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

Friday, February 05, 2010

The Illusion of Life - responses and correspondances

Some time back I posted my intial musings on The Illusion of Life II, and in particular Alan Cholodenko's introduction. To my surprise, these musings did not go amiss - and a couple of days ago I receive an email from Alan Cholodenko with his response to my musings! This has since sparked a correspondace about how to negotiate the difficult terrain of defining animation - something I have avoided to do (as Alan Cholodenko rightly points out). I thoroughly enjoyed this banter, and decided to share it with Alan Cholodenko's permission. There is nothing better to stimulate one's thinking! So here goes:

Email No1: Sender: Alan Cholodenko / Recipient: Me
Title: Limiting Cholodenko

Dear Paula Callus,
I just spotted your blog musing on my Introduction to The Illusion of Life 2.
First, let me thank you for giving my work such considering. It is still a rare moment to see that happening and I appreciate it. Needless to say, I have some thoughts on and responses to your musings which I would like to offer you before such musings firm to a position.

Indeed, I hope they might be of help in your musings. It is in that spirit that I offer them to you.
I hope you do not have a problem with my offering you this feedback.

Obviously, I am happy to see your caveat at the beginning of your text, indicating that these are musings and that they are limited to my Introduction, and your referring the reader ‘for more information’ to my ‘article on the Animation Studies On-line Journal’, although I must indicate that in fact I have four articles there, so it is unclear as to which of my articles you are directing the reader. (And I do not see myself, by the way, as having a simple what you call twice on page 4 ‘position’. It sounds to my ear as too inert, arrested, inanimate, if you would allow.)

There is no question but I do wish you had considered my many articles on animation before posting this blog, for they do, as far as I am concerned, demonstrate approaches to animation that offer modalities of limitation, precisely what you pose as missing from my work.

And I feel confident that from reading my articles you will find that, just as Derrida takes up the ways deconstruction operates in individual texts, forms and media, I do the same with animation, seeking how it operates in individual texts, forms and media. Ditto Baudrillard and seduction.

So if I read your criticism of my ‘position’ correctly on page 2, I must rebut, for I do seek the specific ways in which animation and what I call the animatic so operate and there are modes of limitation operating in my work, even as at the same time I theorise all media as forms of animation.

And note: I do define the animatic. (See pp. 43-44 of that Introduction.)

Put otherwise, I do work at not only the macro- but the micro- level, even though it may appear I do so, or even do do so, more at the former than the latter level.

Of course, such limitations and specificities as I pose would seem to differ radically from what you seek as the limitations and specificities of animation. I get the sense from your words that you seek a uniqueness to animation, the kind of essence my work is at loggerheads to deconstruct and seduce, notably with my notion of animation as the animatic.

As a result, I think you define/understand animation in a way that limits understanding of me.

What all this means is that I think in regard to these issues of specificity and limitation your blog is premature and in error in its limiting of me, that is, limiting me to limitlessness, its posing my approaches as without limits, as simply limitless, and that includes my Introduction.

If you wish to undertake a substantial search in this regard, you could track out my treatments by taking off from my Introduction’s note 60, where I reference many of my articles. But you could start by checking out my essay ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit, or The Framing of Animation’ in The Illusion of Life: Essays on Animation, ed. Alan Cholodenko (Power Publications in association with the Australian Film Commission, Sydney, 1991), which brings Derrida and animation into co-relation, as well as my ‘“OBJECTS IN MIRROR ARE CLOSER THAN THEY APPEAR”: The Virtual Reality of Jurassic Park and Jean Baudrillard’, originally published in 1997 and republished in the International Journal of Baudrillard Studies, vol. 2, no. 1, January 2005 (, which brings Baudrillard and animation into co-relation. These articles were meant by me, and I believe so operate, as heuristic examples of textual analysis and explication in terms of the processes of Derridean deconstruction and of Baudrillardian seduction operating in the two films, respectively.

Another point: while you assert I do not provide examples of my uses of Derrida, Freud, Baudrillard ‘and other postmodernist thinking’ (are you nominating Freud a postmodernist?) in my Introduction, in fact I do. See page 34, where I take up Freud’s uncanny (and note 66, referring to the Introduction to The Illusion of Life (1991), pp. 28-29), Eisenstein’s protean plasmaticness, and pages 37-38, where I explicitly quote my 1991 Introduction’s inscription of the abject [Kristeva], the uncanny [Freud], the sublime [Lyotard], seduction [Baudrillard], différance [Derrida], etc., which I then pick up on on pp. 39-40.

And again, my articles that bring Derrida and Baudrillard to the thinking of animation, and vice versa, are readily available as examples.
I would mention further the ones published in Animation Studies.
And I especially direct your attention to my article ‘The Nutty Universe of Animation, the “Discipline” of All “Disciplines”, and That’s Not All, Folks!’, published in the International Journal of Baudrillard Studies, vol. 3, no. 1, January 2006.

And given your specialisation in African animation, my article ‘Jean Rouch’s Les Maîtres Fous: Documentary of Seduction, Seduction of Documentary’, in Three Documentary Filmmakers, edited by William Rothman, SUNY Press, Albany, NY.

And of course my ‘Speculations on the Animatic Automaton’, in The Illusion of Life 2.

I am glad you agree with me in my, as you put it, ‘identifying the limitations of animation theory and…mission to promote animation as a [sic] the medium that superceeds [sic] and consequentially informs all others (here I would put a clause and state MOVING image)’.

Note: in my Introduction I describe the animatic, hence animation so understood, as idea, concept, process, performance, medium and milieu.

(Here I would suggest, in terms of the matter of moving versus stillness, seeing my ‘Still Photography?’, first published in Afterimage, vol. 32, no. 5, March/April, 2005, reprinted in International Journal of Baudrillard Studies, vol. 5, no. 1, January 2008.)

At the same time and as another key point of disagreement with me, you seem on page 2 to subscribe to the idea that animation is but a form of film, even though later in the piece you seem to contradict that impression, appearing to concur in my claim that all film is a form of animation in your words ‘animation as…the medium that superceeds [sic] and consequentially informs all others’.

Also, I suspect in your calls on page 2 ‘to define what it is we are looking at…’, ‘if we know WHAT animation is,…’, ‘to identifying what we are looking at’, in other words, to find a specificity or set of specificities to animation, you may be falling into the trap traditionally associated with genre theory, that is, you need to define what animation is (to specify its principles, features, what have you) before you can delimit the body of films that are animations, but you need to delimit that body before you can define what animation is.

To paraphrase Andrew Tudor’s article ‘Genre’ in Barry Grant’s book Film Genre: Theory and Criticism, p. 18, you define animation on the basis of analyzing a body of films which cannot possibly be said to be animations until after the analysis. Tudor calls this variously a ‘case of arbitrary definition’, a circle we are caught in (a vicious circle for me), an ‘empiricist dilemma’.

I call this an aporia itself of the order of the animatic. Edward Buscombe, in his article ‘The Idea of Genre in the American Cinema’, in the same book, p. 26, calls this problem only another aspect of the wider philosophical problem of universals. With regard to the cinema, we may state it thus: if we want to know what a Western [animation] is we must look at certain kinds of films. But how do we know which films to look at until we know what a Western [animation] is? (p. 26)

Speaking of which, while you claim my work does not articulate the specificities of animation, neither does your blog. You talk about your method, drawing from postmodernist thinking…, but go no further.

So my question is: how do you define animation?

I do it in the Introduction to the first anthology on p. 15.
And I am glad we have a third mode of agreement insofar as you assert that you too draw from postmodernist thinking. But in that regard, I need to clarify this. I do not assert that ‘it can only be through post-modernist discourses that any true attempt at theorising on animation can take place’. Rather, on page 44, I state:

The animatic is precisely for me best described, exemplified and performed by the ‘poststructuralist’ and ‘postmodernist’ approaches privileged in our two volumes for the theorizing of animation—by their logics, processes, performances and performativity, likewise impossible of solution or resolution. These approaches not only offer the richest ways to theorize the animatic, they are the most isomorphic with it, the most, as it were, informed by and performing it.84
I write that for me these approaches offer the best, richest way to theorise animation, which is decidedly different from what you say.

And, without rereading my entire Introduction, I feel confident in saying that nowhere do I say my way is the only way.
Next, to me it is not ‘apparent that other art forms...are NOT animation ALL of the time..’. This use of ‘apparent’ is assertion on your part, not argument. A final, most important point: quite the opposite of what you assert, I do not simply refute ‘Richard Leskosky’s heralding of animation studies as a new discipline...’.

Here is what I write on pp. 69-70:
In his review in Film Quarterly, Summer 1993, Richard Leskosky, then President of the Society for Animation Studies, declared that THE ILLUSION OF LIFE: Essays on Animation ‘heralds (and argues) the arrival of animation studies as a valid discipline equal to and separate from cinema studies but with a wealth of critical practice relevant to cinema scholars as well as animation scholars’.143

For me this lovely comment must be qualified in two regards. First, animation (therefore animation studies) is relevant to all disciplines and all scholars, operating in, integral to and performed by all of them. Second, if by ‘discipline’ one means something coherent and entire unto itself, something at peace and in a state of ‘oneness’ with itself, an irresolvable, indeed aporetic, problem is harboured here. It is a problem denegating any and all efforts to animate and institute a discipline—any discipline—so conceived, including the discipline of animation studies. For animation itself, animation as the protean plasmatic as we reread it, as the animatic—that very singularity of animation, the very animation of animation—renders that discipline at once possible and impossible.
Therefore, a discipline must be thought otherwise, through animation as the animatic, thought, after Derrida, for example, not as a form of presence, essence, the ontological, but as what is at once enabled and disenabled by dissemination, the hauntological—as by definition indisciplined, or rather, at once disciplined and indisciplined. A discipline so thought would be at once the discipline of indiscipline and indiscipline of discipline. In any case, for us such a form of ‘discipline’ would always already inhabit and spectre a discipline figured purely as ontological.

If THE ILLUSION OF LIFE and this new volume offer singular exemplification of and compelling theoretical insights into such a lively ‘discipline’ as ‘animation studies’—one not only animated but animatic—then it will have made a contribution, not to the creation of the discipline of Animation Studies—whose departure arrives with, if not before, its ‘arrival’—but to animation studies, a term Leskosky insightfully puts, like cinema studies, in lower case, a term for me always to be thought as in quotation marks, always, after Derrida, sous rature (under erasure). Animation studies so conceived not only studies animation, which for us all ‘disciplines’ do—making animation studies the ‘discipline’ of all ‘disciplines’—but is obedient to the very processes of animation as the animatic, as all ‘disciplines’ are.

In other words, I propose that the thinking of animation necessitates the deconstruction of capital D Discipline wherever it is so postulated, assumed and/or found. Put otherwise, I deconstruct the ontology of Discipline with the hauntology of discipline as Derridean trace, supplement, etc.—as the animatic. (See my ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit, or the Framing of Animation’, The Illusion of Life, pp. 211-212.) For me, capital D Discipline is the special case, the reduced, conditional form, of lower case d discipline.

As a result, your characterisation here gets me completely backwards. I am not, as you assert, being contradictory but rather consistent, for I do not subscribe to the orthodox notion of a discipline but rather describe it and then deconstruct it. So in fact I do precisely what you say I do not do and criticise me for not doing.
The key line here is ‘Therefore, a discipline must be thought otherwise, through animation as the animatic…’ (p. 69).
Finally, re your phrase ‘biggest bone of contention with Cholodenko’s 100 page introduction to his book, [sic] is his repeated claim…’, I ask, first, given that your phrasing implies criticism of the length of my Introduction, what is your problem given the Introduction states at its beginning that its remit was to characterise what has happened to animation and animation studies since the first anthology was published in 1991 and the size of the Introduction obviously reflects what has happened? Why are you not rather happy that so much space, time and effort has produced such a length of/and such a text? And second, how repeated is the claim? Is it too much? And finally, if your phrase is meant to inscribe the title of Andrew Darley’s attack on my 1991 Introduction, ‘Bones of Contention: Thoughts on the Study of Animation’, in Animation: An Interdisciplinary Journal, vol. 2, no. 1, 2007), and somehow even join in and with that attack, I think you should be quite explicit about that.

I hope all these thoughts of mine are of help, Paula.
Thanks again for considering my Introduction.
Best regards,


Email No2: Sender: Me / Recipient: Alan Cholodenko 
Dear Alan,
Many thanks for your detailed reply to my musings and as you correctly identified by no means a fixed position.

I appreciate the detail with which you set out to address some of my remarks regarding your introduction and I will be updating my post/ or adding a new one with changes/ and should you wish your own response.

My thoughts on the discipline and theory of animation is in constant flux and changing all the time, and some of the observations you make I have come to see in a new light/ and agree with. I am becoming more enamoured by the term moving image and the possibilities it offers to the theorist in search of trying to make sense of a medium (if it can still be seen as such) that permuates and pervades into so many spaces.

As you can appreciate when I attempt to frame and contextualise (Sub-Saharan) African animation I frequently run into the problems of what defines a piece as animation, and I try to avoid resorting to fixed notions that can limit my attention and findings. Anthropological thought also comes with its own sets of theories, I must remind myself about the culturally subjective issue of taste or to avoid the exoticisation of the image (E.Said). Of course at times I catch myself out falling into the very same trappings I set out to avoid, and I hope that through correspondance like yours I can navigate through this difficult terrain.

You were right in your observation that I have at no point committed (as you have) to a working definition of animation, this is simply because I have not yet arrived to a crystallised definition - I know only that it pervades and that it moves, a starting point of sorts. This is work in progress, and might require much more thought. I fear it is easy to find oneself dealing with Buscombe's paradox (as you mention in your reply).

Therefore Alan, please accept my apologies, if my musings were inaccurate. They were very quick impressions, a repository for initial thoughts, but as mentioned before by no means a position or fixed. And thank you for taking the time to reply to my post, with suggestions too - this is much appreciated.

I look forward to hearing back from you, and hope that is could be the start of a meeting of minds ;)
Many thanks again,

To read more about Alan Cholodenko see "Why Animation, Alan?" by Alan Cholodenko

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