Comparative Literature 596


Is Cinema a Universal Language?
(A Graduate Seminar)

Is cinema truly a universal language? What challenges arise from within the medium, and from cultural contexts, to a universal cinema? How is the crisis of universality in cinematic language reflected in the pluarlity of verbal languages? In other words, what are the links between film, language, and foreignness? What makes specific images and idioms foreign? How does film perform cultural mediation, and how do we as scholars act as cultural mediators when viewing and screening films?



 W 3:30-6:20 MGH 278



Yomi Braester


office: C-504 Padelford


office hours: by appointment





CLASS SCHEDULE (subject to change)

Readings are available on electronic reserve

week 1 (4/2)

Lost in translation


week 2 (4/9)

Film as ideograph

guest speaker: Jennifer Bean

Vachel Lindsay, Hieroglyphics;

Nick Browne, Orientalism as an Ideological Form: American Film Theory in the Silent Period;

Miriam Hansen, Universal Language and Democratic Culture: Myths of Origin in Early American Cinema; The Mass Production of the Senses: Classical Cinema as Vernacular Modernism.

Films: Birth of a Nation, Part I (1915); Lumiere and Company (1995, 88 mins)

week 3 (4/16)

Language and accent


Hamid Naficy, An Accented Cinema, Introduction and Chapter One;

Abe Mark Nornes, “For an Abusive Subtitling”;
B. Ruby Rich, “To Read or Not to Read.”
Films: Surname Viet Given Name Nam (1989, 108 mins); Calendar (1993, 74 mins)

week 4 (4/23)

Third Cinema

facilitator: Amal

Fernando Solanas and Octavio Getino, “Towards a Third Cinema”;
Jorge Sanjinés, “Problems of Form and Content in Revolutionary Cinema”;

Teshome H. Gabriel, “Towards a Critical Theory of Third World Films”; “Third Cinema as Guardian of Popular Memory: Towards a Third Aesthetics”;

John Akomfrahn, “On the National in African Cinema/s.”

Film: Jenin Jenin (2002, 54 mins); Bamako (2006, 115 mins)


week 5 (4/30)

Cultural brokering: the bear hug to emerging cinemas

facilitator: Cuate

John Mowitt, “The Hollywood Sound Tract”;

Kenneth Turan, Sundance to Sarajevo, selections;
Jonathan Rosenbaum, “Trafficking in Movies.”
Films: The Band Visit (2007, 87 mins); Underground (1995, 170 mins)

week 6 (5/7)

The ethnographic bind

facilitator: Virginia

Rey Chow, “Visuality, Modernity, and Primitive Passions”;

Rey Chow, “Film as Ethnography”;
Linda Hutcheon, “Circling the Downspout of Empire.”

Films: Raul Ruiz, On Top of the Whale (1982, mins); Red Sorghum (1987, 91 mins)

week 7 (5/14)

Foreignness inside out / The linguistics of domination

facilitator: Joel

Ella Shohat and Robert Stam, Unthinking Eurocentrism, chapters 1 and 5
Trinh T. Minh-ha, “Outside In Inside Out.”

Films: Carmen in Khayelitsha (2005, 122 mins); Games of Love and Chance (2005, 117 mins)

week 8 (5/21)

"Poor" cinematic language

facilitator: Yi-zhong

Mette Hjort, “Dogma 95: A Small Nation's Response to Globalisation”;

Mette Hjort, “The Globalisation of Dogma: The Dynamics of Metaculture and Counter-Publicity”;

Valerie Jaffe, “The Ambivalent Cult of Amateur Art in New Chinese Documentaries.”
Films: Or (2004, 100 mins); Extras (1999)

week 9 (5/28)

Strategies of resistance


facilitator: Jacinthe

Homi K. Bhabha, “Mimickry"

Fredric Jameson, “Totality as Conspiracy”;
Ella Shohat and Robert Stam, Unthinking Eurocentrism, chapter 8
Divine Intervention (2002, mins); The Hole (1998, 95 mins)

week 10 (6/4)

Project reports