Harvard University

James Cahill: “Big Toes and Other Beasts: Jean Painlevé and the Surrealism of Comparative Anatomy”

Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, Room B-04
24 Quincy St, Cambridge, Mass,
Tue., Nov. 14, 2017, 5 – 6:30 p.m.

James Cahill: “Big Toes and Other Beasts: Jean Painlevé and the Surrealism of Comparative Anatomy”

Tues, November 14 at 5 p.m.
Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, Room B-04
James Cahill: “Big Toes and Other Beasts: Jean Painlevé and the Surrealism of Comparative Anatomy”

Surrealism and cinema, seen from the bias of the early œuvre of Jean Painlevé, appear as nothing less than an extension, amplification, and reanimation of the scientific discipline of Comparative Anatomy by other means. This perspective helps develop an optic for reading Painlevé’s filmic and photographic practices while also providing a vantage from which to reconsider some of the more hidebound notions of the antinomies structuring the first decade of Surrealist activity in France. My talk discusses Painlevé’s first film for popular audiences—the surreal short La Pieuvre/The Octopus (1928)—and his early photographic practice in the context of his scientific training and his encounters with various iterations of Surrealism, particularly that of his classmate and friend Jacques-André Boiffard. Painlevé’s development of scalar interplay between the microscopic and gigantic, as well as his use of the close-up as both a cut-in (to a detail) and cut away (to a scene elsewhere), interrogate the very methods of comparison deployed, fostering their Copernican potential, which is to say their capacity to act as both a method of scientific discovery and non-anthropocentric displacement.

James Leo Cahill is Associate Professor of Cinema Studies and French at the University of Toronto, General Editor of Discourse: Journal for Theoretical Studies of Media and Culture, and co-chair of the Toronto Film and Media Seminar. In 2017-2018 he will be a fellow at the Camargo Foundation in Cassis France as well as a Visiting Professor at the Franke Institute for the Humanities/Mellon Center for Disciplinary Innovation at the University of Chicago. He is author of the forthcoming Cinema’s Copernican Vocation: Zoological Surrealism and The Early Films of Jean Painlevé (University of Minnesota Press, 2018), and is presently working on a book on cinema and literature of exploration in France, from The Little Prince (1943) to The Planet of the Apes (1963), and the emergence of modern ecological thought.

Gazette Classification: Film, Humanities, Lecture, Social Sciences
Organization/Sponsor: FVS Screen Studies Workshop, Film and Visual Studies Colloquium
Speaker(s): James Leo Cahill, Assistant Professor, Cinema Studies
Cost: Free and open to the public
Contact Info: kate.rennebohm@gmail.com

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