Franco Moretti Public Lectures, KCL

Professor Franco Moretti (Stanford University) will be Visiting Professor of Comparative Literature at King’s College London in June, 2017. As part of his visit he will give two public lectures. Details below. These events are free and open to the public, but registration is required. Details can be found here.

Lecture 1:

June 7, 2017. 17:00. Anatomy Lecture Theatre, King’s Building, King’s College London.

Totentanz. Operationaliziong Aby Warburg’s Pathosformel

The object of this study is one of the most ambitious projects of twentieth-century art history: Aby Warburg’s Atlas Mnemosyne, conceived in the summer of 1926 – when the first mention of a Bilderatlas, or “atlas of images”, occurs in his journal – and truncated three years later, unfinished, by his sudden death in October 1929.  Mnemosyne consisted in a series of large black panels, on which were attached about 1,000 black-and-white photographs of paintings, sculptures, book pages, stamps, newspaper clippings, tarot cards, coins, and other types of images. For Warburg, these thousand images were connected by morphological similarity and historical continuity. But the texts that accompany Mnemosyne are few and short, and the logic of his gigantic montage remains unclear. Often compared to Benjamin’s Passagenwerk, Warburg’s work is, in truth, much more elusive. One thread to orient oneself in the maze is however offered by the concept of the Pathosformel, or formula for (the expression of) passion. Turning this concept into a series of quantitative measurements – “operationalising” Pathosformeln – throws a new light on Warburg’s project, and opens the possibility to further develop it.

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Lecture 2:

June 21, 2017. 18:00. Edmond J. Safra Lecture Theatre, King’s Building, King’s College London.

Day and Night. On the counterpoint of Western and film noir

A first image: Ford’s stagecoach is in the midst of its journey; we see the uneven terrain, the rocks of Monument Valley, the distant horizon, the clouds in the sky (Stagecoach, 1939). It’s the long shot that is typical of the Western: a landscape so vast, it dwarfs the human beings within it; the remote, “alien” space of the Frontier, “which had been in its time as uncanny a place for pioneers as a moonscape might be”. A second image: Barbara Stanwyck and Fred McMurray are meeting to plan their next moves against the insurance company (Double Indemnity, 1944); the setting is a perfectly familiar supermarket interior; customers walk by, a woman buys some baby formula, a janitor pushes a cart; boxes, cans, shelves; a cramped space, made even more so by the close-up typical of the film noir. But closeness doesn’t bring clarity: Stanwyck’s sunglasses make her expression completely unreadable (and things don’t improve when she later takes them off). In the Western, the opposite state of affairs: distance makes it often difficult to see – all those characters knitting their brows, trying to make sense of the figures moving far away – but it never generates ambiguity; one either sees, or does not. Daylight dominates; High Noon; a genre without shadows, en plein air, whose aesthetic conventions were more than ready to embrace color, as soon as it became technically available. Not so the noir, whose affinity to darkness – NightfallGaslightThe Night of the HunterThe Dark CornerThey Live by Night … – was enhanced by the thousand gradations of black and white film. Outdoor, diurnal, and distant, then; indoor, nightly, and close. Concave to convex. The structural antithesis of these two great post-war genres, and its historical significance, will be the subject of this talk.

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