Endless Intervals

Cinema, Psychology, and Semiotechnics around 1900

2022
Author:

Jeffrey West Kirkwood

Revealing cinema’s place in the coevolution of media technology and the human

Recovering largely forgotten and untranslated texts, Endless Intervals makes the case that cinema, rather than being a technology assaulting the psyche, is in fact the technology that produced the modern psyche. It considers the ways machines can create meaning, offering a fascinating theory of how the discontinuous intervals of soulless mechanisms ultimately produced a rich continuous experience of inner life.

Articulating a powerful and provocative challenge to received wisdom about early film and its relations to digital technologies, Endless Intervals situates analog cinema’s management of discrete images and operations as a necessary context for understanding contemporary debates over AI and its apparent ability to transform discontinuous states into continuous meaning. This is an important book that complicates neat media-historical narratives and media-theoretical distinctions alike.

Shane Denson, author of Discorrelated Images

Cinema did not die with the digital: it gave rise to it. According to Jeffrey West Kirkwood, the notion that digital technologies replaced analog obscures how the earliest cinema laid the technological and philosophical groundwork for the digital world. In Endless Intervals, he introduces a theory of semiotechnics that explains how discrete intervals of machines came to represent something like a mind—and why they were feared for their challenge to the uniqueness of human intelligence.

Examining histories of early cinematic machines, Kirkwood locates the foundations for a scientific vision of the psyche as well as the information age. He theorizes an epochal shift in the understanding of mechanical stops, breaks, and pauses that demonstrates how cinema engineered an entirely new model of the psyche—a model that was at once mechanical and semiotic, discrete and continuous, physiological and psychological, analog and digital.

Recovering largely forgotten and untranslated texts, Endless Intervals makes the case that cinema, rather than being a technology assaulting the psyche, is in fact the technology that produced the modern psyche. Kirkwood considers the ways machines can create meaning, offering a fascinating theory of how the discontinuous intervals of soulless mechanisms ultimately produced a rich continuous experience of inner life.

Cover alt text: Three stacked filmstrips with no images. Title, subtitle, and author appear on black borders separating blank frames.

Jeffrey West Kirkwood is associate professor of art history at Binghamton University and fellow at Cornell University’s Society for the Humanities. He is coeditor of Ernst Kapp’s Elements of a Philosophy of Technology (Minnesota, 2018).

Articulating a powerful and provocative challenge to received wisdom about early film and its relations to digital technologies, Endless Intervals situates analog cinema’s management of discrete images and operations as a necessary context for understanding contemporary debates over AI and its apparent ability to transform discontinuous states into continuous meaning. This is an important book that complicates neat media-historical narratives and media-theoretical distinctions alike.

Shane Denson, author of Discorrelated Images

Endless Intervals reinvents cinema genealogy to situate artificial intelligence and attention economies in the present. Jeffrey West Kirkwood innovatively reinterprets classic texts and films to shed light on how cinema birthed entirely new forms of thought and psychology, a legacy that continues to be of pressing importance to how we imagine and experience contemporary media.

Orit Halpern, coauthor of The Smartness Mandate

Contents

Introduction: Signifying Nothings

1. Engineering the Interval

2. The Semiotechnical Subject

3. Discrete Reading

4. The Technics of Bildung

5. The Cinema of Afflictions

Coda: Where the Intervals End

Acknowledgments

Notes

Index