Seminar Series 2018/19 Panel 2.

James Sweeting. The Weight of Nostalgia on the Star Wars Universe.

Star Wars is massive, both in terms of its fictional universe and the scope of its visual media products that contains the narrative. It has remained in popular consciousness since the release of the first film in 1977. But since the film franchise and Lucasfilm (the studio behind it) came under the ownership of Disney, it had to determine how best to appeal to a transgenerational audience; in other words, creating films that were simultaneously comprehensible for new viewers but also recognised the strong sense of nostalgia older generations have for the franchise.

This seminar will be examining how nostalgia for the medium of film has impacted original creator George Lucas as well as some of the other recent directors involved with the franchise. It will also highlight the struggles that come with the balancing act of appeasing a vocal section of the audience that wants new Star Wars films to concurrently provide an ‘authentic’ Star Wars experience that is also something new. As a result, Disney took the route of creating what is referred to as a ‘requel’ for its first new Star Wars film The Force Awakens (2015). 

Whilst not a complete account of the entire franchise, the seminar will provide key insights into the significance that nostalgia has upon this high-tech science fiction franchise.

Paul Finnegan.
Gravity and the Instrumentalization of Non-Human Life.

In Aesthetic Theory 1970 Theodor Adorno states that a liberated nature does not yet exist, but that art may assist nature to attain what perhaps it wants. It is art’s refusal to affirm “the miserable course of the world as the iron law of nature” that makes it the keeper of a promise of a nature to come (Adorno, p.49). Furthermore, this state may only come about through transformed relations of production.

Adorno regrets the instrumentalization of nature established both in theory, through Descartes’ reduction of organisms to mere mechanism, and practice, through the technological application of Newton’s universal laws of motion and gravitation. However, in the context of the animal’s broader fate within industrialization, freedom persists where the laws of nature (understood as physical but also moral laws) are suspended or inverted, such as within the gravity defying force field of the circus tent or the carnivalesque Inverso Mundus.

Within modernist art we see a similar refusal of the natural order in Kazimir Malevich’s paintings.  Paintings such as Supremus No.58 have no up nor down, and the diagonal composition embodies an escape from gravity within painting’s terms. For Malevich this escape is a decidedly human-centric affair. The paintings may none-the-less be given a non-anthropocentric reading by tracing an unlikely echo of his diagonal “additional element” to a non-human context. Hubel and Wiesel’s 1959 experiments on the visual cortex record a cat’s neuronal response to diagonal bars of light that bear a striking resemblance to elements in Malevich’s paintings.

Although Hubel and Weisel’s experiments have a clear significance within the context of neuroscience, this trace of non-human recognition is an invitation to other readings. This paper thus explores a non-anthropocentric escape from the laws of nature, and accompanied by Adorno’s call for an art that by refusing such laws promises a non-instrumentalized nature, applies Adorno’s aesthetic theory non-anthropocentrically.

Stephanie Moran. Alien Physics: the perception space-time of nonhuman beings

Where alien is defined as “anything – and everything – to everything else” (Bogost, 2012, p.34), what might constitute an alien physics? How might this be represented?

Physics is the science that studies matter and its motion and behavior through space and time, and the related entities of energy and force. Its main goal is to understand how the universe behaves; it generally understands this from an anthropocentric perspective – our bodies are our primary apparatus for comprehending the world, and the tools we use are generally extensions of that. 

Other organisms, such as fish, snails, dolphins or bats – existing in nonhuman environments, ‘umwelts’, or experience-worlds – experience physics differently.Different species’ have other relationships to gravity, as in birds’ flight, or the marine creatures inhabiting the relatively weightless umwelt of the ocean. Their perception time is different to that of humans too. Fish, which hunt fast-moving prey, experience their environment as if in slow motion. Their vision perceives at the equivalent of thirty frames per second rather than the human eighteen; so a fish moment is one thirtieth of a second, while human moments are one eighteenth of a second (Uexkull, 2010, p.72-73).

Nonhuman experiences are inaccessible to human cognition; understanding can only be approached via phenomenological reimagination based on the available information, which has many gaping holes. This paper will sketch out some visual and theoretical ideas for structuring relationships between alien experience-worlds, through the triangulation of gravity, epistemology and representation as a framework.