Karen Beckman

Andrew W. Mellon Penn Faculty Fellow in the Humanities

20052006 Forum on Word and Image

Karen Beckman

Elliott and Roslyn Jaffe Assistant Professor of Film Studies, History of Art

Crash: Nations, Bodies, Mediums

Like cinema, the car has always functioned as a key symbol of modernity. The car has frequently acted as cinema's doppelganger, as its figure of self-reflexivity within narrative and experimental films alike. But if the road movie fuels fantasies of global cine-mobility, of timeless, endless, and uninhibited motion, the car-crash film metaphorically "blasts open" the continuum of film, brings it to the limits of its self. This forces film and its viewers to contemplate the history and future of the medium, revealing something of how to imagine the medium, and perhaps ourselves, beyond the limits of what we know. 

 

In this project, Prof. Beckman examines how the representation of crashed cars in a variety of media critically engage the question of how mobility and stasis shape our understanding of identity, nationhood, history, and aesthetics. Working from tension between Benjamin's notion of a "present in which times stands still" and technology's utopic race forwards, this project takes the figure of the crashed car in 20th- and 21st-century visual culture as the starting point for theoretical reflection on stillness in a world of moving images, engaging what she perceives as a productive, event ethical moment of stasis or pause, encountered by visual theorists in the wake of postmodernism.