With host Stephanie MacDonell
Stephanie: Hi Sophia!
Sophia: Hi Stephanie, how are you?
Stephanie: This is weird doing a coffee and cinema with you…because we are so close…
Sophia: And we are roommates….and we came up together, we were in the same cohort!
Stephanie: I remember you were the first person I talked to.
Sophia: Yeah, you cornered me in the bathroom asking where we were supposed to meet (laughs).
Stephanie: Yeah, because I was so nervous, I didn’t know where I was going, and thought “oh she looks nice!”
Sophia: Yeah, I thought… “oh she’s blonde, she must be from California,” (laughs) no I didn’t think that. And then we met our professors and sat down for orientation. I remember Erin wearing that really cute scarf and Ofer gave us that scary article from U.N.E.F. Strasbourg, “On the Poverty of Student Life.”
Stephanie: Oh yeah! I actually haven’t read it yet (laughs) but it’s on my bulletin board just staring at me. Talk about the gaze, that article gazes back at me.
Sophia: I read it thinking we would talk about it and we never did (laughs).
Stephanie: So tell me about your project? What are you working on right now?
Sophia: I’m working on the comprehensive exam, my topics are posthumanism, cybernetics, and sci-fi cinema. There’s three specific eras when approaching posthumanism and cybernetics. There’s the cybernetics of the 1930s, the cybernetics of the 1960s, and then it reemerges again in the 1980s and that’s what I’m looking at mostly. I’m comparing this reemergence of cybernetics in the 1980s to present with sci-fi cinema that’s been released in the last 30 years. In very general terms I’m looking at how this shift in cybernetics has shifted our relationship to filmic images and subjectivity. This is in very general terms of course but its bringing me into conversations about what is happening right now both culturally and politically – and the imagery that’s circulating.
Stephanie: I’m going to put you on the spot because I know you hate this question. How do you define Posthumanism?
Sophia: Posthumanism is such a blanket term that’s why I hate that question (laughs). What I like about it is that it is a way for me to break that binary within Western logic and psychoanalysis. So for me, posthumanism redefines and reconstructs what they call the liberal humanist self, the idea of the self that came from the Renaissance, the all being or the all person, the Man. In cinema, it’s a way to talk about bodies on the screen and mediate that question of the body as an apparatus itself. I’ve read a lot of Katherine Hayles and Donna Haraway. They began in science and switched over to the humanities. So they were using this biological logic for deconstruction.
Stephanie: That’s so interesting, what are some examples within cinema? What films are you working with?
Sophia: I’m looking at what I call the slower science fiction – so science fiction that is more dependent on sound over spectacle. For example Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin, Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival, Duncan Jones’ Moon, I’m looking at Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris too, even though that’s an earlier film. I’m also looking at short films too, like Peggy Awesh’s She Puppet, her movies do interesting things with sound. Science fiction makes sense to me because it deals so narratively with philosophical questions that are so easy to access. It also is more keen to use technology and I’m interested if the innovations in technology change the meaning of the images and their affect. I want to look at movies that embrace both the commercial and the arthouse styles. It’s hard though because you want to use something people have seen but you also want to use something with meat in it…But let’s talk about our two years here! Let’s gossip!
Stephanie: (laughs) Okay. I think we were both talking earlier about how our favorite class was our first class together the Horror and the Cinematic Affect seminar. Not only for the material but also the films were really cool.
Sophia: The films were cool, for sure. I remember going to that first class, sitting there, looking at the literature, and being like okay this is a whole different language.
Stephanie: Yeah because you came from English literature, that’s what you got your B.A in. How’s that transition been from English Literature to Film Studies?
Sophia: The biggest struggle with me in switching to film was working with semiotics. How do we discuss the third aspect which is the apparatus? How do we talk about the sign and signifier? In literature its more imaginary, the images that come up in our brain when reading. In film, you are given a material object and bodies and then attached to meaning. To me that was the biggest struggle because it opened up all these doors and made me question what I’m even asking anymore? It gets you thinking of how you have been processing images your whole life and how you have been processing ocular information – information that comes through your eyes. Oh god, I feel like I’m back teaching my undergrads now. (laughs).
Stephanie: You’ve done numerous independent studies on Deleuze are you going to be incorporating his work into your exam.
Sophia: (laughs) Oh yeah! He’s at the crux of it all. He’s the man! He just creates a basis for everything, when you start to look and read scholarship, there’s so many aspects of Deleuze, he’s a part of so many conversations. What I’m mostly looking at is the concept of “the body without organs” from Capitalism and Schizophrenia because that really looks at the posthuman self and the representation of the body as machine which is made up of parts. I’m also using works from his writing partner Felix Guattari like The Three Ecologies.
Stephanie: So, tell me about some work you’ve done these last few years. What have been some resonating courses you’ve taken?
Sophia: I loved Louis’ Western and Settler Colonialism seminar, especially because it was looking at these westerns that hadn’t been touched with the kind of direct ambush that Louis kind of puts on these films…which is really nice to see…
Stephanie: Yeah! And it was nice because we used the historical materialist methodology to structure the class.
Sophia: Yeah that lens really makes it stable and concrete and pushes your argument into a material thing that you point to. For instance, the approach made you realize how much Native Americans have been silenced and how many groups of people have experienced social death through these images that are made to be pleasant and pleasing – selling the American way.
Stephanie: Have you seen anything recently. I know you’ve been watching a lot of documentaries on Netflix and I’ve subsequently been too.
Sophia: (laughs) Oh yeah Netflix just unleashed a crap ton of documentaries and television shows mostly about the prison industrial complex which is fascinating. Who’s in jail, why they are in jail, and what kind of ideologies keep this institution in place. Talk about mapping out a system, you can start to see patterns of a history and the reinforcement of a system. You can see how the prison industrial system took the place of slavery economically – an entire economic sector, a huge material production line. I don’t know, its fucked up. It’s interesting right now with our current cultural climate. The prison industrial complex has become a symbol and continuation of slavery. For instance, Ava DuVernay’s 13th and The Confession Tapes….I also just watched Def Comedy Jams. Shout out to Netflix because they’ve put out these documentaries which have followed the Innocence Project.
Stephanie: You’ve been interested in television studies for a while now, what draws you to television or incorporating television into film studies?
Sophia: So much is going on in television right now, I think some of the best stories are happening on television, I’ve been saying this for the past five years. There’s this idea that television is an academy itself. A lot of shows in television are trying to make a school out of it like referencing one another and having this archeological knowledge of television history, which hasn’t really been written about, but I think that we are trying to make up for that in the shows that we watch. Also, television is more directed towards literature in the way it’s able to draw out more narrative and character driven stories than film which is more aesthetically driven towards a spectacular image.
Stephanie: What shows have you been watching?
Sophia: I’ve been watching The Americans, I got hooked on shows that have been taking information from FBI files released because of the Freedom of Information Act. A lot of shows are getting their stories and their information from these files and you find out a lot of things that have been happening under government regulation that we haven’t had access to. You showed me Roseanne, which I hadn’t seen before, which was interesting to look at a sitcom about a working-class family with a female lead.
Stephanie: I wanted to ask you about your turn in production? Right now, you are writing a script for MFA/friend Kingsley Lims for his thesis film?
Sophia: Yeah, I’ve been amateur screenwriting. I’ve always wanted to explore and access what we see in different ways rather than what we do in the classroom or in teaching…that sounds pretentious (laughs) I don’t know. I’ve been writing, but thinking analytically and intellectually is a different brain space than thinking creatively. I’ve been exploring sight and sound through a series of vignettes. I don’t think I can write a stable story from A to B, I have to write in fragments because that I what makes sense to me right now. The story is a family that sits down to dinner every year and how conversations change and morph and people come and go but it’s always that space, the community space. I have two, my other is a comedy, it’s about a group of kids being picked up from soccer practice and you have a kid in the car who no one knows who he belongs to and you’re just in the car for the journey. So, it’s just another representation of who we have around us and the mundane things turn into things that you wouldn’t expect.
Stephanie: How’s it been working in both scholarship and production? You not only write but have done acting and crew work.
Sophia: Steve Ross said it best when I was on Nazgol Kashani’s film (MFA/friend), I made them stop the whole take because my mic pack fell off, and Steve just scoffed, “Scholars as actors.” (laughs)
Stephanie: I remember hearing him whisper that behind me a few times on that set (laughs).
Sophia: The minute you see a set be produced…everything you’ve written about film begins to break down…it gives you a bigger ideological idea of what makes a film a film. For instance, what set is like, the behind the scenes, once you are physically there and sitting for hours bored as shit, then you start to see where the intention comes in…where the ideology comes in…where do the economic components come in. It breaks it down in a way that I wouldn’t have gotten in a classroom. Honestly it makes me more confused intellectually but more excited creatively.
Stephanie: We are the last two of our cohort and soon we will be graduating. Any last words on our experience here?
Sophia: There is no direct answers for anything – we all see the same image but have different takes. That is the biggest thing I got from grad school. What I really love about our cohort is that we actually listen to each other and we continue to ask each other questions, which is not to be critical to one another, but to broaden each other in a different way. So I really enjoyed that. Every single person that I’ve had in class, I’ve learned from and there’s always comradery in suffering…and we grad students have suffered so much! (laughs)
Stephanie: Thank you so much Sophia!
Sophia: It’s been a pleasure Stephanie, I’ll see you in five minutes at home.