Affective Politics in Contemporary Media: Double book launch with Eliza Steinbock, Toni Pape and Sudeep Dasgupta

This Spui25 event, co-hosted by The Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis and Duke University Press, is a launch for two new books in media studies: Eliza Steinbock’s Shimmering Images: Trans Cinema, Embodiment, and the Aesthetics of Change and Toni Pape’s Figures of Time: Affect and the Television of Preemption, both published by Duke University Press this Spring 2019.

In contemporary media culture, public discourses run on feelings to a considerable degree. Such feelings, called “affects,” can be mobilised in a variety of ways, ranging from the fear of difference that fuels phobic discourses, to indignation that drives recent anti-establishment movements, to feelings of belonging and joy that animate new collectivist projects. Focusing on the political dimension of affect, this double book launch addresses the role of affect in two areas: Eliza Steinbock will present their work on trans cinema and how it uses affect to foreground the processual character of trans embodiment. How do the different structures of affect from genres like sci-fi (curiosity) and the trick film (surprise) allow for trans cinema to challenge how trans bodies are often portrayed as odd or shocking? Further, what can contemporary trans politics learn from these cinematic experiments with affects? Toni Pape will speak to the use of affect in media to shape our perception of the future: Do we think of the future as being full of potential or as dark and full of danger? And what difference does that make for our political culture?

Sudeep Dasgupta (University of Amsterdam) will moderate the event and reflect on both books’ topicality within queer media studies. This event will also feature short responses to Shimmering Images from Yasco Horsman (Film & Literary Studies, Leiden University) and to Figures of Time from Judith Keilbach (Media and Culture Studies, Utrecht University).

Description of books:

In Shimmering Images Eliza Steinbock traces how cinema offers alternative ways to understand gender transitions through a specific aesthetics of change. Drawing on Barthes’s idea of the “shimmer” and Foucault’s notion of sex as a mirage, the author shows how sex and gender can appear mirage-like on film, an effect they label shimmering. Steinbock applies the concept of shimmering—which delineates change in its emergent form as well as the qualities of transforming bodies, images, and affects—to analyses of films that span time and genre. These include examinations of the fantastic and phantasmagorical shimmerings of sex change in Georges Méliès’s nineteenth-century trick films and Lili Elbe’s 1931 autobiographical writings and photomontage in Man into Woman. Steinbock also explores more recent documentaries, science fiction, and pornographic and experimental films. Presenting a cinematic philosophy of transgender embodiment that demonstrates how shimmering images mediate transitioning, Steinbock not only offers a corrective to the gender binary orientation of feminist film theory; they open up new means to understand trans ontologies and epistemologies as emergent, affective, and processual.

– Eliza Steinbock is Assistant Professor of Cultural Analysis at Leiden University’s Centre for the Arts in Society, where they are involved in critical diversity issues.  Eliza trained in cultural analysis (PhD 2011) and investigates visual culture mediums like film, digital media, and photography, with a special focus on dimensions of race, gender and sexuality. Their current book project is the culmination of a NWO Veni grant on contemporary transgender (self) portraiture in the wider field of visual activism, which includes interviews with trans-identified cultural producers based in Toronto, Berlin, Cape Town and Johannesburg. Their first book is Shimmering Images: Trans Cinema, Embodiment and the Aesthetics of Change (Duke University Press, March 2019)

In Figures of Time, Toni Pape investigates what he calls preemptive narratives, that is, fictional TV series that begin with a major accident or catastrophe and then jump back in time – usually with an indication like “six months earlier” – to present the events that have led up to that accident or catastrophe. Why do these narratives give away their terrible endings? How does knowing or feeling the future change our perception of the present? Pape argues that this narrative strategy operates as a fictionalised form of preemption, a political doctrine that emerges in the 1990s and responds to new kinds of uncertainties. Think of Donald Rumsfeld’s infamous “unknown unknowns.” When reliable knowledge about the present and future are hard to come by, preemption gives a sense of certainty through affect. In preemptive narratives, these affects aren’t always negative or conservative, but can also be mobilised to productive or progressive ends.

– Toni Pape is Assistant Professor of Media Studies at the University of Amsterdam. Focusing on television and video games, his research addresses the relation between aesthetics and politics. He is the author of the monograph Figures of Time: Affect and the Television of Preemption (Duke University Press, 2019). His current research project “The Aesthetics of Stealth” focuses on practices of disappearance in contemporary media. Parts of this project have appeared in Feminist Media Studies and Critical Studies in Television. Toni is a member of the editorial boards of NECSUS: European Journal of Media Studies and the 3Ecologies book series (Punctum).