prev | next


15:30-17:30, May 17 (Sunday)

Session 6. Dialectical Images

Sage Anderson (New York University) “A Child’s Presents: Temporality Objectified in Benjamin’s Berlin Childhood around 1900
Phil Kaffen (New York University) “The Time of Violence and the End of Movement”
Oh Younjung (The University of Southern California/The University of Tokyo) “The Abandoned Theme Park: The ‘Dialectical Image’ of Capitalist Dream World”

Moderator: Thomas Looser (New York University)


“A Child’s Presents: Temporality Objectified in Benjamin’s Berlin Childhood around 1900
Sage Anderson (Comparative Literature, New York University)

Whatever may be said of the present moment, it will always defy containment in words. A moving target, the present persistently escapes capture in language just as in experience, since both operate via time, by succession. With respect to experience, it is the task of memory to retain the present, while writing serves an analogous function when it comes to language. As demonstrated by the usual products of these related processes, intellectual pursuit of the present seems to lead instantly and inevitably into the past. However, when memory is written, the present dimension is potentially opened, extended, and multiplied. Such is the case in Walter Benjamin’s Berlin Childhood around 1900, an abstractly autobiographical work in which historical past, subjective present, and political future are revealed to be complexly intertwined. Employing the special effects of literary style and childhood perception to compose powerful fragments from his own memories, Benjamin offers a glimpse of the plural present through specific objects of his early attention. For the child, and for the child turned writer intent upon childhood, the most ordinary objects – among them a rolled-up sock – become the site of time’s undoing. Essential to this project is the relationship between Benjamin and Proust, whose novels In Search of Lost Time revolve around the possibility of gaining access to past presents and present pasts. Addressing this relationship, in my paper I will explore images from Berlin Childhood as a way of responding to the question: How does an object contain the plurality of temporalities? The child’s answer, reverberating through memory, is given to us in echoes from objects themselves.

“The Time of Violence and the End of Movement”
Phil Kaffen (East Asian Studies, New York University)

Leo Charney has written of violence in cinema as indicating a hysterical impulse to recapture an imagined lost presence. He describes it as fulfilling a nostalgia for sensation that stokes increasing desire for more intense violence as it inevitably fails to deliver the sought-for immediacy. Though focused on 80s and 90s American action cinema, he suggests this is a rule operative throughout cinematic history, positing a relationship between violence and time wherein cinematic violence helps to overcome a certain alienation from the present through sheer force. Yet, like many writers on violence in media, Singer assumes violence as an already known category (of attractions or action scenes) rather than critiquing its operations.
I would like to propose a counter-definition of cinematic violence: the stopping of movement. Violence is not, therefore, the apotheosis of action, but rather, paradoxically, the absence of action altogether. This definition can shed light not only on the complex relationship between cinema and time, which is arrested once movement ceases, but also on the fraught politics surrounding the aesthetics of violence.
To explore these problems, I will examine Suzuki Seijun’s Shunpuden (Story of a Prostitute, 65), an adaptation of Tamura Taijuro’s postwar novel, which focuses on Japan’s military expansion and violence in Manchuria during the wartime. The film’s idiosyncratic linking of time, space, and movement through violence demonstrates the essentially immobilizing tendencies of violence in cinema.

“The Abandoned Theme Park: The ‘Dialectical Image’ of Capitalist Dream World”
Oh Younjung (Art History, The University of Southern California / Cultural Resources Studies, The University of Tokyo)

Where is the time in a theme park? The present? The past? Or the future? Ideally, a theme park should not allow the masses to be reminded of anything outside it once they enter this dream world. Theme parks dream of the capacity for eternal novelty, which in and of itself is a radically dehistoricizing force. Only through the flamboyant mixture of architectural styles from different places and times in history, however, can a theme park be born as a dream world unlike anything built prior to that time. Yet, as camouflaged concrete structures imitate old stone buildings, they do not refer to any particular architectural style from the past. There is only a timeless repetition of the “novelty,” as the “always-the-same.” Nonetheless, the masses enchanted under its magic spell never suspect the “Magic Castle” of a theme park to be a concrete imitation. Within the bustle and clutter of a theme park, historical time is broken up into kaleidoscopic distractions and displays of ephemera. It is not until the moment to be abandoned that the theme park is demythified and the magic is disenchanted. As the decaying structures of a theme park no longer hold sway over the mass imagination, it is then possible to recognize them as the illusory dream images they always were. In this sense, arrested time under the spell of “Magic Castle” returns to work. All have come once again under the process of natural decay. Inspired by Walter Benjamin’s reading in Arcades Project, this paper attempts to read the abandoned theme park as the “dialectical image” of capitalist dream world as figured in Miyazaki Hayao’s animation Spirited Away (2001), in ruin mania’s web page Ruin: Deflationary Spiral (廃墟:デフレスパイラル, since 2002), and in Park Hongchun’s photographs To Alice (1994).

© UTCP Graduate Student Conference Committee, 2009.