- Moving Environments: Affect, Emotion, Ecology, and Film ed. by Alexa Weik von Mossner
Moving Environments: Affect, Emotion, Ecology, and Film brings together a distinguished group of ecocinema scholars to explore the role of affect and emotion in films that regard natural environments and non-human actors. The third volume on ecocinema in Wilfrid Laurier’s Environmental Humanities series, the essays in Moving Environments ask how environments move us: “How do [films] affect our relationship to the human and more-than-human world and what can we say about their affective or ‘passionate’ politics?” Motivated by these questions, in 2011 the Rachel Carson Center for the Environment and Society hosted an ecocritical film studies workshop centred on affect, emotion, and non-human nature. The essays collected in the volume are the result of that workshop and reflect the dialogic nature of its origin, as authors refer to other essays in the collection that both expand and complicate their individual positions. The conversation that began at the Rachel Carson Center continued into the publication processes, culminating in a volume that functions as a model of a collaborative, if not co-authored, scholarship.
In addition, this volume dedicates a quarter of its content to the “effects and affects” of animated films. In its consideration of a form and genre in which landscape is usually no more than the backdrop for characters and the plot’s progression, the essays draw attention to the capacity of animation to animate non-living things or to differently imagine what constitutes life. Thus, together the essays in this section suggest that animation [End Page 367] may present a unique opportunity for revealing the politics imbued in the land itself, a salient concern suggested by many of the essays in the collection. However, a majority of the articles read the non-human solely through animals, which raises questions about how affect and emotion can be registered in the biotic (especially in light of recent research in biosemiotics). As an exception, by contrasting a land-ethic approach, based on Aldo Leopold’s famous formulation, with an “organismic ecology,” Robin L. Murray and Joseph K. Heumann critique both methods for their lack of emotional force. Instead, the authors find that the organismic mode, when combined with close attention to the animal, can help avoid the pitfalls of an animal rights perspective by emphasizing animal welfare’s rhetorical and affective purchase. The authors’ conclusion regards the animal as an effective (and affective) mediator between human and the larger biotic community.
Importantly, this volume delivers exactly what it promises—provocation to guide further scholarship. As an example, while most essays criticize western epistemologies as the structuring model for the global neo-liberal project, almost all the essays focus their readings on western films (broadly conceived to include avant-garde). However, Belinda Smaill takes pains to recognize the ethnocentricism of recent documentaries and Salma Monani discusses ecoactivist films screened at the 2011 “Mother Earth in Crisis” Native American Film and Video Festival. Some further questions raised by the thoughtful scholarship in this volume include, what can non-western film traditions offer to western scholars, activists, and politics? How do scholars in predominantly western academic settings discuss non-western films without appropriating, misinterpreting, or altering those voices? More broadly, what would it look like to read the biotic as characters with agency, animated in relational networks with the human and non-human animals?
Moving Environments exemplifies the difficult position affect theory finds itself in: having to choose between a dependence on scientific data—specifically biological and neurobiological research, or audience surveys—and a reliance on value judgments. As a notable model of affect scholarship that mediates between the objective-subjective binary, Nicole Seymour’s essay considers the structure of language and its possibilities for dramatizing environmental issues. Seymour’s exploration of irony as an unserious affective mode emphasizes the value of humour for the self-critical and self-reflexive work needed for political change. Seymour, and the volume at large, reminds readers of the importance of the humanities for questioning what is...