Harvard Film and Visual Studies Graduate Conference
Abstr. due: 15.01.2020
Dates: 09.04.20 — 10.04.20
Organizing comittee e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Organizers: Department of Art, Film and Visual Studies, Harvard University
(Im)possibility marks a limit of available information, a threshold of representation, a cessation of action. Thinking at the limits of the possible gives rise to a specific set of issues: how might we articulate that which cannot be said? How might we orient ourselves toward that for which no available theory or representation is adequate?
While it is primarily thought of as an exception, impossibility is in fact ubiquitous and our relationship to it intimate. To demonstrate the omnipresence of the impossible, some might look toward contemporary political crises, saying that current conditions are untenable. Others might point to ecological destruction, noting that human life itself may soon become an impossibility. So integrated is this limit into the fabric of daily life that it has become commonplace in contemporary discourse to claim that the impossible can no longer be called—at least in any straightforward sense—unlivable.
Indeed, Black studies theorist Frank B. Wilderson III would respond that the category of “humanity” has always rendered some lives impossible—that the very concept of the human constructs Blackness as a site of nonbeing subject to, and of, perpetual extraction, gratuitous violence, and social death.
Alexander Kluge writes that cinema is the single medium capable of capturing “the impossible moment”—a moment that couldn’t be imagined beforehand, and which can never be repeated again. Cinema and digital media enable us to glimpse other realms of (im)possibility—realms in which the impossible can manifest as fiction, simulation, speculation, or absurdity. Outside the bounds of continuous space and time, the (im)possible might circulate here: not the world as it is, but the world as we might make it.
Or, perhaps cinema and digital media—despite all their promises to collapse traditional hierarchies and think otherwise—give rise to new structural, technological, and epistemological impossibilities. Digital media rely on that which is impossible to comprehend: data made illegible in code, information flows too large or too fast to grasp. No single spectator can configure themselves as the subject of such information.
We don’t have to choose: (im)possibility is given in the shared periphery of a futural, idealized dimension and a present, negative dimension. It lays waste to current frameworks, concepts, and worlds while offering insight from beyond the break. (Im)possibility beckons as a radical promise because it endures as an impassive present, and one of the challenges of the contemporary moment might be to hold those two modalities together. How might we consider the impossible itself as anything other than a negative concept—an index of failure? What might we articulate about (im)possibility without, for all that, rendering it (as another) possible?