Visual Alterity Abroad: Hegel through Birgit Hein's Baby I will Make You Sweat and La Moderna Poesia

Randall Halle


Foucault's discussion of the panopticon is the best-known engagement with visual epistemology, the relationship of sight and knowledge. Yet the panopticon is only one form of visual epistemology and all technologies of perspective position and situate their subjects.  As a colloquial statement of visual epistemology we might say: you are how you see. This essay focuses on the cinematic episteme or how the technology of cinema configures a way of seeing and way of knowing. Specifically this essay takes up a narrower question of visual alterity.  Beginning from Hegel's discussion of consciousness, it asks how within and through film we recognise our self and how can we see the other?

To carry out the analysis, the essay attends in particular to two films Baby I will Make You Sweat (1994) and La Moderna Poesia (2000) by experimental and underground artist Birgit Hein. These films combine incongruous and even conflicting representational strategies that particularly enable an exploration of visual alterity. Both films on the one hand narrate a highly subjective experience of self/other relations within the context of a travel narrative: a woman seeking to recapture some sense of life, travels to an unfamiliar destination, enters into new environments and takes up relationships, sometimes intimate, with strangers.  On the other hand they both rely on a form of aesthetic abstraction that leaves the film without renaissance perspective, panoptic organizing, shot-reverse shot, continuity editing, i.e. an of the typical representational strategies of alterity found in narrative films.


Hegel; Birgit Hein; Alterity; Subjectivity

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