Past Media Studies Events

Public Lectures

Trevor Paglen     

Title: The Planet as Sensor
4:15 PM.,  Wednesday, October 18, 2017
Rose Hills Theatre, Smith Campus Center

In this talk, artist Trevor Paglen will present his projects dealing with images, infrastructure, vertical geographies, artificial intelligence, and the changing nature of politics of landscape.  Paglen recently opened an exhibition in New York City featuring images created by computers that explore how machines see the world. “For the first time in history most of the images in the world are mead by machines for other machines, and humans aren’t even in the loop,” Paglen has said. “I think the automation of vision is a much bigger deal than the invention of perspective.”

Trevor Paglen is an artist whose work spans image-making, sculpture, investigative journalism, writing, engineering, and numerous other disciplines. Among his chief concerns are learning how to see the historical moment we live in and developing the means to imagine alternative futures. Paglen’s work has had one-person exhibitions at Vienna Secession, Eli & Edythe Broad Art Museum, Van Abbe Museum, Frankfurter Kunstverein, and Protocinema Istanbul, and participated in group exhibitions the
Metropolitan Museum of Art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Tate Modern, and numerous other venues. He has launched an artwork into distant orbit around Earth in collaboration with Creative Time and MIT, contributed research and cinematography to the Academy Award-winning film Citizenfour, and created a radioactive public sculpture for the exclusion zone in Fukushima, Japan. He is the author of five books and numerous articles on subjects including experimental geography, state secrecy, military symbology, photography, and visuality. Paglen’s work has been profiled in the New York Times, Vice Magazine, the New Yorker, and Art Forum.
In 2014, he received the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Pioneer Award for his work as a “groundbreaking investigative artist” and in 2015, he was the recipient of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Photographie’s  Kulturpreis. In 2016, he received the Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize.  Paglen holds a B.A. from U.C. Berkeley, an MFA from the Art Institute of Chicago, and a Ph.D. in Geography from U.C. Berkeley.

Renata Salecl

Talk Title:  Ignorance in Times of Post-Truth
4:15 PM.,  Monday, October 28, 2017 - Crookshank Hall #108

What happened to our attention at the time of "post-truth"? Why do we quickly ignore the facts and close our eyes to unpleasant information? Ignorance and denial are all present today. Jacques Lacan coined the term “passion for ignorance” when he observed people’s avoidance of traumatic truth. The lecture will question how this passion operates in today’s times and which new forms of denials emerged with the development of science, especially genetics and neuroscience. While ignorance is often perceived in a negative way, there are a number of situations where it is in the best interest of the individual. The lecture will look at cases when “ignorance is bliss” and when it is of help that love is blind.

Renata Salecl is philosopher and sociologist. She is Senior Researcher at the Institute of Criminology at the Faculty of Law in Ljubljana and Professor at the School of Law, Birkbeck College, London. She is also recurring Visiting Professor at Cardozo School of Law in New York. He last book Tyranny of Choice was translated into 15 languages. She delivered TED Global talk and has been awarded the title Woman Scientist of the Year as well as Woman of the Year in Slovenia.

John Durham Peters

Title:  Weather as a Problem in Media Theory
4:15 PM.,  Monday, October 9, 2017 - Crookshank Hall #108

Abstract: On its face, weather sounds like the most banal and mundane thing possible. When people talk about the weather, we usually take that as a sign of nothing to talk about. This talk aims to show that the accusation that talking about the weather is intellectually empty is hardly the case in the age of climate change, and even dangerous. The history of human interaction with weather is also a history of cultural techniques and media technologies. Dramatists and divines have sought meaning from atmospheric events. Reading the skies is one paradigm case of human-nature interaction, and studying weather can stand in as part for whole as an inquiry into the environments humans have made or unmade. The history of modern weather forecasting is also a history of the militarization of the sky and oceans, and is co-extensive with the history of modern telecommunications and computation. Weather raises two questions of profound interest to recent media theory: how mundane infrastructures are full of meaning and how vaporous or evanescent entities can be tracked, recorded, and programmed. In this way, studying the weather is a special case in media theory’s more general study of how media help constitute the world.

John Durham Peters is the María Rosa Menocal Professor of English and Film & Media Studies at Yale University. His first book Speaking into the Air: A History of the Idea of Communication examines the broad historical, philosophical, religious, cultural, legal, and technological contexts for the study of communication. His second book Courting the Abyss: Free Speech and the Liberal Tradition updates the philosophy of free expression with a history of liberal thought since Paul of Tarsus. His most recent book The Marvelous Clouds: Toward a Philosophy of Elemental Media radically rethinks how media are environments and environments are also media.

James Martel

Talk Title: The Misinterpellated Subject: Resistance and Anarchism
4:15 PM.,  Thursday, April 27, 2017  -  Crookshank Hall #10

James Martel offers a rethinking of the work of philosopher Louis Althusser, arguing that his work on ideological “interpellation” has a built in possibility for failure that creates possibilities for radical forms of subversion. His work draws on examples from literature, politics to argue that the subject is anarchist all the way down.

This talk, based a recent book by the same title, argues that Althusser’s theory of interpellation (the process wherein each person is turned into a subject of the law) has a built in failure mechanism. Althusser’s well known example of interpellation is of a police office hailing a pedestrian by calling out “hey, you there!” Althusser tells us that as the pedestrian turns around, she becomes a subject. He further says that “nine times out of ten” the subject knows that the hail was “really” for her and that law in effect knows who she is (and gives her own identity in that regard). But what about the one in ten where the subject is hailed incorrectly or where the hail was meant for someone else? I call this kind of failed form of interpellation “misinterpellation” that is present in all forms of hailing. The potential for misinterpellation, for the failure of interpellation, is present in each and every moment of hailing, which is to say that our identity is far more vulnerable than we usually think. Misinterpellation is a source of potentially radical subversion insofar as the misfiring of interpellation suggests not only the unmaking of the subject but further of the law itself. On this basis, the subject can be revealed to be anarchist all the way down, allowing new forms of politics and new practices to emerge from the shadow of the hegemonic forms of subjectivity that otherwise predominate. 

Bio: James Martel is a political theorist at San Francisco State University. He teaches courses in political theory, continental philosophy, anarchism, post colonial theory and theories of gender and sexuality. He is the author of five books: A trilogy of books on Walter Benjamin: The One and Only Law, Walter Benjamin and the Second Commandment (Michigan 2014); Divine Violence: Walter Benjamin and the Eschatology of Sovereignty(Routledge/GlassHouse 2011); and Textual Conspiracies: Walter Benjamin, Idolatry and Political Theory (Michigan, 2011). He is also the author of Subverting the Leviathan: Reading Thomas Hobbes as a Radical Democrat (Columbia, 2007); Love is a Sweet Chain: Desire, Autonomy and Friendship in Liberal Political Theory (Routledge, 2001). He is currently working on a book called: When Anarchism was Young: Retrieving early 20th Century Spanish Radicalism as a Way of Life.

Slavoj Žižek

From Surplus-Value to Surplus-Enjoyment
7:00 p.m., Tuesday, Feb., 28.
Rose Hills Theater
This talk considers the ways in which Marx's notion of "surplus-value" bears on Jacques Lacan's idea of a "surplus-enjoyment" which, rather than a simple stepping up of pleasure, designates an additional pleasure obtained by its very deferral.  These insights, it will be shown, bear crucially on the relevance of Marx's critique of political economy to our contemporary political moment.

Slovenian philosopher and cultural theorist Slavoj Žižek is a senior research at the institute for Sociology and Philosophy at the University of Ljubljana, Global Distinguished Professor of German at New York University and international director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities of the University of London.  The co-founder of the Slovenian Liberal Democratic Party, he is a prolific author, considered to be one of the leading public intellectuals of our time.  Foreign Policy named him one of the Top 100 Global Thinkers, calling him "a celebrity philosophy."

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Pinkel Lecture Series

This annual lecture series, named for Benjamin and Anne A. Pinkel, invites a lecturer or creator in media studies to campus. 

2016: Alex Rivera, digital media artist, filmmaker and creator of the Sundance Award-winning film "Sleep Dealer" and "Engineering the Border," a multimedia presentation on border technologies and resistance

2014: Jodi Dean, Donald A. Horter '39 professor of humanities and social sciences at Hobart and William Smith Colleges and author of 11 books, including The Communist Horizon (Verso, 2012), on "The Communist Horizon: What Are the Possibilities of Radical Politics Today?"

2012: Sonali Kolhatker, host and executive producer of KPFK's "Uprising" and co-founder of the Afghan Women's Mission, on "Globalism, Social Justice and the Media"

China Onscreen Biennial

The Pomona College Department of Media Studies is a presenting partner of the China Onscreen Biennial.

Eckstein Symposium in Media Studies

Thanks to the generous support of Paul F. Eckstein ’62 and Florence O. Eckstein, the Department of Media Studies hosts the semiannual Eckstein Symposium in Media Studies. Held every one or two years over one or more days, the Eckstein Symposium provides an intimate forum for an extended engagement at the forefront of research in media studies.

The Eckstein Symposium gathers scholars who are leaders in their field—regionally, nationally, and internationally—with the goal of pursuing a unique topic, selected for its ability to expand theoretical knowledge in the study of media.  Especially in an era valuing quick conversation that risks superficial outcomes, the Eckstein Symposium is committed to a careful, nuanced, yet still dynamic engagement with media theory and to an experimental unfolding of thoughts, ideas, and theories critical for media studies today. Undergraduates in media studies participate in the Symposium, usually after a semester of preparation, and have the opportunity to both witness and join in on the creation and assessment of some of the most advanced work in their field.

The Eckstein Symposium draws its support from the Eckstein Fund, established in May 2010. The Ecksteins have also provided leadership support to another fund that benefits the department, the Brian Stonehill Memorial Fund for Media Studies.

2013: Real Deceptions: The Inaugural Eckstein Symposium in Media Studies

Real Deceptions: The Inaugural Eckstein Symposium in Media Studies

Thursday, April 25, and Friday, April 26, 2013

  • Justin Clemens, Senior Lecturer of English, University of Melbourne
  • Henry Krips, Andrew W. Mellon All-Claremont Chair of Humanities and Professor of Cultural Studies, Claremont Graduate University
  • Jennifer Friedlander, Edgar E. and Elizabeth S. Pankey Professor of Media Studies and Associate Professor of Media Studies, Pomona College
  • Charles Shepherdson, Professor of English, University of Albany
  • Ellie Ragland, Professor of English, University of Missouri
  • Todd McGowan, Associate Professor of Film and Television, University of Vermont
  • Robert Pfaller, Professor Dr. of Philosophy, University of Applied of Arts, Vienna

The event provided a very rare opportunity for experts in a highly specialized sub-field to present their research to each other and to the students in the course who studied their work. One of the key goals of the event was to provide students with the chance to interact with luminaries in a small, intimate setting, rather than in a public forum. The students introduced each speaker and had opportunities to interact with them at lunch on both days.


Thursday, April 25

9:15 a.m.: Coffee/Tea/Pastries

9:30 a.m.: Justin Clemens, senior lecturer of English, University of Melbourne
"Figure, Beauty, Splendour, Figures"

‘First of all I did not want a figure. I was ashamed, I was dead ashamed of a figure I would rather be dead or be underground than have a figure and show my body.’ — Louise Bourgeois, 27 November 1951
Jacques Lacan, in the famous final sections of Seminar VII, The ethics of psychoanalysis, proposes a decisive analysis of the figure of Antigone. Certain elements of this analysis have become justly famous, perhaps above all the little formula that a true ethics means: don’t give way on your desire. But not giving way on your desire isn’t something you simply choose, and it isn’t something that’s good for you in any real way. In fact, the putrescence of the body as it is pursued and exposed by state torture and execution regimes will be at stake: what could be more real than the spectacular extraction of truth from flesh that extra-judicial torture allegedly effects? The relation between the Other and the body is at stake. This paper aims to reconstruct Lacan’s argument in this regard; yet, in doing so, it will also suggest difficulties with his argument that Lacan himself recognized. These difficulties are later treated by Lacan by way of a shift from theatrical figure to mathematical figures, from the staging of the self-destruction of the subject as a body-mind dyad, to the inscription of letters that have no special figure to be destroyed.

11 a.m.: Henry Krips, Andrew W. Mellon all-Claremont chair of humanities and professor of cultural studies, Claremont Graduate University
"Realism and the Real"

Against traditional criticisms of realism, I’ll be using Walter Benjamin’s account of collective innervation in cinema supplemented by Slavoj Zizek’s Lacanian account of the relation between reality, phantasy and the Lacanian Real. Taken together, I argue, these accounts point to a new politically “revolutionary” form of realism – what we might better call (capital “R”) Realism – which operates via the intrusion of “unrealistic” Real phantasy elements into cinematic realist representations. I will use this hybrid of Zizek’s and Benjamin’s work in order to address a question that their individual accounts leave unanswered: namely what is there about a film that, through its collective constitutive impact upon an audience, might lead it to realize its revolutionary potential? Or, to ask the question in more concrete terms: why has it turned out that the films that Benjamin regards as enjoying a revolutionary potential, such as early Disney cartoons, have failed to realize that potential, and instead have been sucked up into the maw of the Hollywood entertainment industry (either as exhibits in its museums or as items of nostalgia)?

12:15 p.m.: Lunch in the Peter W. Stanley Academic Quad

1:30 p.m.: Jennifer Friedlander, Edgar E. and Elizabeth S. Pankey professor of media studies/associate professor of media studies, Pomona College
"Documentary REAL-ism: Catfish and This is not a Film"

This paper explores two recent documentary films, one of which may not be a documentary, the other of which may not be a film. Although starkly different in their subject matter and political stakes, both "Catfish" (Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost, 2010) and "This is Not a Film" (Jafar Panahi and Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, 2011) point to underappreciated dimensions of filmic realism, in particular its propensity to evoke what I will call Real-ism—i.e. hints of the Real that emerge precisely when the symbolic framework governing reality becomes imperiled. Drawing upon Jacques Lacan’s notion of the Real and Jacques Rancière’s concept of the “aesthetic regime,” I will suggest that elements of conventional filmic realism have the potential to produce a politically destabilizing Real-ism which, rather than involving the representation of reality in any recognizable form, calls forth that which is necessarily excluded/repressed from the symbolic framework.

3 p.m.: Charles Shepherdson, professor of English, University at Albany
"Fear and Anxiety: Destinies of the Subject from Kant to Lacan"

This talk moves through three moments in the history of fear:
(1)”pity and fear” in tragedy and in Aristotle’s discussion of catharsis (where emotion is purged or transformed or sublimated).
(2) “fear and the feeling of respect” in Kant’s account of the sublime (where fear of death is transformed into the subject’s “feeling of respect” as a sort of moral feeling).
(3) Lacan’s discussion of anxiety, in Television, where he presents Caravaggio’s painting of the "Sacrifice of Isaac," which I interpret as an account of the difference between anxiety and desire — in other words, the difference between the traumatizing affect of jouissance, and a binding of jouissance to the signifier, on behalf of desire.

4:15 p.m.: Reception

Friday, April 26

9:15 a.m.: Coffee/Tea/Pastries

9:30 a.m.: Ellie Ragland, professor of English, University of Missouri
"From Barthes’ ‘Realism Effect’ to Lacan’s Real"

The talk begins with a discussion of the relation between Barthes’ ideas on the real and reality and Lacan’s.  A major emphasis will be the difference between the real as illusory effects in narrative (Barthes) and the real as residing in the unconscious (the later Lacan). I also emphasize how Lacan’s concept of the real as that which decompletes language differs from Godel’s incompleteness theorem and stresses, rather, fixations, unary traits, flashes of trauma or discontent. My paper thus moves from discussing differences and similarities in Lacan and Barthes to an examination of Lacan’s real as a unique category itself, and an exploration of his four periods of defining the real.

11 a.m.: Todd McGowan, associate professor of film and television, University of Vermont
"Flight into Reality"

My paper argues that, since Hegel, philosophy has viewed mediation as a problem that it must surmount.  This process begins with Kierkegaard and continues throughout the 20th and 21st centuries.  From Deleuze’s critique of representation to postcolonial theory’s attack on the colonizing function of language, mediation appears as a problem to avoid or overcome.  Thinkers tend to view mediation as a barrier to reality or to revolutionary awakening but fail to see how it creates the reality that it represents.  My contention is that it is only by apprehending that there is no outside to mediation that we can, paradoxically, accede to the reality that mediation obscures.

12:15 p.m.: Lunch in the Peter W. Stanley Academic Quad

1:30 p.m.: Robert Pfaller, professor Dr. of philosophy, University of Applied Arts, Vienna
"DEAL WITH THE REAL: How to do it and What For"

As Sigmund Freud remarks, art is one of the attempts to regain a pleasure which is forever lost for adult human beings. If we call the object of this lost pleasure the “Real” (as Lacan does), we can state that all art is “Realist” – since it deals with this Real. The differences between aesthetic strategies therefore do not stem from the question whether they refer to this Real or not, but from how they handle that which is per definition “too hot to handle." To draw a rough line, I would suggest that there exists a tragedy and a comedy strategy – within all genres, not only in the dramatic arts. Tragic arts deal with the Real through their strategy of failure: in tragedy, the appearance of the Real is kept at bay, since the heroic endeavours never reach their great goal. In arts that follow the comedy model, on the contrary, nothing is considered great which cannot appear. Therefore the most incredible endeavours succeed. This can be called comedy’s materialism. The diving line in the arts would therefore run between tragic, idealist Realism, and comedian, materialist Realism.

3 p.m.: Hilary Neroni, associate professor of film and television, University of Vermont
"'The Truth Takes Time:' The Real and its relationship to fantasy in Alias"

Alias redefines the playing field upon which national security against terrorism is laid out. It moves it from a masculinist logic to a feminist one and thus dissolves biopower in favor of the Real. The Real is not easy to confront, however. It is more risky and always unknown, but it is a risk that makes space for the subject without condemning the body. The rhetoric of the necessity of torture is based on an idea of the biopolitical body, one devoid of a desiring subject. I will argue that it is only in turning toward the more terrifying prospect of the Real that we can turn away from torture and toward the subject.

4:15 p.m.: Reception