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Eugenie Brinkema on Radical Formalism and <em>The Human Centipede</em>

Last Friday, another installment of the Arthemis Series brought MIT’s Dr. Eugenie Brinkema to Concordia for a lecture on “Violence and the Diagram (Or, The Human Centipede).” After the enthusiastic reception of Brinkema’s first book last year, The Forms of Affects, many in the academic community have eagerly awaited her new work.

Brinkema’s current project is one of self-described radical formalism, distinct from the terrain of neo-formalism long familiar to our discipline. By returning to Deleuze’s writing on the diagram, along with Levinas and a bit of Foucault, Brinkema aims to reconnect affect and sensation to form and structure, aptly described as “an algebra of sensation.” After providing a pliable taxonomy of horror films, violence of consumption versus violence of digestion, Brinkema grounded her presentation in The Human Centipede’s use of the diagram to horrify Dr. Heiter’s unwilling experimental subjects (and probably most of the audience too). Brinkema posited that as a technique of representation, the simplistic diagram of black, red, and white space holds an affective power that the actual thing itself does not. In its decomposition and sequencing of elements, Dr. Heiter’s diagram underscores the thematization of graphic horror in The Human Centipede. Of course Brinkema’s theorization extends far beyond the modest notes above – further reading is highly recommended.

Throughout Brinkema’s lecture, she shared clips from both Tom Six’s The Human Centipede (First Sequence) (2009) and his slightly more obscure sequel The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence) (2011) – fyi, The Human Centipede III (Final Sequence) is due to come out later this year and promises a centipede made up of 500 prison inmates. These clips, while thought provoking, seemed to induce a certain amount of palpable squirminess and adverted glances. At any rate, it was a truly unique experience to attend an academic lecture that so engrossed the body alongside the mind, but then again maybe this writer is just a bit of a wimp.

A lively Q&A session followed Brinkema’s talk dealing with issues such as the distinction between care and love (in the particular context of horror), which aligned love more with sequentiality and violence than care. Other questions addressed the relevance of Arnheim to Brinkema’s project. An engaging speaker, Brinkema generously fielded complex questions with warpspeed critical reflection and openness to critique. In addition to her lively style of presentation, Brinkema’s rigorous theoretical scholarship stands to open up new potentialities for contemporary studies of affect, formalism, and the horror genre. The philosophical implications of Brinkema’s work are – to say the very least – exciting. I am surely not the only attendee who left the latest Arthemis lecture with a major rethinking of the graphic horror film.

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