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Research in the Form of a Spectacle: Godard and the Cinematic Essay

Warner, Jr., Charles Richard (2011) Research in the Form of a Spectacle: Godard and the Cinematic Essay. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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This dissertation is a study of the aesthetic, political, and ethical dimensions of the essay form as it passes into cinema - particularly the modern cinema in the aftermath of the Second World War - from literary and philosophic sources. Taking Jean-Luc Godard as my main case, but encompassing other important figures as well (including Agnès Varda, Chris Marker, and Guy Debord), I show how the cinematic essay is uniquely equipped to conduct an open-ended investigation into the powers and limits of film and other audio-visual manners of expression. I provide an analysis of the cinematic essay that illuminates its working principles in two crucial respects. First, whereas essay films have typically been described in taxonomic terms - that is, through classification schemes that hinge on reflective voiceover commentary, found footage montage, and hybrid combinations of fiction and documentary - I articulate a more supple and dynamic sense of the essayistic through a detailed reading of Montaigne. As I treat it, the essay form emerges in complex acts of self-portraiture, citation, and a range of stylistic maneuvers that exhibit an impulse toward dialogical exchange. Second, I use Godard's prolific body of work to establish the essay as a fundamentally intergeneric and intermedial phenomenon. Godard figures as a privileged case in my argument because, as I show, he self-consciously draws on essayistic traditions from a broad spectrum of linguistic and pictorial media as he carries out experiments between film, television, and video. Through close engagements with his works, I show that the essayistic, far from being a mere descriptive label, is crucial to our understanding of many of the most intricate features of his practice: how he retools antecedent materials and discourses; how he combines critical and creative faculties; how he confronts his own agency as both an author and spectator; how he perpetually revises his own earlier output; how he inhabits his work and achieves a consubstantial presence with the sights and sounds he handles; how he tests out ideas without offering a direct argument; and how he longingly pursues a dialogue with a co-operative viewer according to conditions of perceptual sharedness.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Warner, Jr., Charles
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairLowenstein, Adamalowen@pitt.eduALOWEN
Committee MemberMacCabe, Colinmaccabe@pitt.eduMACCABE
Committee MemberMorgan, Danieldmorgan@pitt.eduDMORGAN
Committee MemberFischer, Lucylfischer@pitt.eduLFISCHER
Committee MemberLandy, Marciamlandy@pitt.eduMLANDY
Committee MemberHalle, Randallrhalle@pitt.eduRHALLE
Date: 1 July 2011
Date Type: Completion
Defense Date: 28 September 2010
Approval Date: 1 July 2011
Submission Date: 13 February 2011
Access Restriction: 5 year -- Restrict access to University of Pittsburgh for a period of 5 years.
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > English
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: audio-visual criticism; citation; dialogue form; essay film; Michel de Montaigne; modern cinema; montage; self-portraiture; Jean-Luc Godard; participatory spectatorship
Other ID:, etd-02132011-181347
Date Deposited: 10 Nov 2011 19:31
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2016 13:36


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