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Out of Time

Desire in Atemporal Cinema

2011
Author:

Todd McGowan

Out of Time

A new temporal aesthetic in films such as Memento, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, 2046, and The Hangover

In Out of Time, Todd McGowan takes as his starting point the emergence of a temporal aesthetic in cinema that arose in response to the digital era. Linking developments in cinema to current debates within philosophy, McGowan claims that films that change the viewer’s relation to time constitute a new cinematic mode: atemporal cinema.

With its unique mixture of detailed apercus and large synthetic visions, Todd McGowan’s new book will finally establish him as the leading U.S. cinema theorist. Out of Time elicits in me as a fellow writer not only admiration but envy—why didn’t I write that? How could I have missed that point? But my envy is mixed with hope: with writers like McGowan, the future of cinema studies is safe!

Slavoj Zizek

In Out of Time, Todd McGowan takes as his starting point the emergence of a temporal aesthetic in cinema that arose in response to the digital era. Linking developments in cinema to current debates within philosophy, McGowan claims that films that change the viewer’s relation to time constitute a new cinematic mode: atemporal cinema.

In atemporal cinema, formal distortions of time introduce spectators to an alternative way of experiencing existence in time—or, more exactly, a way of experiencing existence out of time. McGowan draws on contemporary psychoanalysis, particularly Jacques Lacan, to argue that atemporal cinema unfolds according to the logic of the psychoanalytic notion of the drive rather than that of desire, which has conventionally been the guiding concept of psychoanalytic film studies.

Despite their thematic diversity, these films distort chronological time with a shared motivation: to reveal the logic of repetition. Like psychoanalysis, McGowan contends, the atemporal mode locates enjoyment in the embrace of repetition rather than in the search for the new and different.

Out of Time

Todd McGowan is associate professor of film studies at the University of Vermont. He is the author of The Impossible David Lynch and The Real Gaze: Film Theory after Lacan.

Out of Time

With its unique mixture of detailed apercus and large synthetic visions, Todd McGowan’s new book will finally establish him as the leading U.S. cinema theorist. Out of Time elicits in me as a fellow writer not only admiration but envy—why didn’t I write that? How could I have missed that point? But my envy is mixed with hope: with writers like McGowan, the future of cinema studies is safe!

Slavoj Zizek

Todd McGowan theorizes a recent moment in film history when the question of temporality is reformulated in new and unexpected ways. He describes these ‘atemporal’ films through a sequence of astonishingly brilliant readings, guided by his strong, clear grasp of psychoanalytic theory, in an account of an important trend in contemporary cinema. Moreover, McGowan’s analysis opens up fundamental questions concerning the relationship of art and temporality more generally, and as such will be of compelling interest to a wide range of philosophers, critical theorists, and art critics.

Kenneth Reinhard, UCLA

Well researched, compelling.

Choice

An impressive and conceptually ambitious book, which renders an array of complex, interconnected ideas in clear and readable terms.

JUMP CUT

The overall argument of the book is scrupulously fine-tuned and exhaustively supported by the wide range of filmic evidence he amasses and explains. The introduction alone ought to be required reading for any student of contemporary cinema and theory. Each of the subsequent substantive chapters offers skillfully detailed shot, scene, and structural analyses in the service of the book’s central thesis about atemporality and the drive; no chapter taken in isolation could read as anything less than an analytic breakthrough.

Film-Philosophy Journal

Out of Time

Preface
Acknowledgments
Introduction: The Origins of the Atemporal Film
1. Temporality after The End of Time in Pulp Fiction
2. Not the Worst of All Possible Worlds: Sacrificing the Object in Butterfly Effect
3. Eternity without Sunshine: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and the Hopelessness of Love
4. The Path to Politics in The Constant Gardener
5. “Something Is Lost”: The Ethics of Absolute Negativity in 21 Grams
6. Timeless in Space: Placing Eternity in 2046
7. Affirmation of the Lost Object: Peppermint Candy and the End of Progress
8. The Temporal Flight from Trauma: Irréversible and the Critique of Experience
Conclusion: An Infinite Memento
Notes
Index

Out of Time

Blog post: The Timeless Christopher Nolan

Many of Christopher Nolan’s films qualify as examples of what I call atemporal cinema. I explain this concept at length in Out of Time, but in short, it covers films that break from linear chronology in order to emphasize the repetition of the psychoanalytic drive. In the drive, the future does not provide the promise of desire’s realization but rather a repeated failure to attain its object. By scrambling chronology, atemporal films make evident this failure for the spectator and thus encourage the spectator to embrace the repetition of the drive rather than put their faith in a different future. Though Nolan’s Inception appeared too recently to make it into the book, this film fits well within the atemporal mode.

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