Some recent books on cinema (I)

I’m still copy-pasting the shallow content that I gather from my recent Google searches here — to the desolate library. Day by day I’m getting more and more superficial. One day I’ll melt into the air. Like many other things that I haven’t been doing recently in the last few years, I wasn’t also reading any books on cinema or watching many films. The latter, I kind of restarted lately, warming up now. I also visited Odeon in Hauptstraße and wailed while Mr. Hopkins was looking for his watch or his daughter’s painting. It will stay next to the other play-like films I’ve seen in the past like Sleuth (1972), My Dinner with Andre (1981), The Man from Earth (2007), Carnage (2011), The Sunset Limited (2011), or Amour (2012). I guess we’ll see way more family drama by Florian Zeller in the future.

Then I thought I can do some book searches with ‘cinema’ in their titles and shortlist some books to take a look at in the indefinite future. Every once in a while these kinds of random searches end up with little treasures. I was honestly expecting more books with a theme like ‘the death of the cinema’ but I didn’t encounter that particular branch per se, not sure if it exists anyway. There are some ‘crisis’ books though.

Chateau D., Moure J. (2020). Post-cinema: Cinema in the Post-art Era, Amsterdam University Press.

“Post-cinema designates a new way of making films. It is time to ask whether this novelty is complete or relative and to evaluate to what extent this novation represents a unitary current or multiple ways. The book proposes to integrate the post-cinema question within the post-art question in order to study the new way of making filmic images in new conditions more or less remote from the dispositif of the theater and in closer relationship with contemporary art. The issue will be considered at three levels: the impression of post-art on “regular” films; the “relocation” (Cassetti) of the same films that can be seen using devices of all kinds, in conditions more or less remote from the dispositif of the theater; parallel to the integration of contemporary art in “regular” cinema, the integration of cinema into contemporary art in all kinds of forms of creation and exhibition.” [from De Gruyter]

PART I A Tribute to Agnès Varda
PART II The End of Cinema?
PART III Technological Transformations
PART IV New Dispositif, New Conditions
PART V Transformations in Film Form
Part VI Post-cinema, an Artists’ Affair

Lahiji, N. (2021). Architecture, philosophy, and the pedagogy of Cinema: From Benjamin to Badiou, foreword by McGowan, T., Routledge: London & NY.

“Philosophers on the art of cinema mainly remain silent about architecture. Discussing cinema as ‘mass art’, they tend to forget that architecture, before cinema, was the only existing ‘mass art’. In this work author Nadir Lahiji proposes that the philosophical understanding of the collective human sensorium in the apparatus of perception must once again find its true training ground in architecture.

Building art puts the collective mass in the position of an ‘expert critic’ who identifies themselves with the technical apparatus of architecture. Only then can architecture regain its status as ‘mass art’ and, as the book contends, only then can it resume its function as the only ‘artform’ that is designed for the political pedagogy of masses, which originally belonged to it in the period of modernity before the invention of cinema.” [from the book]

1 Returning to the philosophy of masses: Benjamin
and Badiou
2 From the photographic moment of critical philosophy
to the optical unconscious
3 Mass art and impurity: Reading Benjamin with Badiou
4 In and out of Plato’s cave
5 Theory of distraction: Tactile and optical
6 Poverty of experience
7 Dialectics and mass
8 The proletarian mise-​en-​scène
Epilogue: The art of the masses in the age of pornography

Attfield, S., (2020), Class on Screen: The Global Working Class in Contemporary Cinema, Palgrave Macmillan.

This book provides an analysis of the global working class on film and considers the ways in which working-class experience is represented in film around the world. The book argues that representation is important because it shapes the way people understand working-class experience and can either reinforce or challenge stereotypical depictions. Film can shape and shift discussions of class, and this book provides an interdisciplinary study of the ways in which working-class experience is portrayed through this medium. It analyses the impact of contemporary films such as Sorry To Bother You, This is England and Le Harve [sic] that focus on working class life. Attfield demonstrates that the global working class are characterised by diversity of race, ethnicity, gender, religion and sexuality but that there are commonalities of experience despite geographical distance and cultural difference. The book is structured around themes such as work, culture, diasporas, gender and sexuality, and race. [from Palgrave]

1 Introduction
2 Work and Unemployment
3 Working-Class Culture
4 Immigration and Diaspora
5 Gender and Sexualities
6 Race and Class in Australian Indigenous Film
7 Afterword

Kalmár, G. (2020). Post-Crisis European Cinema: White Men in Off-Modern Landscapes, Palgrave Macmillan.

This book explores the cinematic representations of the pervasive socio-cultural change that the 21st century brought to Europe and the world. Discussing films such as I, Daniel Blake, Cold War and Jupiter’s Moon, it puts distinctively “post-crisis”, gendered representations in a complex, theoretically informed and socially committed interdisciplinary perspective that maps the newly emerging formations of masculinity at a time of rapid socio-economic transition. Kalmar argues that the series of crises that started with the 9/11 terrorist attacks changed some of our fundamental expectations about history, debunked many of our grand narratives, and thus changed the cultural logic of our (thoroughly globalized) civilization. The book focuses on the ways cinema reflects, interprets and shapes a rapidly changing world: the hot issues of the times, the new formations of identity, and the shifts in cinematic representation. This is an interdisciplinary research that is equally interested in what new the 21st century brought about, most specifically to Europe and to its white men, as in film and its responses to these socio-cultural changes. [from Palgrave]

1 Introduction: Post-Crisis Europe, White Masculinity and
Art Cinema [The Post-Crisis and the Off-Modern, White Masculinity, Post-Crisis European Cinema]
2 Rites of Retreat and the Cinematic Resignification of European Cultural Geography [The World Is Big and Salvation Lurks Around the Corner, Delta, Suntan, Conclusions: Men in Retreat]
3 Unprocessed Pasts [Amen, Days of Glory, Cold War]
4 Addiction and Escapism [Billy Elliot, T2 Trainspotting, Kills on Wheels]
5 Narratives of Migration [Terraferma, Morgen, Jupiter’s Moon]
6 The Lads of the New Right [The Wave, This Is England, July 22]
7 Angry Old Men [Tyrannosaur, I, Daniel Blake, A Man Called Ove]
8 Conclusions

And some other interesting books that have rather specific focus:

  • Turquety, B. (2019). Danièle Huillet, Jean-Marie Straub:” Objectivists” in Cinema, Amsterdam University Press.
  • Lewis, I., & Canning, L. (ed., 2020). European Cinema in the Twenty-First Century, Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Baer, H. (2021). German Cinema in the Age of Neoliberalism, Amsterdam University Press.
  • Papanikolaou, D. (2021). Greek Weird Wave: A Cinema of Biopolitics, Edinburgh University Press.


German Literature Book Prizes

I took note of the recent awards for the literature written in German. Only some of them are translated to English for now.

German Book Prize [web]

Year Author Book (DE) Book (EN) Publisher
2020 Anne Weber Annette, ein Heldinnenepos Matthes & Seitz
2019 Saša Stanišić Herkunft Where You Come From Luchterhand Literaturverlag
2018 Inger-Maria Mahlke Archipel Rowohlt
2017 Robert Menasse Die Hauptstadt The Capital Suhrkamp
2016 Bodo Kirchhoff Widerfahrnis Frankfurter Verlagsanstalt

Leipzig Book Fair Prize – Fiction [web]

Year Author Book (DE) Book (EN) Publisher
2021 Iris Hanika Echos Kammern Literaturverlag Droschl
2020 Lutz Seiler Stern 111 Suhrkamp
2019 Anke Stelling Schäfchen im Trockenen Higher Ground Verbrecher
2018 Esther Kinsky Hain. Geländeroman Suhrkamp
2017 Natascha Wodin Sie kam aus Mariupol Rowohlt
2016 Guntram Vesper Frohburg Schöffling & Co.

Swiss Book Prize [web]

Year Author Book (DE) Book (EN) Publisher
2020 Anna Stern das alles hier, jetzt Salis
2019 Sibylle Berg GRM. Brainfuck KiWi-Taschenbuch
2018 Peter Stamm Die sanfte Gleichgültigkeit der Welt FISCHER Taschenbuch
2017 Jonas Lüscher Kraft Beck C. H.
2016 Christian Kracht Die Toten The Dead FISCHER Taschenbuch
2015 Monique Schwitter Eins im Andern FISCHER Taschenbuch

The Georg Büchner Prize [web]

Year Author Praise
2021 Clemens J. Setz loading…
2020 Elke Erb Ihr gelingt es wie keiner anderen, die Freiheit und Wendigkeit der Gedanken in der Sprache zu verwirklichen…
deepl: She succeeds like no other in realizing the freedom and agility of thought in language….
2019 Lukas Bärfuss …der mit hoher Stilsicherheit und formalem Variationsreichtum stets neu und anders existentielle Grundsituationen des modernen Lebens erkundet.
deepl: …who, with a high degree of stylistic confidence and a wealth of formal variation, constantly explores the basic existential situations of modern life in new and different ways.
2018 Terézia Mora …ihre eminente Gegenwärtigkeit und lebendige Sprachkunst, die Alltagsidiom und Poesie, Drastik und Zartheit vereint.
deepl: …her eminent presence and lively linguistic art, which combines everyday idiom and poetry, drasticness and tenderness.
2017 Jan Wagner …dessen Gedichte spielerische Sprachfreude und meisterhafte Formbeherrschung vereinen.
deepl: …whose poems combine a playful joy of language and a masterful command of form.
2016 Marcel Beyer Seine Texte widmen sich der Vergegenwärtigung deutscher Vergangenheit mit derselben präzisen Hingabe, mit der sie dem Sound der Jetztzeit nachspüren.
deepl: His texts are dedicated to the visualization of the German past with the same precise devotion with which they trace the sound of the present.
2015 Rainald Goetz … der sich mit einzigartiger Intensität zum Chronisten der Gegenwart und ihrer Kultur gemacht hat. Er hat sie beschrieben, zur Anschauung gebracht und zu Wort kommen lassen, er hat sie gefeiert und verdammt und mit den Mitteln der Theorie analysiert.
deepl: … who with unique intensity has made himself a chronicler of the present and its culture. He has described it, brought it to view and made it speak, he has celebrated and condemned it and analyzed it with the means of theory.

Some Article Abstracts on Houellebecq’s Serotonin

It’s been some time since I read Houellebecq’s earlier novels. A week ago, I read Serotonin (2019) with bewilderment and discomfort. While trying to gather my senses, I thought I can store some ideas about his literature here, maybe to come back in the future. His interview after the publication of the novel in Denmark was also interesting. I was unable to notice the weight of the agricultural crisis in France in the novel before encountering the interview. Also, the story of the initial disappearance from one’s own life overlapped with the villain of the documentary I recently watched, Don’t F**K with Cats: Hunting An Internet Killer (2019).

Random keywords: depression, sexuality, capitalism, agriculture, commodification, memory, Europe

Article: Gut feelings: depression as an embodied and affective phenomenon in Houellebecq’s Serotonin
Author(s): Jenny Slatman, Inge van de Ven
Current debates about the possible causes of depression reinforce the age-old body–mind dualism: while some claim that depression is caused by psychological or societal stress, others underline that it results from a shortage of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the central nervous system. This paper shows that Michel Houellebecq’s latest novel Serotonin can be read as an account of depression that goes beyond this body–mind dualism. Moreover, we will argue that his way of narrating invites us to reconsider the restorative power of narrative in ‘pathography,’ a genre that is a primary focus within medical humanities. The first section of the paper discusses, while drawing on Wilson’s work on new materialism, that although the title of the novel Serotonin may suggest that Houellebecq takes sides with those who believe that depression is a brain disease, the protagonist of the novel suffers mainly from his gut feelings, which affects his entire embodied existence. Against the background of Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy, the second section specifies this existential disruption in terms of an embodied ‘I cannot.’ In the third section, we make clear how Houellebecq’s way of narrating—plotless and episodic—reinforces these embodied feelings of incapacity. The final section, then, traces how Houellebecq, by means of his style of writing and his choice of themes, succeeds in transferring gut feelings onto the reader. If illness narratives aim at sharing experiences of illness, the ‘narrative’ of depression, so we argue, had better take the form of an anti-narrative or a chaos story. Indeed, Houellebecq’s anti-narrative succeeds in passing on to the reader the experience of a debilitating gut feeling, and a gradual loss of grip that manifests itself as a temporal and spatial disorientation.

Article: À la recherche de l’amour perdu : Sérotonine de Michel Houellebecq
Author(s): Eva Voldřichová Beránková
Abstract: Serotonin (2019) undoubtedly represents Michel Houellebecq’s most “Proustian” novel. His narrator, a forty-six-year-old agricultural engineer, who became desperately impotent by a regular absorption of “new-generation anti-depressants”, scrutinizes his “phallocentric memory” to revisit all his missed appointments with the great Romantic Love that could have saved him. Our analysis proves that Serotonin is not just a “prefiguration of the Yellow vests movement”, an “illustration of European agricultural crisis” or a “conservative flirt with Christianism” (which commentators are accustomed to identify in Houellebecq’s work) but also a somewhat astonishing reflection on the functioning of memory and the mechanisms of love.

Article: Sérotonine ou la quête du bonheur selon Michel Houellebecq
Author(s): Ruth Amar
Abstract: In this article I will analyze the quest of happiness in Serotonin, the latest book by Michel Houellebecq. But first, it will be necessary to consider the aspects of happiness as they appear in his work. Being an avid and intellectual reader, Houellebecq summons many authors in his novels, which he quotes more or less literally. Two of them, namely Auguste Comte, the father of positivism, and Schopenhauer, the spiritual master of Houellebecq, are seemingly the major influences of the conception of happiness in the work. Apparently, these two philosophers have nothing in common, but it is possible to identify some similarities in relation with the idea of happiness expressed in Houellebecq’s novels. In his latest book Serotonin, the interest in happiness is even more precise, but this time, it is no longer a question of philosophy: the scientific title emerges in the form of a hormone: a neurotransmitter influencing our mood, used in antidepressants for better mental health. Does this mean that Houellebecq has given up? Or is it, on the contrary, a new effort of resistance? In this article I will try to answer the question and understand if the quest for happiness persists in his latest novel.

Article: Get Hard or Die Trying: Impotence and the Displacement of the White Male in Michel Houellebecq’s Sérotonine
Author(s): André Pettman
Abstract: Taking up Paul Preciado’s theories in his book Testo Junkie (2013) concerning contemporary biocapitalism, this essay argues that Michel Houellebecq’s latest novel, Sérotonine (2019), represents a radical move away from the hegemony of the white cis-male, heterosexual body depicted in his earlier literary corpus. The narrator of Sérotonine is stripped of his sexual capacity by an antidepressant that makes him impotent. Once unable to escape the stimuli and commodities designed to incite pleasure, thus leaving the body in a constant state of arousal, Houellebecq’s male subject is now unequivocally portrayed as being flaccid. Rather than disclose a sense of reconciliation or resignation with the market, the novel reveals an expulsion from it entirely. The narrator’s futile attempts to reinstate his male dominance further demonstrate the totalizing presence of sex, pleasure, and pharmaceutical drugs in Houellebecq’s novels and attest to the notion that the once-hegemonic male body of his literary universe is now simply hanging on to life itself as contemporary biocapitalism careens forward on its never-ending quest to maximize pleasure and desire.

Article: A Matter of Life and Death: Michel Houellebecq’s Vibrant Materialism
Author(s): Gai Farchi
Abstract: Michel Houellebecq’s fiction is often perceived as essentially materialistic, in the sense that it follows the decline of humanity in the loss of transcendence, while every human interaction, including love and sex, is reduced to the logic of the capitalist market. Taking on a new materialistic approach, this article aims to challenge this presumption with readings that emphasize the vibrant, subversive nature of materiality in Houellebecq’s fiction, particularly in the novels La carte et le territoire and Sérotonine. Drawing on recent new materialistic thought, I show that the shared destiny Houellebecq ascribes to both humans and objects under the logic of late capitalism makes, at times, this interdependence challenging to political economy. Vibrant matter, or the ex-nihilo rise of the “thing” from within the “object”, becomes the ultimate rescue of both the human and the non-human in his novels. This perspective enables us to conceive of Houellebecq not merely as a pessimistic voice lamenting the decline of the human, but one that presents affirmative posthuman ethics, undermining the circulation of commodities, and of people as commodities, from the margins of the system itself.

Another Day in Cinema

So I went to a cinema the second time after the pandemic. The city should be small or the cinemas are concentrated in definitive areas because this cinema was almost in the same street as the first cinema I went to. The first was Neues Off, this one is called Rollberg, one of the cinemas that are known for showing films in the original language, iiuc. A bit further in Hermanstraße in the Tempelhof direction, and then on the left, on Rollbergstraße. As in my previous visit, I went early and spent some time in Hasenhaide before the film, reading a book and watching the bubble soccer people.

Matthias & Maxime (2019) was shown with its original language that is Quebec French with German subtitles. I was thinking that I can understand more with faith in the trans-national language of the film. I recall Jim Jarmusch watching Asian films, without understanding, maybe even directing one (?). The film has a universal language, I thought. But that didn’t go as I expected. I was unable to catch the details of the dialogues despite being able to follow the plot. Were there jokes about Jacques Rivette, other references to the filmmaking?

The film had the signature scenes of Dolan, music video-like moments where the emotions and desires pile up, mommy issues, and a youngster realizing oneself. The ending wasn’t clear for me and I kept it unclear, didn’t do any readings on it. Maybe I didn’t get a key dialogue towards the end. Both the struggles about speaking English and the widely adapted attitude of looking down on the language were entertaining and instructive. I didn’t know that these tensions exist in the Quebec community.

The facial scar was an inventive device that Dolan utilized throughout the film. As a human being with several skin diseases, I found it relatable. Who knows, maybe those will disappear in a magical moment – probably a transitory one. I couldn’t understand the contract with the aunt (?) due to my lack of understanding of the vocabulary. The tension at the farewell party was intense and the parents’ excessive joy and enthusiasm during the film screening were exciting.


Back to the Film Theater, Fabian

Today, I returned to a film theater after more than a year and a half, probably the longest break since I was seven. I have been to some nice open-air cinemas lately, but those are not film theaters in terms of the audio-visual, historical, psychological, etc., qualities. The films I’ve seen in these open-air cinemas also weren’t that impressive -maybe Druk (2020) would have more impact in a closed space with its emphasis on the joy of music. One (ok boomer) needs to go deep in the dark and confined space. My chance was that it was a decent, or beautiful and a relevant film for me, Fabian oder Der Gang vor die Hunde, by Dominik Graf, adapted from Erich Kästner’s novel, taking place in the late Weimar era. I had been thrillingly onboarded to this period with Berlin Alexanderplatz and Babylon Berlin. This was the cherry on the cake, in a tragic sense.

I’ve been seeking the last film I’ve seen in the theater before the lockdowns, but I’m not sure yet. When I was working as a flexible freelancer, I was mostly focusing on and getting prepared for ‘what to do next’ and not consuming much cultural content as I did before. Maybe it was Om det oändliga (2019) that I watched in late February or early March. Roy Andersson and shutting people up in small rooms, how coincidental.

So I watched Fabian in Neues Off Kino, a Yorck cinema. Yorck is an arthouse film theater chain that I have wanted to discover since day one. There should probably be more alternative spaces for arthouse cinema in Berlin, but Yorck seems the most popular one. Neues Off Kino was the only one I found an English subtitled version of the film, so I’m grateful. Even though I found the audio volume a bit low initially, the middle-sized salon, the atmosphere, and the pre-film content were really nice -no irrelevant and noisy ads, I appreciate it. I was almost crying with the first blue lights hitting on the screen after the curtains are open. That “Europa Cinemas” trailer showing the cities with cinemas belonging to the network and ending by giving numbers about the thousands of cities and hundreds of cinemas there, was a blast. It’s a recurring video that spans my theater rituals since my university years. I have been encountering this trailer in the majority of the films I’ve seen in Ankara (Büyülü Fener) and İstanbul (Beyoğlu Sineması). Seeing the same publicity in a cinema with seven or eight audiences inside made me feel that even the cities or the country change, these moviegoers and the non-mainstream cinema atmosphere may stay the same. A sense of continuity, even if it is in the dawn of the death of cinema.

I haven’t read the novel yet, but I will -pity that I haven’t encountered the author before. It was published in 1931, under the title Fabian: Die Geschichte eines Moralisten (Fabian: The Story of a Moralist). The film also takes place largely in that year, even though IMDB says it’s the 1920s, Berlin. The protagonist is a man in his early thirties, trying to be an author, working -until fired- as an ad writer in an agency promoting cigarettes, tuneful with the era and the smoky films about it. As in many classical stories, he meets the girl, and it goes. I always think that I’m not too fond of stories that take the classical love stories to the center until I encounter one of them, then that judgment is transformed instinctively for some time.

Unemployment, unclear future, PTSD after the Great War, the rise of the Nazis, gay subculture, patriarchy, nightlife, prostitution, interest in cinema, literature (Lessing), and art are some undercurrents in the love story. Undine (2020) was one of the last films that I felt the lovers’ desire is touchingly depicted in the film; this was a sensual follow-up in that sense. Some early moments depict the dynamic rave atmosphere with experimental cinematography that you can find in a multi-window editing software or playing multiple videos on the same screen, which I found too simplistic. The framing was the Academy Ratio, 1.37:1, as often used in period films. I loved how the curtains were closed to that distance while the film was starting. The film opens with a long take that evidently sways in a metro station today, but as it climbs up the stairs, there we travel in time. Intertwining the archival footage with the story was another idea that worked well in the film and blended concise memory images into the scenes.

As a common trope in the stories of poverty, there are rich friends and patrons -or abusers. Fabian’s rich friend Stephan is a wealthy but tragic character who loses the woman he loves and is rejected by academia due to dirty political tricks. Cornelia, on the other hand, as far as the audience knows, is a law student working in a production company to be an actress, and she becomes one, a successful one, only after moving into the producer’s house. She keeps her life a secret from Fabian for some time until she can not. Her way of expressing her emotions is an unparalleled one. I recall a scene where she slaps Fabian in one scene since he doesn’t remember exactly how many days they were together.

Fabian, the moralist. Comparing this film to Babylon Berlin reveals the obvious shifts in the political point-of-view about the era. While BB had a balanced narrative in terms of the male and female protagonists, this one is a male story, as we might expect from a novel from the era by a good chance. This storytelling is also inherent to the conversations between Fabian and Cornelia. The author is always the subject, prospect, and a wise man; meanwhile, Cornelia is trying to survive. It was disturbing to listen to how Fabian meticulously analyzed and estimated the future of Cornelia based on her decision to throw herself on the film producer. Ah, know-it-all Fabian, the idiot.

When Fabian is fired from the ad agency, he’s offered extra 20 marks for his contributions to the advertisement, but he gets some wage cut instead since he was late to work many times. I loved how the accountant/secretary said goodbye with heavy bodily gestures. The calculations he planned didn’t work out at that moment. There was a focus on calculation in another scene. After her mother’s visit, Fabian left 20 marks in her bag. Meanwhile, she was putting 20 marks inside a goodbye letter after she visited Berlin. The narrator said something like, “although it was mathematically an equal trade, after all, it was morally more than that.” Similar math works when Cornelia says, “I love you more and more, you love me less and less, that makes an equilibrium.”

Some reviews: Screen Daily, Indiewire, and The Hollywood Reporter.