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  • Film Theory’s Animated Map
  • Karen Beckman (bio)

This special issue on “The Place of Film and Media Theory” brings together scholars working from “a wide range of geographic regions.” But why bother to include a broad, geographically unspecific category like “animation” in this conversation? What role does animation have to play in expanding or critiquing film and media theory’s geopolitical frame?

First, if we think of our “field” in spatial terms, as the word encourages us to do, animation might be cast as the land that film theory forgot, or rejected, in part because, according to some, it is a form of filmmaking that leaves the world behind. Stanley Cavell, for example, describes cartoons as “a region of film which seems to satisfy my concerns with understanding the special powers of film but which explicitly has nothing to do with projections of the real world—the region of animated cartoons.”1 In my edited volume Animating Film Theory I wanted to question the presuppositions informing this sense of animation’s relation to the real world in order to remap its place in the landscape of film theory.2 I hope the volume will foster a more rigorous, theoretical, and widespread engagement with animation as a “terrain” of moving image practice that an institutionalized version of film theory has generally deemed peripheral (through syllabi and anthologies, for example), and will enable a more careful examination of how animation acts on and contributes to that discourse. Here, however, I want primarily to consider how we might understand the scholarly neglect of animation in relation to the marginalization of texts written in marginalized geographic regions and languages other than French and English, and to reflect on what we can learn about the logic [End Page 472] of selection at work in anthologization and canonization processes by thinking of these dual exclusions together.

Systematization and Repetition

Dudley Andrew’s The Major Film Theories: An Introduction (1976) represents one early attempt to define what film theory is and what it does. Here, Andrew prioritizes the need for the “systematization” of film in order to make dialogue with other humanistic realms of study possible: “By putting an activity into rational terms we can discuss it alongside other schematized activities, be they rational or not. The film theorist should be able to discuss his field with the linguist or the philosopher of religion.”3 While the Aristotelian categories that Andrew employs (material, process, forms, and value) are open and broad, the need to corral and systematize the history of conversations about film is motivated by a parallel need to articulate a coherent vision for the study of film within the academic context, and is haunted by the specter of randomness. As Andrew points out, “If this were not possible, film theory would become a mere collection of unrelated questions randomly answered by various men.”4 Other influential figures have followed a similar logic of systematicity in approaching the question of what counts as film theory. Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen, for example, also seek out film theory’s perennial questions, even though they try to make room for its shifting emphases from formalism and realism through the 1960s and social and ideological preoccupations from the 1970s on, to a more hybrid merging of “insights” from the mid-1980s.5 In a more recent book that parallels Andrew’s project of providing an introductory overview of film theory, Thomas Elsaesser and Malte Hagener’s Film Theory: An Introduction Through the Senses seeks to address and contribute to a “transnational community of ideas” that privileges film theory’s “debt to France and the head start of English language theorization,” which the authors understand as “a considerable advantage.”6 Elsaesser and Hagener highlight in useful ways the dangers of taking “geographic provenance” or language as “the primary cue.”7 National paradigms, they suggest, artificially homogenize national positions, and “jettison the contribution of translation and migration.”8 Similarly, they reject approaches that imagine film theory as a methodologically opportunistic field that “constantly adorns itself with borrowed plumes,” as well as others that see film theory as advancing “teleologically toward perfection.”9 As an example of this last approach, Elsaesser...


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pp. 472-491
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