Culture, Meaning, and Film
Tama Campus, spring / autumn, Thursday 4:35~6:05
This course intends to join fields of inquiry that ordinarily are addressed separately. If we succeed we will have learned a great deal about interdisciplinarity along the way, and if we fail, well, we still will have engaged with important work in anthropology and ethnology, semiotics, aesthetic theory, linguistics, philosophy, and the interpretation of texts, particularly films.
The primary theoretical frame will be provided by Clifford Geertz’s “interpretive theory of culture,” as set forth in The Interpretation of Cultures (1973). In Geertz’s view, culture is “essentially . . . semiotic,” and so in addition to understanding the anthropological views of culture that Geertz is reacting against—Geertz himself provides a clear and to my mind fair overview of these—to understand his arguments we’ll have to address the nature and content of the field of semiotics. We’ll do this by turning to excerpts from Roland Barthes’s Mythologies (1957) and Umberto Eco’s Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language (1984). This combination of Geertz, Barthes, and Eco, supplemented by John Berger’s BBC television series The Ways of Seeing (1974), will make up the first half of the course.
In the second half we’ll add to the mix excerpts from the growing body of scholarship in film theory and, to test the anthropological, semiotic, and critical analyses the theoretical work of the course has made possible, a series of classic and modern films. The theoretical texts will include excerpts from Graeme Turner’s Film as Social Practice (1988), Ella Shohat and Robert Stam’s Unthinking Eurocentrism (1994), and John Hill and Pamela Church Gibson’s Film Studies (2000). The films for discussion and analysis will be set later, but may include, for example, Jean Renoir’s Grand Illusion (1938), Jean Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast (1946), Carol Reed’s The Third Man (1949), Werner Herzog’s Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972), or Federico Fellini’s Amarcord (1973).
Third-year students will not present a paper, but will work through the year gathering and organizing materials for use in a graduation thesis in the fourth year. The topic for this thesis will vary according to student interest, but will be grounded in the theoretical work of the course.
Time spent in class will alternate between informal discussion and presentations, formal and informal, individual and in panels, by students, instructor, and guests.
1. Clifford Geertz, “Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture,” “Ideology as a Cultural System,” and “Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight,” in The Interpretation of Cultures ( Basic Books, 2000).
2. Roland Barthes, Mythologies ([French edition 1957] Vintage, 1993).
3. Umberto Eco, Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language (Indiana UP, 1984).
4. John Berger. The Ways of Seeing (BBC television video recording, 1974).
5. Graeme Turner, Film as Social Practice (Routledge, 1988).
6. Ella Shohat and Robert Stam, Unthinking Eurocentrism: Multiculturalism and the Media (Routledge, 1994).
7. John Hill and Pamela Church Gibson, eds., Film Studies: Critical Approaches (Oxford UP, 2000).
8. Films to be announced as the course progresses.
1. Timothy Corrigan, A Short Guide to Writing about Film (Addison Wesley, 2000).
2. Daniel Chandler, Semiotics (Routledge, 2001).
3. Mitsuhiro Yoshimoto, “The University, Disciplines, National Identity: Why is there no Film Studies in Japan?” South Atlantic Quarterly 99.4 (2000).