The intersection of memory and cinema is a robust field of research, but the confluence of memory and affect remains underexplored. While memory and emotion are deeply interconnected, affect and emotion are distinct. Affect theory needs to take account of memory studies, particularly in relation to aesthetics and ethics, on the one hand, and to ideology and politics, on the other.
More inclusive and more ‘primal’ than emotion, affect in the context of memory manifests on a spectrum with nostalgia at one end and trauma at the other. In-between lies everything from melancholic detachment to the most ethical empathy. Today’s fascination with affect short-circuits critical reflection, reducing Deleuze’s complex treatment (in Cinema 1) of affect in the movement-image. Film-memory scholars need to think critically about the opposing of thought and emotion, image and body, signification or mediation, (or representation) and affective pre-cognition. For Ruth Leys, affect theory in its post-Deleuzean form is characterized by its resistance to representation and the privileging of consciousness. Theorists of affect are interested primarily in the traumatic-affective effects of media on the viewer. According to Cathy Caruth, where trauma negates the possibility of conscious representation (and therefore memory), the body registers the unspeakable experience affectively, in a manner that precedes representation. Ironically, this somatic registration, manifesting involuntarily in flashbacks and dreams, when translated cinematically demands visual representation. (Indeed, there would be no psychological ‘flashback’ were it not for cinema’s photographic origins.) As in trauma studies, the representability of traumatic experience is a key question for film studies.
At the other end of the memory/affect/cinema spectrum is nostalgia. Apart from spectator nostalgia for specific historical periods or styles, discussions of the intersection of film and memory have generally focused on commercial genre films rather than art cinema. Nostalgia continues to be invoked in a pejorative sense, influencing popular thinking about memory. ‘Memory is not commonly imagined as a site of possibility for progressive politics’, writes Alison Landsberg. ‘More often, memory, particularly in the form of nostalgia, is condemned for its solipsistic nature, for its tendency to draw people into the past instead of the present’. Svetlana Boym distinguishes between ‘restorative’ and ‘reflective’ nostalgia, however, where the latter allows for a combination of critical irony and melancholic longing. Restorative nostalgia, however, is a constitutive feature of many contemporary popular cultural narratives. Rather than an historical consciousness that might allow for individually and socially progressive political action, postmodern pop culture gives us collective memory as often as not packaged in nostalgic terms. Among the first to connect the contemporary fascination with memory and archives with affect and emotionality, Pam Cook re-values nostalgia in relation to both objective ‘History’ and subjective memory, substituting for Jameson’s ‘nostalgia film’ the transnational ‘nostalgic memory film’. This allows us to see that such films can have a usefully heuristic—and therefore potentially emancipatory—if not a properly political impact upon the spectator.
This guest-edited Special Issue aims to provide a cutting-edge perspective on contemporary scholarship examining the intersection of memory and affect in cinema, in terms of either the nostalgic or the traumatic end of the spectrum—or, most productively, from both at once. We invite 3000–5000 word scholarly articles on the theme by 15 August 2018. Potential topic areas could include:
- nostalgia in/and film
- trauma in/and film
- reflective nostalgia as ‘antidote’ to traumatic memory
- the memory-productive vs. the memory-reflexive film (Astrid Erll)
- restorative vs. reflective nostalgia (Boym)
- from Holocaust studies to trauma theory (Caruth)
- from trauma theory to affect (Leys)
- from ‘nostalgia film’ to the transnational ‘nostalgic memory film’ (Cook)
- nostalgia in/and the ‘heritage film’ (Andrew Higson)
- melodrama, memory, affect
- Deleuze, the affection image, melodrama
- the affection image and classical film style
- the affection image and art cinema?
- post-cinematic affect and memory (Shaviro)
- post-affective cinema and memory
- trauma and the possibility of (visual) representation
- the ‘universalization of trauma’ and postmemorial ‘affiliative’ affect in the film viewer-as-victim (Richard Crownshaw)
- second-order trauma (as negative correlative of postmemory)
- the psychology and/or neuroscience of memory and cinematic viewing.
Dr. Russell J. A. Kilbourn
For manuscript submission information: