My research and teaching interests revolve broadly around questions of mediality and mediation, including topics in film and media theory, literary and cultural studies, science studies, digital humanities, and philosophy of technology. Drawing on resources from these predominantly theoretical fields, I am particularly interested in exploring new approaches to the materiality and mediality of culture and to the modernity of our increasingly globalized and technologically interconnected lifeworlds. Several major topics and emphases can be distinguished as parts of my current program of research:
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One major research interest at present concerns the notion of post-cinema or the post-cinematic, which in my mind marks not so much a definitive break with cinema but rather an ongoing transformation of the once dominant media regime under the influence of digital technologies and attendant changes in the production, distribution, and consumption of moving-image media. As I argue in "Crazy Cameras, Discorrelated Images, and the Post-Perceptual Mediation of Post-Cinematic Affect", I locate the primary impact of this transformation in a disruption of the embodied phenomenological relations that governed classical cinema, and in a sub-perceptual space of affective relation to technologies that is thereby opened up — but I contextualize such impacts also within the broader cultural spaces of a networked media environment. This dual perspective allows me to engage in close readings of individual films, but also to correlate them with developments in social media, neoliberal capitalism, as well as material changes in camera and playback technologies. I co-edited an open-access book of essays titled Post-Cinema: Theorizing 21st-Century Film, eds. Shane Denson and Julia Leyda, published in 2016, with contributions from major theorists of the post-cinematic (including Steven Shaviro, Vivian Sobchack, Lev Manovich, Richard Grusin, Elena del Río, Mark B. N. Hansen, Adrian Ivakhiv, Francesco Casetti, and many others). My aforementioned article appears as a chapter in this collection. The largely curatorial work of editing such a collection has also been channeled into a conference panel that I organized and chaired at the 2015 Society for Cinema and Media Studies conference in Montreal. There, I was able to assemble Steven Shaviro, Patricia Pisters, Adrian Ivakhiv, and Mark B. N. Hansen to address the panel topic of "Post-Cinema and/as Speculative Media Theory" (video of the complete panel can be viewed here). I am currently working on a monograph on post-cinema, tentatively titled Discorrelated Images: Varieties of Post-Cinematic Experience. I have also taught courses on post-cinema at the Leibniz University of Hannover, Germany (Winter 2013/14), Duke University (Fall 2015), and at Stanford University (Winter 2017). See the "Teaching" section of this website for syllabi and more information.
Finally, I have begun exploring the topic in a number of digital and creative projects as well, which sit somewhere between digital humanities, "critical making," and computational media art. Several of these projects (listed under "Creative Projects" on my CV) employ techniques of databending and datamoshing, augmented reality, and generative text and visuals to materially probe the shift from a cinematic to a post-cinematic media regime — or from a cinematic yoking of visual attention (theorized as classical cinema's "suture" of the spectator) to a post-cinematic dispersal of attention (and the "scanning" form of regard that post-cinematic media elicit from their viewers). Another, slightly less unconventional avenue for exploring these issues in a hands-on manner is through the medium of videographic criticism (the "video essay"), which, following a 2-week intensive NEH Workshop on "Scholarship in Sound & Image" (June 2015, Middlebury College), I have begun employing both for teaching and in my own scholarship. Arguably, the form of the video essay itself, which is heavily reliant on the affordances of digital non-linear editing software, is inherently post-cinematic, even when applied towards the analysis of classical cinema; accordingly, video essays are preeminently suited to a materially engaged form of analysis of post-cinematic media in particular. I have made an initial foray into this field with a video piece developed for the MediaCommons website In Media Res ("VHS Found Footage and the Material Horrors of Post-Cinematic Images," which focuses on the horror film Paranormal Activity 3), and in a somewhat more ambitious piece titled "Sight and Sound Conspire: Monstrous Audio-Vision in James Whale's Frankenstein (1931)," which appeared at [in]Transition: Journal of Videographic Film & Moving Image Studies, issue 2.4 (2016). In the longer term, I intend to produce a series of such video essays to accompany each chapter of my planned book project on post-cinema.
Another ongoing research project concerns the nexus of seriality and mediality that structures modern media cultures from the Industrial Revolution to contemporary digital culture. One strand of this research (represented in several of my journal articles and book chapters) focuses particularly on the way that popular serial figures (such as Sherlock Holmes, Tarzan, Frankenstein, Dracula, Batman, or Superman) chart or "mediate" changes, transitions, and transformations of the media landscape. Incorporating studies of popular culture with approaches from the philosophy of technology, science studies, media theory, and media archaeology, I investigate the historical relations between serial figures and the media in which they have been staged. Mediality and media are conceived here as non-neutral, but also non-deterministic, "mediators" between the producers and recipients (viewers, readers, etc.) of serial narratives. Popular serial figures, according to the central thesis of this research (which stems from a major research grant from the German Research Foundation and a collaboration with Ruth Mayer at the Leibniz University of Hannover), present an exemplary view of the processes of media transformation — processes that are generally visible only indirectly and in retrospect. A central focus of these studies is on the material formats of the negotiations and interactions between production and reception, i.e. publication technologies and techniques, mediating apparatuses, spatially manifest institutions, and the somatic-emotive perception of these framing conditions. The project articulates a theoretical framework for a plurimedial and historical comparison between long established and recurring figures in popular culture, e.g. Frankenstein, Dracula, Tarzan, Sherlock Holmes, Batman, and Superman. This comparison suggests that interactions between instances of production and reception, orbiting around serial figures as a gravitational point of attraction, are in fact part of a self-propelling or eigendynamischen process of serial development, not subject to the control of either side. The project takes a broad view of serial forms in modern media, including nineteenth century print forms, twentieth century film and broadcast media, and twenty-first century developments in the fields of narratively complex television, new media, and digital games.
A related, collaborative project devoted specifically to digital-era seriality, with particular focus on serialization practices in digital games and game cultures, is also underway. Together with my colleague Andreas Jahn-Sudmann (Free University Berlin), I received a major grant from the German Research Association (DFG) to study "digital seriality" as it relates both to narrative and operational aspects of games, gaming cultures, and embodied interfaces. We co-authored an article (attached as my second writing sample) titled "Digital Seriality," which appeared in Eludamos: Journal for Computer Game Culture (Vol 7.1, 2013), and we went on to co-edit a special issue of the journal (Volume 8.1, 2014) on this still undertheorized topic in game studies. Spinning off from this collaboration, I have also studied the figure of Batman as a plurimedial serial figure in video games and post-cinematic films, as a mediator of digital and interactive technologies and culture broadly (a topic that I presented on again at the 2015 Society for Literature, Science, and the Arts conference in Houston). Also, as part of my postdoctoral research in the Information Science + Information Studies program at Duke, I developed a digital humanities approach to video-game based seriality and serialized community formations: Taking 200+ fan-made "mods" or hacks of the famous Nintendo game Super Mario Bros. (1985) as a corpus, I developed a means to conduct an automated comparison or "distant reading" of the code, thus revealing connections between gamers and hackers that are invisible at the level of the interface, and hence contributing to a better understanding of the novel ways that serialization and community-formation take place in digital media environments. I have presented this original research several times, while an interactive web version that allows readers/users to explore the data set for themselves is currently under review for publication. A working prototype can be viewed here.
My first book, Postnaturalism: Frankenstein, Film, and the Anthropotechnical Interface (published 2014 by Transcript-Verlag/Columbia University Press), took Frankenstein films as the basis for an exploration of a broad media-philosophical terrain and set the stage for an ongoing engagement with topics of human-technological relations across media forms. In the book, I argued that representations of monstrosity in these popular films are matched by liminal spectatorial experiences and affects — bodily experiences that elude discursive capture and point to a domain of rich material transformation. I identified this domain as the "anthropotechnical interface," where human and technical agencies meet, and where media changes and transformations can be correlated to sweeping changes in the historical parameters of action and life itself. Philosophically, the book involves an intervention in the fields of speculative realism and posthumanism, with particular emphasis on technological and cultural parameters of experience; but, beyond mere speculation, the book (and the research that follows from it) focuses and derives these philosophical interventions from engagements with concrete media technologies and media texts. Thus, the book also involved a film-theoretical and film-historical component, focusing specifically on filmic adaptations or appropriations of Frankenstein.
Methodologically, my approach to these films is one that I characterize as "techno-phenomenological," drawing on (especially) Maurice Merleau-Ponty's existential, "carnal" type of phenomenology and, following important conceptual adaptations made by American philosopher of technology Don Ihde, focusing this approach on the embodied reception of cinema. In this respect, I follow Vivian Sobchack, who already adapted the ideas of Merleau-Ponty and Ihde to the purposes of film theory in her book The Address of the Eye; however, as I argue in detail in the book, Sobchack's groundbreaking work suggests a teleologically defined ideal sort of film experience which coincides with the ideals of classical Hollywood cinema. Against this, I apply Ihde's phenomenological analyses of human-technological interaction more broadly to the history of film, focusing especially on the differences between classical Hollywood (established around 1917) and what film historian Tom Gunning has called "the cinema of attractions." A techno-phenomenological approach, following Ihde, highlights important differences between these two cinematic paradigms — differences that are not as apparent in semiotic, psychoanalytic, or other approaches to film and film history. Moreover, the techno-phenomenological approach raises difficult questions about the transitional era between early and classical cinema, seriously challenging teleological views about the "maturation" of cinema from its "primitive" beginnings.
These are topics that I have exemplified in Postnaturalism in connection with Frankenstein films, which are perfectly suited to this sort of investigation because of their thematic explorations of liminal, in-between, or "transitional" states of (monstrous) being. Beyond the specifics of that book, however, the techno-phenomenological approach that I developed there and the underlying concern to connect larger, philosophical and/or speculative issues with low-level material/technological changes has continued to influence my research on seriality and on post-cinema. In the longer run, after completion of those projects, I plan to return to the topic of human-technological relation and develop a more systematic media-philosophical assessment that would account for the fine-grained transformations of perception, affect, and agency under the conditions of digital media culture.