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Cinema Derrida

The Law of Inspection in the Age of Global Spectral Media

Tyson Stewart

Cinema Derrida charts Jacques Derrida's collaborations and appearances in film, video, and television beginning with 1983's Ghost Dance (dir. Ken McMullen, West Germany/UK) and ending with 2002's biographical documentary Derrida (dir. Dick and Ziering, USA). In the last half of his working life, Derrida embraced popular art forms and media in more ways than one: not only did he start making more media appearances after years of refusing to have his photo taken in the 1960s and 1970s, but his philosophy also started to draw more explicitly from visual culture and artistic endeavours. While this book offers explanations of this transition, it contends the image of "Jacques Derrida" that emerges from film and TV appearances remains spectral, constantly deferring a complete grasp of him.

Tyson Stewart draws out the main tenets of spectrality from Derrida's seminal texts Of Grammatology and Specters of Marx and other writings, like Echographies of Television, in order to fill a gap in studies of Derrida and film. Throughout the book, he explains how various techniques and spectral effects such as slow motion, stillness, repetition, mise-en-abîme, direct address, and focus on body parts/bodily presence bring about a structure of spectrality wherein the past other returns to make impressions and ethical demands on the viewer. Drawing on communication theory and film and media studies, Cinema Derrida makes a major intervention in classical communication thought.

“Through the lens of Derrida’s concept of spectrality—alongside hauntology, teletechnology, and the trace—Cinema Derrida fills a crucial gap in contemporary scholarship by focusing on Derrida’s collaborations with filmmakers and other visual artists. Stewart’s close examination of the formal elements of these films and other media texts in relation to images of bodily presence demonstrates how spectrality serves as a means for the past to place the viewer in a position of continuous and endless mourning, with all of the ethical implications vis-à-vis the other that such mourning entails. Part media biography, part theoretical intervention, this book offers an original and generative entry point into thinking about images through Derrida and Derrida through images.”—Jaimie Baron, University of Alberta

Cinema Derrida inhabits Derrida’s corpus as a precise formal registry of techniques, specific films, and their effects and interprets the phenomenal cinematic expressiveness central to some of Derrida’s most urgent critiques: community, archive, law, ethics, mourning, grief. Tracking Derrida’s theory of writing to a holistic media phenomenology, Stewart organically establishes Derrida’s hauntingly ‘absent’ film theory as an analytic grammar and an ethical cinematics. The habit of applying Derrida to cultural analysis as diagnostic prosthesis—an ‘absolute habitat’, after Derrida’s monolingual phenomenology—becomes a confident film theory where we have sensed a ‘subterranean’ presence (following Peter Brunette’s coining) only to reiterate its lack. Stewart’s brilliant articulation of the inarticulate puts him immediately in communion with his clearest spiritual precursor, Akira Mizuta Lippit’s work on Derridean cinema. Cinema Derrida is of unrivaled necessity. Stewart convincingly proposes that the cinematic could not possibly proceed without a sincere reckoning with Jacques Derrida like his.”—Ted Geier, University of California, Davis