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  • Introduction:Four Kinds of Minor Cinema (and Some Thoughts on a Fifth)
  • Jerry White

The term "minor cinema" is widely used among Film Studies practitioners, and not always with the greatest amount of precision. The situation with this term is very close to what Mette Hjort and Duncan Petrie have argued is true of small nations: "Small nationhood figures mostly as a general intuition, rather than a clearly defined analytical tool, in the work of film scholars" (3). That is, of course, quite consistent with the way that the term "minor" is deployed in Cultural Studies writ large; in other words, with a sense that it means, in a vaguely deleuzo-guattarian way, "small and somehow kind of insurgent." I refer here to the pair's celebrated treatise Kafka. Pour une littérature mineure, first published in 1975 and translated into English by film scholar Dana Polan in 1986. That theoretical conception of "minor" as "small and somehow insurgent" can be seen in recent film scholarship as varied in topics as Adam Szymanski's 2012 analysis of Thomas Vinterberg's It's All About Love or Wisam Abdul-Jabbar's 2015 article on Yousef Chahine's Alexandria Why? There is nothing necessarily wrong with the concept of "minor cinema" literally encompassing everything from Hollywood to Denmark to Egypt, but the fact that this sweep that can be evoked by only two recent articles does give some sense of the way in which the term could be seen as something of an inexact designator.

What I want to do here, then, is offer suggestions as to what a definition of "minor cinema" might look like, and how different kinds of minor cinema might connect with each other. In doing so, I am avoiding Deleuze and Guattari deliberately, in part because their sense of the term "minor" is explicitly linked to the literary. Kafka is minor for them precisely because of the way that he uses the German language, and how this connects, or more importantly, fails to connect, to a broader literary project of Euro-Modernism. That literary-linguistic sense of "minor" can be applied to cinema only by making significant conceptual stretches: not impossible, but not [End Page 357] necessarily desirable. I think it is more useful to try to approach the matter of "minor cinema" through the lens of world cinema.

One part of my strategy for this definition of "minor cinema" might seem eccentrically anachronistic: its privileging of relatively discrete national or cultural formations. I do not doubt that globalization, and the cultural movement and mixing that are so central to it, has rendered such distinctions more problematic than before. I am equally sympathetic to the idea that the populist-fuelled rise of exclusionary nationalism is one of the real crises of global politics. Just as I recognize, and indeed, very strongly identify with, some forms of populism such as the prairie-centred socialism of the CCF and later NDP that is such an important part of Canada's political heritage, I am not willing to throw out the cultural baby with the backward-looking chauvinistic bathwater. In what follows I draw upon many different forms of cultural belonging. Some of these are embedded in other forms, such as speakers of Irish Gaelic, the UK's Black population, or the residents of Telangana, and some are defined by an inherent heterogeneity, such as the coexistence of the Castilian and Catalan languages in Catalonia, or of Armenian and ethnic Georgian (Kartvelian) communities in Georgia, or of Indigenous nationalities that cross nation-state borders, as do the Inuit, the Mohawk, or the Métis. In short, I take a diversity-led view of what constitutes a cultural formation, and the majority of formations that I present here are not traditional nation-states. Nevertheless, nation-states are present, as are formations that, while diverse, can be named and identified with some confidence in their specificity. What I am trying to emphasize is that it does not follow from the kinds of diversity that I have evoked above that all cultures, like all nations, are infinitely mixed and thus infinitely variable and thus meaningless. "Irish-speakers," like "Catalans" or "Georgians," are definitely...