Richard Baxstrom and Todd Meyers

Violence's Fabled Experiment

Baxstrom and Meyers examine how violence and an unmarked, stubbornly persistent conception of “nature” weave into the fabric of the human in the recent work of three important filmmakers. For Werner Herzog, the salience of prehistory links new cinematic formulations to a long Western tradition of metaphysics, marking man’s break with nature, his fall into consciousness and history, and his impossible effort to grasp the violence of his descent. In Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing and The Look of Silence, the display of seemingly “unrepresentable” violence rendered through reenactments of killings – performed by the original perpetrators against Indonesian “communists” in 1965–66 – operates according to logics of trauma and shame, advancing a troubling ontotheology that seeks to neutralize politics and ethics in favor of a vague, curative transcendence. And finally, the films of Lucien Castaing-Taylor offer a picture of nature as a radically open, colossally empty present – nature not as a domain of redemption or restoration for us, but something that overwhelms us, evades us, and crushes us in its path.

Richard Baxstrom is Senior Lecturer in Social Anthropology and co-director of Atelier: Creative Arts and the Social Sciences Network at the University of Edinburgh. He is the author of Realizing the Witch: Science, Cinema, and the Mastery of the Invisible (with Todd Meyers, Fordham University Press 2016) and Houses in Motion: The Experience of Place and the Problem of Belief in Urban Malaysia (Stanford University Press 2008). He is the co-editor of the journal Visual Culture in Britain.

Todd Meyers is Associate Professor of Anthropology and Director of the Center for Society, Health, and Medicine at New York University–Shanghai. He is the author of Experimente im Individuum: Kurt Goldstein und die Frage des Organismus (with Stefanos Geroulanos, August Verlag 2014) and The Clinic and Elsewhere: Addiction, Adolescents, and the Afterlife of Therapy (University of Washington Press 2013). He is co-editor of the Forms of Living book series at Fordham University Press.