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Esther Leslie (1964 - )

Related: academic - UK

Academy Zappa : Proceedings of the First International Conference of Esemplastic Zappology (2005) - Ben Watson, Esther Leslie [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]




Critical Theory goes Zappa on the web site of British philosopher Esther Leslie and her colleague Ben Watson. It is funny and serious at the same time. If this disturbs you, remember that's exactly their objective. And really, it's worth a try, if only because of Leslie's papers on Walter Benjamin and Leslie's and Watson's observations on punk in Wolverhampton. --http://www.militantesthetix.co.uk/, by way of soundscapes, 2003, Oct 18; 09:23

Esther Leslie on the Arcades Project

The Arcades Project was an encyclopaedic project on which Walter Benjamin worked for thirteen years from 1927 until his death in 1940. The Arcades Project takes its name from a nineteenth century architectural form. It also borrows its structure from that same architectural form. Arcades were passages through blocks of buildings, lined with shops and other businesses. Montaged iron and glass constructions housed chaotic juxtapositions of shop-signs, window displays of commodities, mannequins and illuminations. As the nineteenth century gives way to the twentieth century, montage moves from being a prescript of construction in technology to art and literature: from the Eiffel Tower to Dada and surrealism to the city novels of Alfred Döblin, John Dos Passos, James Joyce and others. Montage construction treats its material elements as contrasting segments that must be bolted together for maximum impact. In architecture this might lead to a dramatic exoskeleton, a whole building built up from small parts whose connectedness is on display. In textual form this means fragments, apercus, swift shifts of thought, the establishment of relationship between disparate objects, across a whole environment. For the Arcades Project Walter Benjamin organised the thousands of index cards on which he transcribed quotations and notations into files, called Konvolute. He developed a system of cross-referencing.

The files comprised a vast array of interlinked scraps. When Benjamin fled Paris he gave over his collected notes of the Arcades Project to Georges Bataille, librarian at the National Library in Paris. He hid them well. He might have hoped to return one day to complete his researches. But completion was itself an issue. Gretel Adorno once joked that Benjamin inhabited the ‘cavelike depths’ of the Arcades Project and did not want to complete it ‘because you feared having to leave what you built’.

Indeed the endeavour remained uncompleted, interrupted by Benjamin’s death, and so his map of the nineteenth century was only partially drafted. And so the definite significance of each passage is impossible to guess. The only certain point is that the elements were selected from the books and archives of the Bibliotheque Nationale, but in final form they would have been organised in a way that remains only inferable. Perhaps they might always have remained as a montage of found materials interspersed with occasional comment. Benjamin states in his file on methodology:

Method of this project: literary montage. I needn’t say anything. Merely show. I shall purloin no valuables, appropriate no ingenious formulations. But the rags, the refuse - these I will not inventory but allow, in the only way possible, to come into their own: by making use of them.
--Esther Leslie via http://www.militantesthetix.co.uk/waltbenj/yarcades.html [Feb 2005]

Hollywood Flatlands: Animation, Critical Theory, and the Avant-Garde (2002) - Esther Leslie

  • Hollywood Flatlands: Animation, Critical Theory, and the Avant-Garde (2002) - Esther Leslie [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]
    A broad, elegantly-crafted survey of the ironic links between the European avant-garde and the US cartoon industry. --Norman M. Klein

    Brash and erudite, Hollywood Flatlands treats animated cartoons as an avant-garde taste and anti-illusionism as a Modernist problematic. --This text refers to the Paperback edition. --London Review of Books

    With ruminations on drawing, color and caricature, on the political meaning of fairy-tales, talking animals and human beings as machines, Hollywood Flatlands brings to light the links between animation, avant-garde art and modernist criticism. Focusing on the work of aesthetic and political revolutionaries of the inter-war period, Esther Leslie reveals how the animation of commodities can be studied as a journey into modernity in cinema. She looks afresh at the links between the Soviet Constructivists and the Bauhaus, for instance, and those between Walter Benjamin and cinematic abstraction. She also provides new interpretations of the writings of Siegfried Kracauer on animation, shows how Theodor Adorno's and Max Horkheimer's film viewing affected their intellectual development, and reconsiders Sergei Eisenstein's famous handshake with Mickey Mouse at Disney's Hyperion Studios in 1930. 10 color and 30 b/w photographs. --amazon.com

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