In recent years, scholars across the humanities have been drawn to questions of thingness and material culture, especially in the idea that “things” in a “material” culture exist independently of us as perceivers and users. The most recent statement of this investment is object-oriented ontology, which is becoming important to film and media scholars for the ways in which it refuses the “for us” relation that pertains between subjects and objects by leveraging aspects of objects’ existence that are “withdrawn” from human observation and use expressly so that the object may begin to speak for itself. Significantly, this object-oriented turn has usefully complicated questions of the subject, especially as they’ve come to us in media studies either as psychoanalytic aberrations of the self or else as idealist versions of the transcendental subject. In some respect, this can be regarded in continuity with media scholars’ investment in issues of difference and autonomy as well as a tradition of film theory that features the moving image as that which has a (technological and nonhuman) capacity to produce a “world” that exists independently of the subject. Yet, the image cannot be equated to that world, nor is the image’s ability to show objects proof that it is itself an object. Moreover, if an object is defined as anything but a subject, in what way might the subject—if it can only exist on a firm ontological ground as something that merely rests alongside something else—be both attentive and effective? How would the subject both inhabit and behold such a “flat ontology”? What will become of [End Page 195] the politically interventionist character of film and media studies if we adopt the stance that objects exist and move of their own volition? What would be the point of adopting a materialist approach to the moving image if the material world is seen as impervious to intervention? How might a nonmedium-specific approach to the image that attempts to get beyond the objecthood of its technical supports also attend to what is specific to it, which includes the moving image’s unique ability to appear in multiple places at the same time? In answering these questions, the following dossier is an attempt to understand, among other things, the political passivity that underwrites nearly every claim for the autonomy of objects, even when such claims are made in the name of a democratic culture of media. [End Page 196]
Brian Price is an associate professor of cinema and visual studies at the University of Toronto. He is the author of A Theory of Regret (forthcoming from Duke University Press) and Neither God Nor Master: Robert Bresson and Radical Politics (University of Minnesota Press, 2011) and coeditor of two volumes, On Michael Haneke (Wayne State University Press, 2010) and Color: The Film Reader (Routledge, 2006). Price is a founding editor of World Picture.
Alessandra Raengo is an associate professor of moving image studies at Georgia State University and coordinator of Liquid Blackness, a research project on blackness and aesthetics. Her work focuses on blackness in the visual and aesthetic field, and her essays on contemporary African American art, black cinema and visual culture, and race and capital have appeared in Camera Obscura, Adaptation, the World Picture Journal, Black Camera (forthcoming), and several anthologies. Raengo is the author of On the Sleeve of the Visual: Race as Face Value (Dartmouth College Press, 2013) and Critical Race Theory and Bamboozled (Bloomsbury, 2016). With Robert Stam, she has also coedited two anthologies on adaptation studies, Literature and Film (Blackwell, 2004) and A Companion to Literature and Film (Blackwell, 2005).