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Creative Resonance and the Audiovisual Essay

Between Global Imaginaries and Local Affects


Deutsche Version

When I started thinking about the pedagogical dimensions of videographic practice, I was immediately drawn to the huge amount of things I had learnt online, not just because video essays mostly circulate on the web, but also thanks to the wonderful mass of educative material that was available there: for instance, I hadn’t been able to participate in the Middlebury workshops, but could access a lot of elements on their website, and the simple fact of following renowned videographers such as Ariel Avissar or Catherine Grant on social media taught me a lot. But online, distant emulation is not enough. I only taught video essays after I started making some myself, and then this took a whole different dimension, deeply connected to a local scale. 

Considering the pedagogical potential of video essays thus led me to wonder about their local resonance: what video essays do we show to our students, and why is that so different from watching one alone, online? What type of essays do we ask them to make? How do we bring more colleagues to the form, so that it can become a core skill within our curricula? This, in turn, brought me back to my personal experience and to the passage from reception to production: when, how and why do we start making video essays? And how does the distant influence of online videography converge with an immediate incentive that comes from a more direct, local environment? 

This interaction between the local and the global resonates (but maybe I should refrain from using this verb, or I will end up repeating myself) with the writing of Hartmut Rosa, a philosopher whose work I discovered during the COVID-19 pandemic, when our existence in the world became marked both by an enhanced digital connection with the entire planet, and by a physical limitation to our domestic space, a bodily disconnection from our usual social and geographical interactions.1 At that time, Rosa’s study of modern capitalistic society through the prisms of acceleration, controllability, and resonance helped me formulate the problem with our mode of existence, which contributed to COVID as to the diverse crises we are experiencing. Today, it also helps me reflect on the multiple modes of existence of video essays, and to highlight the role they can play as live events, bringing teachers and students together in the context of a shared experience.  

Formally, this video indirectly addresses the pedagogical potential of videography by illustrating its ability to make theoretical texts interact with audiovisual footage, thanks to voiceover and text on screen. To a certain extent, this combines two Middlebury exercises: «voiceover», and the «videographic epigraph»2 that relies on associative thinking as a performative mode of analysis. Asking students to engage with a theoretical text by applying it, as it were, to audiovisual works that ‹perform› some aspects of the text is a great way to encourage active reading and critical appropriation.  

The audiovisual format can indeed enrich our understanding of philosophical concepts, and vice versa. I found it particularly stimulating to try and come up with filmic passages that evoke associative connections with Rosa’s words so that the text would take an additional, sensible presence in the narrative universes I quote from. For instance, the multiverse passage of Everything, Everywhere, All at Once3 does not immediately refer to the ‹escalation› and ‹acceleration› of a capitalistic modernity, but its formal excess, the manic rhythm of the editing, and the multiple inscriptions of the character’s body in a myriad of potential contexts, was a perfect match for the quote. Then, the conjunction between absolute access to the world and the feeling of alienation immediately connected with the disenchanted depiction of the Roy family in Succession.4 In particular, the shot of Kendall being both protected and locked in behind that glass wall on the Waystar Royco rooftop, seemed a perfect visual conceit that encapsulated Rosa’s argument.  

Regarding the notion of resonance itself, Wenders’s Wings of Desire5 first came to my mind because I was looking for a film character swinging on a trapeze (a literal example of the physical phenomenon of resonance). I then realized that the entire story felt like a poetic embodiment of people ‹vibrating,› each in their own frequency (in the form of angels listening to people’s inner thoughts and comforting the loneliest of them), leading to an example of ‹self-change› when the character played by Bruno Ganz, after falling in love with the trapeze artist, relinquishes angelic distance to engage with the colorful, unstable but resonant physicality of the mortal world.  

Finally, the projection scene from Michel Gondry’s Be Kind Rewind6 offered a perfect embodiment of the kind of joyful, celebratory mood of cinema watching I was looking for, to contrast the screening of students' video essays in class with the tedious process of grading written essays (at least in my experience). Grading has often felt, to me, a very anticlimactic conclusion to classes that were more exhilarating than the output they eventually led to (although I acknowledge the pedagogical value of written essays, of course). I’ve seldom found a way to have students fully engage with my comments on their written paper, whereas screening and feedback sessions trigger constructive criticism within the group, allowing my comments to be just one of the points of view on their works. Without going as far as the utopian ideal depicted in Gondry’s film, there is a joyful quality to these sessions that effectively contribute to learning notably because, in screening/feedback sessions, the evaluation process is more collective. As Estella Sendra points out in her article  «Video Essays: Curating and Transforming Film Education through Artistic Research», videographic assignments question usual hierarchies and pre-established pedagogical conventions: «the practice of video essays leads to an inclusive, collaborative and polyphonic research environment […], contests the privileged position of the written ‹text›, when this is just understood as the written word. It also contributes to blurring the distance between the status of students and that of researchers.»7

It also marks academic production and evaluation as an ongoing process more than a final, fixed result for each semester. Previously on this very blog, Evelyn Kreutzer and Johannes Binotto were also inspired by Rosa in their «Manifesto for Videographic Vulnerability,»8 notably encouraging us to «stop talking about success and start talking about resonance.» I feel that the nature of audiovisual essays does indeed contribute to establish a different form of academic requirement from our students, less in terms of pressure for success, and more connected to personal commitment, encouraged by these resonant moments of common screenings.

Addendum: I thank my Master’s students of the MIIC program at U. Paris Cité for letting me use the overhead shots of their physical desktops while they were working on their desktop films in class.   

  • 1See Hartmut Rosa: Social Acceleration: A New Theory of Modernity, New York 2015 and Hartmut Rosa: Aliénation et accélération: Vers une théorie critique de la modernité tardive, Paris 2014. 
  • 2See all exercises under https://sites.middlebury.edu/vfms22/assignments/
  • 3Everything Everywhere All at Once, Dir.: Daniel Kwan, Daniel Scheinert, USA, 2022. 
  • 4Succession, Created by Jesse Armstrong, HBO, 2018-2023. 
  • 5Der Himmel Über Berlin (Wings of Desire), Dir.: Wim Wenders, Germany/France, 1987.      
  • 6Be Kind, Rewind. Dir.: Michel Gondry, USA/UK, 2008. 
  • 7Estrella Sendra: «Video Essays: Curating and Transforming Film Education through Artistic Research», International Journal of Film and Media Arts Vol. 5, no. 2, Nov. 2020: 65-81, 68. 
  • 8Evelyn Kreutzer and Johannes Binotto: «A Manifesto for Videographic Vulnerability», in: Zeitschrift für Medienwissenschaft, ZfM Online, Videography, 12 Juni 2023, zfmedienwissenschaft.de/en/online/videography-blog/manifesto-videographic-vulnerability 

Bevorzugte Zitationsweise

Hudelet, Ariane: Kreative Resonanz und der audiovisuelle Essay. Zwischen dem globalen Imaginären und lokalen Affekten. In: Zeitschrift für Medienwissenschaft, ZfM Online, Videography, , https://zfmedienwissenschaft.de/online/kreative-resonanz-und-der-audiovisuelle-essay.

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