Speaker: Emma Widdis, Professor in Russian and Film Studies, Trinity College, Cambridge
Discussant: Irina Sandormirskaja, Professor in Cultural Studies, CBEES
In The Third Manuscript of 1844, Karl Marx suggested provocatively that the end of private property (socialism) would bring about an “emancipation of the senses.” In his view, capitalism creates a rupture between the human body and the world: hence, capitalist senses are impoverished. Socialist revolution then must, and would, create socialist senses; the human subject would gain a heightened sensory appreciation of the material world. Revolution would be felt—and lived—through the body.
This ambition had particular resonance in Soviet Russia during the first decades after 1917. In this lecture, presenting her book Socialist Senses: Film, Feeling and the Soviet Subject, Emma Widdis will examine cinema’s role in this anticipated Soviet sensory revolution. Still a new medium in the early 20th century, film seemed able to discover the new Socialist world, and to show how to live in it. Filmmakers exploited the textures and surfaces of material on screen and experimented with film’s potent all-body impact on the spectator to provoke new, and specifically socialist, sensations.
Widdis will explore some of these “socialist sensations” through the figure of the craftsperson and will consider the ambivalent status of hands and handwork in the emerging Soviet revolutionary aesthetic. Alongside, and even within, these iconic Soviet “production” movies and their ubiquitous machines, we find potters, weavers, shoemakers, and carpenters. Why was the traditional “maker” a starting point in the search for a newly sensate model of human subjectivity?
Professor Emma Widdis teaches 20th century Russian and Soviet literature and culture. She also teaches widely on Russian and Soviet cinema (in its full historical range), and in the theory of cinema, with particular focus on film and the city/space, and film and the senses.
In broad terms, Professor Widdis is interested in the relationship between culture and ideology in the early Soviet period. Her research focuses in particular on Russian and Soviet cinema before 1953, and she also works extensively on visual culture, architecture and design, and popular science.
Her recent book, Socialist Senses, traces film’s part in the Soviet project for the 'reeducation of the senses'. Recent publications emerging from this research include: 'Socialist Senses: Film and the Creation of Soviet Subjectivity', Slavic Review (2012); and 'Making Sense without Speech: Silence in Early Soviet Sound Film', in Sound, Speech, Music in Soviet and Post-Soviet Cinema (Kaganovsky and Salazkina eds, 2014).