Monday March 8th will mark the 110th celebration of International Women’s Day, and we have an excellent recommendation for how you can mark the occasion. Dr. Kelli Fuery, Associate Professor of Film Studies at Dodge College and CCI Affiliated Faculty, is hosting a talk inspired by the subject matter in her latest book, Ambiguous Cinema: Simone de Beauvoir and Feminist Film Phenomenology forthcoming 2022 and everyone is welcome to attend! The title of the talk is The Dark Weight of Other Things’: Examining Beauvoir’s Ethics of Ambiguity in Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir. While Dr. Fuery’s book analyzes Beauvoir’s work in relation to many daring feminist filmmakers, as the title implies this talk will specifically focus on applying Beauvoir’s theory of ambiguity to Joanna Hogg’s semi-autobiographical film, The Souvenir, currently streaming on Amazon Prime, if you want to get a quick viewing in before Monday’s talk.
Dr. Fuery is just back from sabbatical and chose to write this book during that time because of one particular lecture that stuck with her.
“I was in a film theory class a year or two ago and was talking about the gaze in cinema, which is a way of addressing power relations and systems of thought through the act of looking. I wanted to talk about Beauvoir's ideas on the look because they preceded Laura Mulvey’s ideas on the male gaze,” Fuery said. “I had expected students to ask for clarification about Beauvoir's ideas, what she meant by ambiguity or other things, but instead they asked me ‘Who is Simone de Beauvoir?' and that really took me by surprise because I had just assumed that people just knew who she was. So, I started to dig a little deeper and I realized that there is very little work that looks closely at Beauvoir’s phenomenology in relation to cinema, which is crazy because she loved cinema.”
While Fuery wanted to explore Beauvoir’s ideas, she also wanted to expand upon them and put them in conversation with other scholars. Beauvoir was a white, French woman and Fuery didn’t want to limit her exploration to that narrow scope.
“I think it would have been a real failure of the book if I just looked at Beauvoir and just took her ideas and just looked at them through film,” Fuery said. “So what I’ve done in each chapter is set up the beginning with Beauvoir and her ideas, but then as the chapters go on I’ve put Beauvoir in conversation with women who have come after her that offer a different perspective. So by the time you hit the chapter on the African American filmmaker Cheryl Dunye, I’m putting her in conversation with black feminist scholars. It is important not to fetishize our influences and idols. Beauvoir certainly didn’t get everything right! Yet it is important to acknowledge that her philosophical writings are the foundation for a significant amount of scholarship that exists today. In Ambiguous Cinema, I put her ideas along with other feminist phenomenologists to extend and develop her ideas in more productive ways.”
It was important for Dr. Fuery to be able to frame Beauvoir’s ideas in this context because she says that history is not a stable and finished entity. It constantly needs to be examined and rewritten, and she’s contributing to that re-write with her work.
“History in itself is a regulatory practice. Certain stories get repeated throughout history and if we continue to repeat those as truth then we land ourselves in a lot of hot water,” she said. “Women’s history isn’t just about looking at all the women who have come before us, of course that’s important, but it should be a constant re-evaluation of what histories have been ignored. For example, women’s history at one point in time might have just looked at all of the white feminists that had come before and told those stories and those movements, but I think now we’re at a point in time where we have to both rethink what is meant by the term women, what the situations of women are today, and how these things, combined, inform a larger sense of women’s history.”
Though her talk is on International Women’s day, Fuery is excited to not only celebrate women, but also to continue the ongoing conversation of feminist issues and the political and social systems that impact women.
“Women’s history to me is a time for celebration for sure, but it’s also a time to rethink and ask ‘are we doing everything that we can do for everyone who identifies as women,’” Fuery said. “ It’s really important work and it comes down to one of the things that Beauvoir was all about, which is human freedom and the ethical responsibilities and actions involved in realizing that freedom.” Beauvoir’s ideas emphasized that philosophy on its own isn’t enough. It wasn’t just about abstract thinking for the fun of it, but it was important for her to be able to put ideas to practical use. There was no point in having a philosophy for her unless you were putting it into action and that action was dependent on recognizing others and being ethical towards others.
The process of recognizing untold stories and hidden histories is one important part of the creative and cultural industries. CCI is always adapting to the shifting social and cultural tides of our world. Oftentimes the most important conversations to be had around deeply complex issues, like identity politics and the freedom of others, are directly linked to creativity. Dr. Fuery uses the term creativity in the psychoanalytic sense to refer to the capacity to think and process difficult lived experiences.
“If we take the idea of adaptability as a central and vital component of CCI, then we have to recognize that systems of thought are what either shift, change, influence the way in which creative industries themselves evolve,” Fuery said. “And we need to recognize that in order to influence the evolution of creative industries, we need to do what I’ve been talking about, which is recognize all the people that are being ignored or negated…. The more academic work can identify this and speak about that, then it can filter into universities and the people who are studying CCI and then as they go into the industry they can recognize that there’s a gap.”
Dr. Fuery hopes that by the end of her talk attendees will have a greater understanding of Simone de Beauvoir’s formative concept of ambiguity and be excited to watch more films by independent women filmmakers.
“A lot of people like to have the three act structure, they like to have a happy ending, and I think a happy ending is bad faith. If we always want a happy ending then we are living a life that’s a lie because a happy ending in life is not a truth. The more we think life ends with a happy ending, the more we are doing ourselves a disservice,” Fuery said. “I think that’s what continues a lot of the dissatisfaction and alienation within people in life. It increases anxiety in people. If we saw more films that showed life as it is and existing in many different ways that navigate difficult emotional experience, I think we would see a more tolerant, more open society.”
Please join us as we attend ‘The Dark Weight of Other Things’: Examining Beauvoir’s Ethics of Ambiguity in Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir’, this incredibly interesting and significant talk by Dr. Kelli Fuery on Monday, March 8th from 2:30-3:30pm via zoom link: https://chapman.zoom.us/j/99981639942. This is a unique opportunity to hear her expound on Beauvoir’s idea of ambiguity in relation to independent women’s cinema, and a memorable way to celebrate and ruminate on what International Women’s Day encompasses in 2021.