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MA3059 Self-Representation

Tutor: Chris Townsend

Teaching: 20 hours Lectures 20 hours Seminars plus individual tutorials

Value: 1 unit

Availability: Autumn and Spring


This course explores the conception and representation of self-identity in filmic media (including video) since the invention of the camera. It is designed to introduce you to theoretical notions of subjectivity and differing modes of self-portraiture within mainstream filmmaking (Woody Allen), the filmic avant-garde (Jonas Mekas and Derek Jarman) and contemporary fine art (Tracey Emin) as well as in photography since the mid 19th century. Central to the theoretical concerns of the course are readings that extend the debate around the question of the self and identity from Martin Heidegger’s crucial Being and Time. These are primarily works by post-structuralist, metaphysical thinkers such as Emmanuel Levinas and the British philosopher Simon Critchley. At the heart of the course is not the question ‘who am I?’ but rather ‘what does it mean to say I?’

Part 1: The problem of the medium


1: Introductory lecture and overview: The history and theory of autobiography and the specificities of the filmic media



Barthes, R. Camera Lucida (Vintage Press, 1984)

2: “I am dead”: Hippolyte Bayard, Le noyé



Batchen, G. Burning with Desir: The Conception of Photography  (MIT Press, 1999)


3: The Imagination of Otherness: Heroin, Cruising and ‘Arthur Rimbaud in New York’



Risk, M. ‘Constructing Histories: David Wojnarowicz’s ‘Arthur Rimbaud in New York’ in Bright, D. (ed.) The Passionate Camera: Photography and Bodies of Desire (Routledge, 1998)

4: “I am somewhere else”: Francesca Woodman’s Photography



Townsend, C. Francesca Woodman (Phaidon, 2006)

5: Peter Campus: Disappearing into the blue screen



Three Transitions (Peter Campus, 1974)


Oswald, A.  ‘Two Sides of the Mirror: Three Transitions by Peter Campus’ in Herzogenrath, W. (ed.) Peter Campus: Analog +Digital Video + Foto 1970 – 2003 (Kunsthalle Bremen, 2003)

6: Reading week


Part 2: Membership of Communities


7:  Framing lecture



Levinas, E God, Death and Time (Stanford University Press, 2000)

Zizek, S. ‘Neighbors and Other Monsters: A Plea for Ethical Violence’ in The Neighbor (University of Chicago Press, 2005)

8: ‘I’ll Be Your Mirror”, Nan Goldin and Bohemia



Townsend, C. ‘All Tomorrow’s Parties’ in Noble, A. & Hughes, A. (eds.) Phototextualities: Intersections of Photography and Narrative (University of New Mexico Press, 2003)

9: My Neighbour the Monster: Masks, Identity and Death in Kentucky



Rhem, J. ‘The Structure and Politics of Lucybelle’ in Ralph Eugene Meatyard: The Family Album of Lucybelle Crater and other Figurative Portraits (DAP, 2002)

10: Jonas Mekas’s Bohemia



Walden (Jonas Mekas, 1969)


James, D. ‘Film Diary/Diary Film: Practice and Product in Walden’ in James, D. (ed.) To Free the Cinema: Jonas Mekas and the New York Underground (Princeton University Press, 1992)

11: Essay tutorials


Spring Term


Part Three: It’s Not About Me (Self-obsession)


12: Framing lecture



De Man, P. ‘Autobiography as Defacement’ in The Rhetoric of Romanticism (Columbia University Press, 1984) pp. 67-82

13: Tracey Emin



Why I Never Became a Dancer (Tracey Emin, 1995); How it Feels (Tracey Emin, 1996)


Townsend, C. ‘Heart of Glass: Reflection, Reprise and Riposte in Self-Representation’ in Merck, M. & Townsend, C. (eds.) The Art of Tracey Emin (Thames & Hudson, 2002) pp. 79-101

14: The City, Girls and Me…Woody Allen’s Romantic Vision of New York



Annie Hall (Woody Allen, 1977)


McCann, G. Woody Allen (Polity Press, 1990)

15: Screening:

The Gleaners and I (Agnes Varda, 2000)


Van Cauwenberge, G. ‘Portrait / Self-Portraiture in Varda's Documentaries’

16: Letters from your Mother



News from Home (Chantal Akerman, 1976)


Margulies, I. Nothing Happens: Chantal Akerman’s Hyperrealist Everyday (Duke University Press, 1996)

17: Reading week


Part Four: Death and Authenticity


18 Framing lecture



Heidegger, M. Being and Time (Blackwells, 1978)

Critchley, S. ‘Comedy and Finitude: Displacing the Tragic-Heroic Paradigm in Philosophy and Psychoanalysis’ in Ethics-Politics-Subjectivity: Essays on Derrida, Levinas and Contemporary French Thought (Verso, 1999)

19 Francis Bacon: Laying hold of the self?



Van Alphen, E. Francis Bacon and the Loss of Self  (Reaktion Books, 1992) pp. 59-94

Nancy, J-L. ‘Nous autres’ in The Ground of the Image (Fordham University Press, 2005)

20 The Body as Limit? Hannah Wilke’s Cancer Series



Jones, A. ‘The ‘Eternal Return’: Self-Portrait Photography as a Technology of Embodiment’ Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, Vol. 27, no. 4, pp. 947-978

21 The Screen as Limit?



Blue (Derek Jarman, 1994)


Townsend, C. Art and Death (I.B. Tauris, 2008)

22 Essay tutorials



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