Proliferating Ethical Encounters in Film and Media

***Please see below, audio recordings of papers by Robert Sinnerbrink and Jinhee Choi***

One Day Workshop
Saturday October 26th

Film and Television Studies, University of Glasgow

The turn to ethics in Film Studies has broadened and strengthened a specific interdisciplinary concern. It has also provided a platform for consideration of issues of relevance for the contemporary globalised world. This is particularly evident in the ever increasing range of films to which explorations of ethics are pertinent. This workshop seeks to build upon this body of work on ethics in cinema: expanding and proliferating its applications across a range of film and media outputs, diversifying the range of philosophical or theoretical approaches taken to ethical issues, and questioning and challenging existing methodologies and conclusions with regard to film and ethics.

Robert Sinnerbrink9.00-9.20  Registration, Gilmorehill Centre, University of Glasgow.   
9.20-9.30  Welcome: David Martin-Jones
9.30-10.30  Keynote: Robert Sinnerbrink (Macquarie) ‘Cinematic Ethics: Film as a Medium of Ethical Experience’

10.30-11.00  Coffee

11.00-12.30  Panel 1 (Rm 408) 
Katharina Lindner (Stirling) ‘Cinematic Dis-Orientations? Towards a (Queer) Ethics of (Queer) Spectatorship’
Bill Marshall (Stirling) ‘Fabulation and Testimony in Two Films by André Téchiné’
Dimitris Eleftheriotis (Glasgow) ‘Otherness, empathy and the close-up’

Audience at Ethics conference12.30-13.30  Lunch

‌13.30-15.00 Panel 2 (Rm 408)
David Sorfa (Edinburgh) ‘Diegetic Ethical Systems and Moral Choices: Telling Wrong from Right in Fictional Worlds: Black Death (Christopher Smith, 2010).’
Greg Singh (Stirling) ‘What is a Good Web? Freedom, Creativity and the Spirit of Connectivity.’
Timothy Barker (Glasgow) ‘'Programmed Ethics: Vilém Flusser and the Technical Image'

‌15.00-15.15  Break

Conference speaker15.15-16.55  Closing Plenary (Andrew Stewart Cinema)
‌Felicity Colman (Manchester Metropolitan) ‘The anti-moral(ism) of the #feminist story: Is there an #ethics of new materialist film and media philosophy?’
Richard Rushton (Lancaster) 'Civility: On Ozu's Ethics'
Jinhee Choi (King’s College, London) ‘The Ethics of Contemplation: Kim Ki-duk’s Arirang

‌‌16.55  Closing Remarks
17.00  Conference concludes
19.00  Conference Dinner

‌Conference Organiser: David Martin-Jones
Conference Co-organisers: Timothy Barker, Conor McKeown.

Delegates at lunch


Dr Timothy Barker
Programmed Ethics: Vilém Flusser and the Technical Image
This paper explores Vilem Flusser’s concept of the technical image, first developed in his philosophy of photography and formalised throughout his work to grapple with the epistemological consequences of automatic electronic imaging.  Framed by Flusser’s work and focussing on the material properties of imaging systems that record, organise, and simulate signal based on mathematical principles, I then ask how we might begin to understand experientially and philosophically the ethical systems produced by these types of programmed objects.

Dr Jinhee Choi
The Ethics of Contemplation: Kim Ki-duk’s Arirang

Arirang (dir. Kim Ki-duk, 2011) is a documentary directed and performed by South Korean provocateur Kim, recording his hiatus as he withdraws himself from the industry and his overall community in order to lead a solitary life.  The film is also a contemplation of his previous filmmaking, exploring such issues as the physical danger that an actress faced during the shooting of Dream (2008) and the moral implications of the extremes manifest in his oeuvre.  Drawing on Aristotle's philosophy, Martha Nussbaum once noted that contemplation is an ethical goal.  However, for Nussbaum, ethical contemplation is not just to achieve individual clarification and self-understanding but to move toward communal attunement. In this presentation, I examine the role of contemplation in Kim’s Arirang and consider to what extent it resuscitates Kim’s own desires toward filmmaking, but Kim is unable to embrace vulnerability, which Aristotle claims, is inherent in the relationship between the self and the other.

Dr Felicity Colman
The anti-moral(ism) of the #feminist story: Is there an #ethics of new materialist film and media philosophy?

Recent applications of the methodology of new materialist critiques (cf. Barad 2007; Coole & Frost 2010; Van der Tuin & Dolphijn 2010) promise a development of a more robust account of the complexities of the conditions of life of the everyday material worlds we inhabit. For film and media analysis, this new materialist methodology is useful for exploring any areas where the conception of the movement of matter is key for exploring the sounds and images of different empirical bodies. From an ethical standpoint for a feminist film and media
analysis, this promises a method not looking for a common form or homogenous account, but one that seeks to employ a positivist in addition to a realist critical approach, for the purpose of enabling a better understanding of the images of digitized and thus political bodies in circulation. This paper will define this neo-ethics of a new materialist method of analysis, note how its approach differs from the moralism of the “ethics goes to the cinema” treatments of film theory, and apply its conceptualization of the matter of film and media to test
its cogency.

Prof Dimitris Eleftheriotis
Otherness, empathy and the close-up

Empathy has been widely suggested as an ethical way of relating to cinematic representations of ‘others’ and now seems to be replacing the politics of distance and Brechtian Verfremdungseffekt as a privileged analytical tool for evaluating the construction of cinematic encounters. This is very much in line with the shift towards affect, emotion and feeling in film studies and with appraisals of the role of the media as agents of prosthetic memory. While re-evaluations of empathy seem to pay lip-service to the dialectic of distance and proximity as a key to ethical viewing, the close-up repeatedly surfaces as a (if not the) privileged technique that can facilitate understanding, sharing, feeling, experiencing. Drawing on work by Mary Ann Doane on the face, scale and close-up this paper will argue that the emphasis on the close-up as an empathic cinematic tool can lead to theoretical reductionism through suspect forms of Eurocentric humanism evident in the original theorisations of Einfühlung by Hegel and Vischer. Focusing on the credits sequence of Haneke’s Code Unknown (2000) the paper will propose that a possible ethical use of the close-up can only be as a tool that draws attention to the difficulty of bridging otherness through valorisations of the face as a privileged marker of subjectivity.

Dr Katharina Lindner
Cinematic Dis-Orientations? Towards a (Queer) Ethics of (Queer) Spectatorship

This paper presents an exploratory account of the significance of recent feminist and queer approaches to and critiques of embodiment and affect (i.e., Ahmed, Halberstam, Sedgwick) and their relevance within the cinematic context. It raises a series of questions about how, where and why queerness might be located or identified in relation to cinema as well as the ethical implications of our queer cinematic encounters.

Prof Bill Marshall
Fabulation and Testimony in Two Films by André Téchiné

Two recent fictional films by the French film director André Téchiné  seem to provide a diptych on the question of truth, falsehood and ethics. Les Témoins/The Witnesses (2006) represents the early stage of the AIDS crisis in France in the early 1980s, through representations of the illness and death of a young  patient and reverberations  across the lives of a gay male doctor turned activist and a woman author writing an archive. La Fille du RER/The Girl on a Train (2009) takes as its starting point a real  incident when a young woman claimed to have been the victim of anti-Semitic violence and then recanted her story.

However, far from positing a dichotomy between the ‘truth’ of testimony and the ‘falsehood’ of lies and fantasy, the films blur the lines between them.  Les Témoins probes the complexity of ‘bearing witness’ , in the passivity of its attentiveness and its active productivity of discourse; in its performativity (events and witnessing occur at same time) and its retrospective attitude; in its juridical sense of ‘proof’, but also its ambiguous relation to archive and memory. La Fille du RER, which fictionalises an act of fiction-making, probes the relation between lies and fiction, and particularly that ‘fabulation’ which Deleuze examined in his writings on the Quebec documentary filmmaker Pierre Perrault, that future- rather than past-directed  productivity of the fictional, when a character “becomes another, when he begins to tell stories without ever being fictional”.
In the case of Téchiné, the ‘putting of truth into crisis’, in Deleuzian terms, is paradoxically achieved via a fictional, realist cinema that succeeds in pluralising and in minorising characters’ social positions, in relation for example to sexual identity and French national narratives. In doing so, his cinema points to a productive dialogue, via Deleuze, of aesthetics, ethics, and history/memory.

Dr Richard Rushton
Civility: On Ozu’s Ethics

Why does Ozu show us Noriko’s father, Somiya (Chishu Ryu), reading a copy of Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra near the end of Late Spring (1949)? Might there be a central Nietzschean thesis in this film, or indeed in other of Ozu’s films? In this paper I investigate the possibility that the Nietschean tenet to ‘become who you are’ is key for understanding some of Ozu’s films (here I focus on Late Spring, Good Morning and Equinox Flower).
At stake in my discussion is a sense of Ethos as a ‘way of being’ which, I argue, offers a way of understanding Nietzsche’s own ethics against the backdrop of his criticisms of the history of ethical and moral philosophizing. I couch the discussion in terms of the conflict between communal ‘ways of being’ and an individual’s aspiration to ‘become who you are’ insofar as such conflicts emerge in Ozu’s films. Finally, these issues come to rest on a notion of ‘civility’, especially as this term has been theorized by Robert Pippin (see ‘The Ethical Status of Civility’, The Persistence of Subjectivity, Cambridge UP, 2005).

Dr Greg Singh
What is a Good Web? Freedom, Creativity and the Spirit of Connectivity.

In the intervening 26 years since he wrote his seminal essay ‘Four Ethical Issues of the Information Age’, Richard Mason’s ideas on the ethics of information technology remain remarkably salient. His four issues (privacy, accuracy, property and accessibility), although subject to change according to the affordances brought about by technological innovation and user creativity, are useful to consider not only the ethical dilemmas with which we are confronted in the field of technology, but also in thinking about how our digital lives overlap considerably with our political identities as individuals, and our social being as members of communities. This paper discusses work in progress regarding the affordances of digital connectivity in relation to freedom; its expression and its recuperation. Drawing from liberal traditions of freedom, agency and autonomy found in Mill and Galbraith, as well as their critics and champions such as Roderick and Sandel, and newer scholarship on connectivity and creativity such as Lanier and Moore, I will discuss some of the ethical implications of contemporary policy on online activity upon the notion of a digital political self.

Dr Robert Sinnerbrink
Cinematic Ethics: Film as a Medium of Ethical Experience.

Although recent philosophy of film has begun exploring the question of ethics, there is surprisingly little consensus on what this means. How do movies express ethical ideas? How can they reveal the complexities of a moral or political situation? What role does our emotional involvement play in this process? These questions have become more pressing with the shift to digital cinema and with the globalisation of cinema across diverse cultural and technological contexts.

Ethical approaches to cinema tend to focus on one of three aspects of the relationship between film, spectator, and context: 1) ethics in cinema (narrative content); 2) the ethics of cinematic representation (in film production and/or audience reception); and 3) the ethics of cinema as cultural medium expressing moral beliefs, social values, or ideology. A common approach in philosophy of film is 1) to focus on ethics within cinematic representation (themes, problems, scenarios, film as moral ‘thought experiment’). Film theorists have often focused on 2) the ethics of cinematic representation, whether from the filmmaker perspective (production) or from the spectator perspective (reception). Finally, film theory has long emphasised 3) the ethics of cinema as a medium symptomatic of broader cultural-historical or ideological perspectives (feminist analyses of gender and sexuality, Marxist analyses of ideology, etc.). All three aspects of the cinema-ethics relationship are important, but the challenge is to think them together in their mutually overlapping relationships. The idea of cinema as a medium of ethical experience offers a way to do this, linking style and content, creation and reception, context and interpretation in ways that enable us to explore cinema’s ethical potential.

Dr David Sorfa
Diegetic Ethical Systems and Moral Choices: Telling Wrong from Right in Fictional Worlds: Black Death (Christopher Smith, 2010)

There is a confusion in the use of the word "ethics" beyond which it may be easy to move. If we bracket off ethics to mean the ethical system within which moral choices can be made we are no longer caught in the trap of endlessly imagining what it might be like to act "ethically" since all actions must take place within an ethical framework. All actions are always already ethical, but some are morally right and others morally wrong. Clearly this begs the question of whether it is a simple matter to identify relevant ethical systems (cf. Lyotard's differend) and to apply their logic to individual actions. I will explore this way of understanding ethics and morality by considering the rules of the diegetic universe in the imagined medieval world of Black Death (Christopher Smith, 2010) which occupies a fantastic space (in Todorov's strict sense).