Limit cinema: Bataille and the nonhuman in contemporary global film

Birks, Chelsea (2017) Limit cinema: Bataille and the nonhuman in contemporary global film. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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This thesis explores how contemporary global cinema represents the relationship between humans and nature. Drawing from the philosophy of Georges Bataille, especially his notion of transgression, I argue that certain contemporary films attempt to transgress the limit between human and nonhuman realities. I call these films limit cinema because they operate at the boundary between thought and world: they interrogate the lines between nature and culture and reframe our relationship to aspects of existence in excess of human thought. In taking a film-philosophical approach, I explore not only what philosophy might be able to say about ecological aspects of contemporary film, but also what films can contribute to philosophical discussions of humanity’s relationship with the natural world. To that end, I bring Bataille into conversation with more recent discussions in the humanities that seek less anthropocentric modes of thought, especially film ecocriticism, speculative realism, and other theories associated with the nonhuman turn. I approach the limit between human and nonhuman realities in a number of ways. The films of Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Ben Wheatley are interpreted in relation to a Bataillean understanding of the sacred, in which nonhuman reality is posited as immanent to this world but beyond human understanding. Two films, Jauja (Lisandro Alonso 2014) and Tectonics (Peter Bo Rappmund 2012), are analysed through the unlikely pairing of speculative realism and apparatus theory; these films demonstrate that the same representational structure can simultaneously implicate us more and less in anthropocentrism. Human subjectivity therefore cannot be cast aside so easily, and I argue that film ecocriticism cannot do without a theory of cinematic subjectivity. I begin to lay out such a theory in relation to Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac (2013) and Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin (2013), arguing that these films evoke subjectivity as an unstable process of turning inside out. I conclude by considering love as a way of relating to the nonhuman, using Grizzly Man (Werner Herzog 2005) and Konelīne: Our Land Beautiful (Nettie Wild 2016) as examples of cinematic expressions of love for nature. Though I argue that it is finally impossible to see beyond our finite human perspectives, limit cinema pushes against the boundaries of thought and encourages an ethical engagement with perspectives beyond the human.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Film, philosophy, film-philosophy, ecology, ecocriticism, nature, Georges Bataille, global cinema, contemporary cinema, world cinema.
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > B Philosophy (General)
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN1993 Motion Pictures
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts > School of Culture and Creative Arts > Theatre Film and TV Studies
Supervisor's Name: Martin-Jones, Professor David and Barker, Dr. Timothy
Date of Award: 2017
Embargo Date: 8 May 2022
Depositing User: Chelsea Birks
Unique ID: glathesis:2017-9086
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 01 Jun 2018 10:52
Last Modified: 10 May 2021 07:50
Thesis DOI: 10.5525/gla.thesis.9086

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