The Craft of Writing – Film Focus – The Trap of the Visual: An Inquiry into Trans* Cinemas
R1A 002 | CCN: 25819
Isaac Arland Preiss
Location: Dwinelle 89
Date and Time: TU, TH 9:30am - 10:59am
“This is the trap of the visual: it offers–or, more accurately, it is frequently offered to us as–the primary path through which trans people might have access to livable lives.”
-Tourmaline, Eric A. Stanley and Johanna Burton, Known Unknowns: An Introduction to Trap Door
The term “transgender tipping point” has been used to describe the upswell, in the twenty-tens, of filmic and televisual representations of trans individuals.(1) But visibility, for subjugated bodies of all sorts, has never equated unproblematically to political progress. Over the last thirty years, filmmakers, artists, activists and scholars have been attending to old and emerging models for articulating transness: models which make strategic use of the visual, while rejecting the demand for “visibility.” Grounded in the insights produced at the intersections of trans studies and film theory, this course focuses on cinematic figurations of trans life as it is constituted by a range of perceptual, social, technological, and ecological practices. While transness is central in the course materials, students are encouraged to make insights and critical connections that are meaningful to them. As the scholar Eva Hayward reminds us, “To some degree, being trapped in a body is an existential crisis for all of us, trans or not.”(2)
This course fulfills the first component of Berkeley’s Reading and Composition requirement. It is designed to introduce students to the practice of college-level writing in the humanities, with a focus on the particular skill sets required for writing about visual media. Students should come away with an ability to use the vocabulary of film production and scholarship to compose clear and robust descriptions of the medium’s narratological and formal elements, and to compose original, critical, and persuasive analytic responses to film texts. The work we do in our writing is not that of making and defending an argument, but of drawing out and taking seriously that which, in film texts and spectatorial experience, is ambiguous, opaque, or unstable. As such, the course encourages students to make use of their own critical impulses – how, when we attend closely to texts, they take on unfamiliar and intriguing qualities. Through rigorous writing exercises and guided class discussions, we will develop these impulses into creative and dexterous movement between query, observation, analysis, and critique.
1 Steinmetz, Kathy. “The Transgender Tipping Point.” Time, June 09, 2014, https://time.com/135480/transgender-tipping-point/. Accessed 20 June 2022.
2 Hayward, Eva. “Spiderwomen.” Trap Door: Trans Cultural Production and the Politics of Representation, The MIT Press, 2017, pp. 273.