Course WILL count for major and minor credit in Italian and Italian Studies.
Much visual culture today might be said to be inextricable from various notions of crisis. From ecological disaster to state violence, economic collapse, and the mass migration of millions of vulnerable people, our understandings of catastrophic national and global events are often shaped through our consumption of (digital) images. Likewise, the advent of digital visual technologies at the end of the last century led many observers to declare a crisis of representation due to what they perceived as the “death” of earlier forms of photography, film, and print media and the failure of the adage “seeing is believing” thanks to the manipulability of the digital image. This course explores the multiple intersections between visual culture and crisis through a close reading of visual texts (photography, video, and narrative and documentary film). Our goals in the course will be twofold: first, to explore a variety of texts that depict, problematize, and/or elicit a crisis; and second, to address the numerous theoretical and ethical questions that arise from our daily encounters with the visual in times of crisis. Primary texts will be clustered around a humanitarian crisis that has brought the fragility of the European nation-state to the fore: mass migration from Africa and the Middle East. The course will also include sections on World War II and its aftermath, Hurricane Katrina (2005), and the 2008 financial collapse. Among the questions the course poses are: how is a crisis made visible, and which aspects of a crisis resist visualization? What is the role of the visual in addressing our increasingly volatile and unstable world? What sorts of expectations do we have about visual representations of crisis? Are images bound to a single truth when dealing with crisis? What sorts of viewers are produced—implicitly or explicitly—by images of crisis? Are there ‘proper’ boundaries between aesthetics and politics, or between art and documentation, when depicting catastrophic events? Is the documentary the most apt mode for ‘capturing’ crisis? What sorts of access to events do narrative, abstract, or aesthetic forms provide that the documentary mode might eschew? Where are the lines between documenting injustice and aestheticizing suffering, or between ethical looking and voyeurism?
RHIANNON NOEL WELCH is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Italian and the program in Cinema Studies. Her research and teaching interests include 19th-21st century Italian cultural studies, literature, and film. Her work focuses on Italian (post-)colonialism and biopolitics; race thinking and nationalism in Italy; Italian migration literature and film; labor and work in the Italian cultural imagination; and fascism and ideology. Her approach to cultural texts is informed by critical theory, film theory, and political philosophy. She received her Ph.D. in Italian Studies from the University of California, Berkeley (2008). Her book manuscript, Vital Subjects: Race, (Re)productivity, and Italian Modernity,calls for a reading of the post-Unification project of “making” Italians as modern political subjects that takes into account the encounter between race, biopolitics, and colonialism in Italian literature, political narrative, and film produced between Unification (ca. 1861) and the end of the First World War. Her second book project, entitled Economies of Loss: Colonial Drive in Modern Italian Visual Culture, reads Italian colonial visual culture (photography, popular cartography, architecture, and film) in relation to the pervasive rhetoric of loss in Italian colonial discourse. She has recently begun work on an essay theorizing the relationship between biopolitics and film. Other recent projects include: an article on the rhetoric of hospitality in first-wave Italophone literature of the 1990’s; an article on the topos of mal d’Africa in the writings of Alfredo Oriani, F.T. Marinetti and Pier Paolo Pasolini; and an annotated translation of Gabriele D’Annunzio’s 1914 essay on early cinema. Her translation of political philosopher Roberto Esposito’s Terms of the Political: Community, Immunity, Biopolitics is forthcoming (Fordham University Press).