CONFERENCE TALK: Ethics, Awareness, and the Desire That Is (Or Was) Global Hyperlink Cinema
At the Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture Since 1900, I chaired a panel on “‘Global’ Narrative Vision and Its Discontents,” which sought to interrogate narrative forms that gesture at globality via interconnected or networked narrative structure. Here’s the panel description:
As multilinear narrative forms come to predominate as responses to the complexities of political and economic interconnectedness under globalization, we might well ask ourselves what version of the global these forms produce, and to what ends. What does it mean to read globally, and to what extent do such texts enforce or elicit such a reading practice? How do we engage cultural production whose networked structures connect disparate geographies, times, and narrative perspectives? Does an ethics emerge from reading literature we call networked, global, cosmopolitan? How do texts passing under such genre tags as hyperlink cinema or the systems novel generate a sense of a global narrative vision, and what is made visible or invisible under such perspectives? What assumptions underlie our critical-theoretical engagement with these forms? Guided by these questions, this panel considers contemporary authors and filmmakers—Karen Tei Yamashita, David Mitchell, Alejandro González Iñarritu, Steven Soderbergh—whose work seems to construct a sense of the global through the assemblage of interconnected times, places, and tales.
My presentation focused specifically on what Alissa Quart calls “hyperlink cinema,” and on its pretenses at representing globality through narrative and cinematic form. Here’s the abstract:
Since the Battle in Seattle, the dawn of the millennium, and the attacks of 9/11, North American prestige cinema has taken one of its major tasks to be the depiction through multilinear narrative of complex global phenomena: the drug trade, the War on Terror, the circulation of bodies and goods across national borders. From the standpoint of such films as Alejandro González Iñarritu’s Babel (2006), Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic (2000) and Contagion (2011), and Stephen Gaghan’s Syriana (2005), the most salient aspect of these phenomena is their global reach, constituted by but not reducible to local contingencies. The task of representation thus becomes to generate through narrative and filmic form an understanding of phenomena whose scale seems to exceed the bounds of singular narrative texts, to produce a global awareness through the interweaving of connected localities. Implicit in many of these texts is a sense that hyperlink cinema, as it has been termed, is not only a diagnostic imperative but an ethical one, a calling to account of the insular assumptions globalization has made not only irrelevant but frequently disastrous, as when a seemingly local transaction has severe consequences elsewhere in the world. Through careful attention to the relation between narrative form and the desire to imagine oneself outside the limitations of the local, this paper aims to interrogate the assumptions of such films about the ethical efficacy of their version of global consciousness, especially in the political and cultural context of the 2000s. What is the relationship between this representational paradigm, which saw such critical success for much of the 2000s, and the dominant (primarily neoliberal) paradigms of political culture in that decade? How ought we read—and potentially adapt—these representational impulses, in light of the widespread failures to produce an ethically global or cosmopolitan sensibility in the last decade?