down, workers gone, and with them the sounds and smells of work. Yet all of these sensual experiences may be evoked by a whiff of a machine’s scent, by a familiar chink or a rusty tool laying around. Exploring the materiality of absence, we want to improve the understanding of how remembrances of things past and people gone are realized in things and people present. Establishing absence may also be part or result of power-related negotiations. As legal residuals of border regulation, irregular migrants are absent in a jurisdiction; off the grid, uncountable and unable to complain if abused or exploited. Yet, their presence is unquestionable. Although being able to exercise that presence may be a long term goal, absence – from conspicuous places, from view and immigration officer’s radars, can be a situational tactic necessary for their survival. However, managing absence, controlling the traces and the materialities that might make the absent present can also be a long-term strategy. Research into climate change can be understood as work trying to overcome the resistance of the material by digging up traces that show that something is there even it may usually be absent.
The absence–presence ambivalence can be worked in various ways; a presence suggesting the absent, the seemingly absent becoming present in flesh and blood, or as a merely suggested, ghostlike presence.

Possible session topics:

  • Remembrances: Emotions, memory and the materiality of absence.
  • Contestations of what and who is absent/present.
  • Practices and the managing of absence.

In the session, we want to discuss different characteristics of absence and their interrelations. To achieve this we will focus on concrete experiences and examples of absence and we welcome presentations that display the sensual and material qualities of absence.

Please submit a 300 word abstract for a 20 minute presentation (including title, presenter’s name and affiliation) before 31st January 2010 to:

The route, the body & the view. Investigations into agency and perception along the Norwegian Tourist Route.

Friday, November 13th, 2009

This is the title of the presentation that I gave last week. I was very kindly invited to present my work on the Norwegian Tourist Route in the research seminar of Uppsala University’s Department of Social and Economic Geography. As usual, I recorded the presentation on my laptop and I have now uploaded it. If you have a modern web browser like Firefox (3.5 and up), Safari (3.1 and up) or Chrome, you can watch the video right here.

The whole presentation took about an hour – it was very nice for me to be able to talk about my work with enough time to allow for the inclusion of a substantial amount of what some people call data (there are five video clips and a lot of photographs included in the presentation). The discussion after the talk and later in the evening was really productive and the whole atmosphere of the visit was very welcoming and nice. I extend my heartfelt thanks to the great folks in Uppsala!

Presentation: Landscape, the body, and the route. The socio-materiality of road stops between erosion and fatigue.

Wednesday, March 25th, 2009

Next month Lars Meier and I will go to Cardiff to participate in this year’s conference of the British Sociological Association. I will be presenting as part of the stream Space, Mobility and Place, which sounds like a good context. Following is the abstract:

In this presentation, I want to use digital video recordings and photographs to analyze the corporeal dimension of what is happening in one of mobility’s borderlands. Based on research that has been done at rest stops of the Norwegian Tourist Route, I will discuss the multiple social and material layers that permeate each other at these sites. Symmetrically analysing material aspects on the one hand and social aspects on the other hand (i.e. material: built structures, erosion, and “natural events” like snowfall; i.e. social: social class, fatigue, and “social events” like experiencing a place as a picturesque landscape)–, I want to demonstrate two things: (1) How the corporeal embeddedness of actors in their material surroundings is an inextricable, temporally constituted part of what is labeled as The Social. Thus the challenge to a restricted understanding of the social – as it has been put forward in Science and Technology Studies or in Non-Representational Theory – is taken up in empirical field work. (2) How disruptions in flows are an essential and productive part of everyday practices, even if they arise as irritations. Thus it will be displayed that mobility, speed, and the non-places of flows have another side, a dark side that is, actually, quite multicolored.

I am really looking forward to visit Cardiff for the first time. Maybe even more exciting will be to compare the British sociology crowd with that of the German sociology conferences, and with the British geographers.

Babel – more than words.

Thursday, February 8th, 2007

Desert, borderland and the metropolis – these are the places in which the stories of this movie unfold. The places are well chosen, showing how fear and isolation can creep into every part of this world. This movie is quite humanistic, telling us about the difficulties that we face when engaging an other. Difficulties that exists because of the distance between cultures but also in the distance between individuals. I have been told that this movie tells a story about miscommunication. That is true. But it also shows how people interact with more than words. Words and bodies struggle to transport meaning and care, always looking for love or at least some help and sympathy. But they also hurt and might even kill. The film shows a very corporeal form of communication, quite in contrast to the title which seems to suggest that it is about spoken language. Thinking about it, I very much enjoyed this movie, perhaps even more so that during the time I spent in the cinema. However, I certainly won’t complain about that time: Cate Blanchett is breathtaking as always and Gael García Bernal might even be my favorite male actor, the rest of the cast doing very well, too. Go and watch this movie. Do it in the cinema, landscape is important in this movie.

IMDb entry | Trailer

Moving through the terminal – Investigations into material practices.

Monday, January 30th, 2006

My proposal for the session on Landscape, Mobility and Practice has been accepted, allowing me to participate in the annual conference of the Royal Geographical Society with the Institute of British Geographers (RGS-IBG) in London. Following is the abstract on which my presentation will be based:

This presentation will accompany people who use railway and ferry terminals, demonstrating how the materiality of these terminals interacts with people’s movements, their bodies and perceptions. The terminal itself is located at an intriguing juncture between travel and rest, between movement and pause. It is both a place of rushing through and of lingering or loitering. Based on ethnographic observations and many hours of video recordings, both subtle details of bodily arrangement and spatial relations on the scale of the terminal as a whole are examined from a phenomenological perspective. How do the practices of people in the terminal reconfigure the socio-spatial constellations that permeate these places? How does the rigidity of walls, rails, gangways and doors participate in the production of localised normalities? These questions will be answered by examining sensual experiences and material practices. Perceiving their environment by sight, hearing, smell and touch, opening doors, managing bodily movements, interacting with machines, displays and people – a wide array of subtle but powerful practices produces the dynamic socio-spatial setting that is the terminal.

I am very happy to finally be visiting London – the city about which I read more than about any other city, but that I never visited in spite of the relative ease of getting there. So many novels, so many remembrances about a place I have never seen with my own eyes…

Conservatism and critique.

Saturday, December 11th, 2004

This week we talked about Richard Sennett‘s Corrosion of Character in our seminar on the diagnosis of capitalism in the 21st century. It has been a while since I last read Corrosion of Character, and over the course of the last years I seem to have forgotten some of the central arguments he made and some of the terms into which he molds his critique. Here, I want to focus on two terms in particular:

drift. I think this term describes the feeling many people experience living their lives without a firm anchor very well. Some kind of unknown but forceful current takes you into a direction, carrying you to a place that is not known, and, although appearing on the horizon, might never be reached because the currents have changed again, taking you to through murky waters to some other place. Will I be working in Berlin or in Darmstadt in 2006? Or maybe in some other city or even some other country? How long will I be there, what will I have to do there, whom will I (still) know and work with? What will my perspective be then? Will it actually be connected to what I am doing today, or will I have to work in a different sector? I will surely try to row and set sail to get to particular places, and I may know how to hold a certain course. But I am not sure if the drift will bring me to where I will go, or if it is me, and I know that the drift will have a much stronger influence on other people than it has on me.

corrosion. I realized how well this term works today, especially if one imagines the corrosion of character as the corrosion of a car’s body: it will begin slowly, eating away the metal structure under the finish. After a while the finish cracks, the fabric of the masks we want to wear and play with (comp. Sennett The Fall of Public Man) becomes threadbare, making it hard to maintain the images we want to create of ourselves. If the corrosion proceeds the structure itself becomes more and more fragile, and finally prone to collapse. Such an imperiled character might not have the strength to build up enough resistance to the forces of a capitalist economy that pushes and tears in several different directions.

In the discussion it also became very clear that Sennett is not formulating his critique from a postmodernist perspective. He wants to argue for a stabilization of characters, for anchoring them in some firm ground, for providing them with a coherent narrative that enables them to formulate their own desires, norms and positions; he does not argue for an urban guerilla that is always changing it’s shape, that is radically localized and fluent, appearing at unpredictable times and locations. I think that there are some convincing reasons for doing this, for taking this conservative position – a position that is probably based on his conception of the antique greek polis as he develops it in Stone and Flesh and some of his other works. The postmodern position probably also has its place. However, to me it also seems to be an elitist and group specific perspective: it relies on a group of actors who have to be highly qualified, highly mobile, independent, skilled with modern technologies and generally living a life-style that by its definition is restricted to a small minority of the population (a group, it might be added, that also relies on distinction from “the rest” of the population to a very high degree, even if it may sympathize with the poor, the homeless, and the disadvantaged.)