currently researching african animation : interested in compiling a database of practitioners in various sub-saharan countries : welcome any postings from practitioners

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

animation theory... the limits of Cholodenko / or limiting the limitless

the observations below are still work in progress and do not reflect the extent of my arguement, nor that of Cholodenko's writings... it is if you like intial musings on this book - with probably more to follow....

The Illusion of Life II, Alan Cholodenko's second publication, is an attempt to address or re-address the perceived lack of critical theoretical literature in this field. The premise of Cholodenko's argument posits that it can only be through post-modernist discourses that any true attempt at theorising on animation can take place.

Although Cholodenko correctly identifies that problems associated with animations peripheral position in relation to "traditional" film theory, and other media - his focus on the pervasive-ness of animation in contemporary visual culture lends itself to becoming all encompassing of any media/ or art. He argues that as animated technology predated and informed film, theoretical positions should see all film (and other forms) as animations. Therefore rather than animation being subservient to film, and lesser than, in actual fact the reverse is true.

This position is not a new idea, and echoes the preoccupations of Cholodenko's contemporaries, whom he proceeds to critique for their limited view of the form. However although the premise is correct Cholodenko's limitless paradigm, applying the term animation to refer to any visual media, makes it impossible to begin to address the specific details of this medium.

He frames most of his argument by claiming that he draws from Derrida, Freud, Baudrillard, and other postmodernist thinking, but fails to specifically identify which aspects of these writings are used to inform how he theorises animation.

I suppose my personal biggest bone of contention with Cholodenko's 100 page introduction to his book, is his repeated claim
"The theorizing of the first (theorizing film as a form of animation) at once calls for the re-thinking of all aspects o film through animation and opens the door to thinking animation beyond film, including theorising all other art and media as forms of animation - drawing, painting, sculpture, photography, TV, video, computer, new media etc."

Herein lies the paradoxical position of Cholodenko, it is apparent that other art forms (as he lists) are NOT animation ALL of the time, and therefore it would be fair to say that animation draws from the artistic practices such as those listed above, and employs aspects of each medium, within the realm of the animated form.
The animation retains qualities to it that are particular and specific to the medium, of course it pervades into various forms and vice-versa, however I feel that Cholodenko's argument is too ambitious in its grand claims.

The risk Cholodenko's discourse faces, is the inability to realise and identify the aesthetic formal qualities that do make the experience of watching an animation still to date, different to watching a film, or looking at a painting, etc. His examples of cases whereby animation appears (or as he argues IS) evident in contemporary visual media whether in Kill Bill, The Matrix, Computer Gaming, etc is true, but inorder to identify this as such one needs to be able to define what it is we are looking at. Consequentially if we know WHAT animation is, then we can begin to see HOW it appears in our visual culture. The reverse arguement, that Cholodenko puts forward, that all visual media are animation, does not move as any closer to identifying what we are looking at, and how it bears similarities and differences to other forms.

When Cholodenko refutes Richard Leskosky's heralding of animation studies as a new discipline, he defines the notion of the discipline as something that requires coherence, stability, a state of oneness. Here Cholodenko is self-contradictory: positioning the notion of discipline as if it were a singular undifferentiated body of knowledge. Considering Cholodenko's advocation of the postmodern, this definition hardly resembles a postmodernist stance; that acknowledging the possibility of a variety of discourses, positionings, forces and tensions, within one discipline.

How and why is this relevant to the study of African animation?
If contemporary writing on animation theory has been limited or limiting (as Cholodenko states), then writings on African animation within theoretical paradigms of the moving image and visual culture are practically non-existant.
My own approach to discussing African animation within a theoretical framing, has had to be one that draws from analogous modes of opperandum when discussing the image, moving or otherwise, and visual cultures.

In short, although I agree with Cholodenko in his identifying the limitations of animation theory and in his mission to promote animation as a the medium that superceeds and consequentially informs all others (here I would put a clause and state MOVING image) - I cannot negate that the versatility of its aesthetic form draws from other practices that inturn inform HOW we understand and read the image. Its context of production and distribution, the implications of the technology, and the speciic cultural underpinnings that make African animation what it is today, are all relevant to my understanding of it.

In a sense, I too draw from postmodernist thinking, drawing webs of links, forces and tensions, that make the artefact reside in this visual culture space. My method has been one that looks at anthropological literature, post-colonial theory, media theory (to an extent), film theory, genre, the relationship between form, practice and aesthetic, art theory, iconography or otherwise, etc - all this in an attempt to understand what makes animation unique, and what makes African animation (used loosely here, but meaning different examples of animation from various African countries) unique and unlike its Western counterpart....

The task at hand... a hard one that makes deciphering the subtleties all the more difficult, more so if I was to approach the task utilising Cholodenko's position.

For more information on Cholodenko's position you can read his article on the Animation Studies On-line Journal

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