Your cart is empty.

Ecologies of the Moving Image

Cinema, Affect, Nature

By Adrian J. Ivakhiv
Subjects Cultural Studies, Ethnography, Film & Media, Environmental Studies
Series Environmental Humanities Hide Details
Paperback : 9781554589050, 435 pages, July 2013
Ebook (EPUB) : 9781554589074, 435 pages, October 2013


Excerpt from Ecologies of the Moving Image: Cinema, Affect, Nature by Adrian J. Ivakhiv


The world around us contains a wild phantasmagoria of images. Put more provocatively: the world around us is a wild phantasmagoria of images. We live and move in a world that swirls with tempestuous currents made of a kind of audiovisual image-substance. Photographs, films and television programs, videos and computer games – these and other moving images blend and mix with images of the external and internal worlds produced by a global array of instruments, from satellites that face down at us, to telescopes that face away from us, to MRIs, EEGs, and ultrasound sonographs that face into us, to the personal computers, cell phones, and iPads that have become our bodily and mental extensions. Together these make up imagescapes full of motion. These images move us, and we move with them. And as we do, we may realize that we too are moving images, seen and heard and perceived by others who are seen and heard and perceived by us. A world increasingly filled with moving images has remade itself into a world of moving images.

This book examines how images move us. It is not a treatise on the physics of this movement, nor is it an ethnography of ourselves in the midst of these currents. It is not particularly concerned with distinguishing between images and the supposedly "real things" represented, signified, or perhaps masked by those images. Rather, this book steps back from the immersive imageworlds in which we live in order to get a sense of what the moving image is and of what one particular history of it – the cinematic – can tell us today, at this juncture between a photographic and celluloid past and a digital future. "Cinema" refers to one form of moving image, a form that consists of structured sequences viewed by audiences and that emerged in a particular time and place (industrial-era Europe and North America) and has captivated the world over the course of the past twelve decades.

This book presents an ecophilosophy of the cinema. My goal is to think through the ecological implications of the moving images – films, videos, animations, and motion pictures of various kinds – that have proliferated in our world since the late nineteenth century. The "eco" in its philosophy does not restrict itself to the material impacts of the production of those images. It also delves into their social and perceptual effects. This book is about how moving images have changed the ways we grasp and attend to the world in general – a world of social and ecological relations – and about how we might learn to make them do that better.

This project is an ecophilosophy in the sense that it develops a philosophical framework for reconceiving our relations with moving images. This framework is intended to be pragmatic and empirical, rooted in actual experience, but it is also metaphysically speculative and radical in its implications. The works of the two philosophers on whom I draw most deeply, Charles Sanders Peirce and Alfred North Whitehead, have never to my knowledge been brought together for the task of a detailed analysis of cinematic images. To this combination, I bring insights from a broad array of other sources. These include the ideas of other philosophers, such as Henri Bergson, Martin Heidegger, Gilles Deleuze, and Félix Guattari, and a range of post-Deleuzian thinkers; as well as cultural historians' and geographers' studies of visuality and landscape, ecocritics' analyses of representations of nature and the "ecological sublime," feminist and post-colonial critiques of the "imperial gaze", cognitive and neuropsychological studies of affect and perception, neo-Marxist theorizations of film's political economies, and the work of scholars in animal studies, trauma studies, psychoanalysis, and depth psychology, among other fields.

In its essence, this book proposes and applies a model of cinema that I refer to as "process-relational." Such a model sees the world as consisting of relational processes' socio-semiotic-material events, encounters, and interactions that produce and reproduce the world anew in every moment. Of the modern art forms, I suggest that it is cinema – the art of the moving image – that comes closest to depicting reality itself, because reality is always in motion, always in a process of becoming. Cinema not only mirrors and represents reality but also shadows, extends, reshapes, and transforms it. Describing how cinema does this, and how different kinds of cinematic works do it in different ways, is the task of this book.

This book's argument takes its structure from American philosopher C. S. Peirce's categorization of things into their "firstness," "secondness," and "thirdness." Respectively, these refer, at their most basic, to a thing as it is in itself, which is its purely qualitative potency – or, in Peirce's words, its firstness; a thing in its actual, causal and existential relation with another thing – its secondness; and a relation between these two as mediated by a third so as to form an observation or logical or relational pattern – its thirdness. Following these three categories, the argument I present can be visualized as three interlocking rings, with each of the rings in turn consisting of three intertwined braids. The three rings correspond to (1) the film-world, which is the world that a film makes available to viewers; (2) the cinematic experience, which is the way that world is encountered by an actual viewer in the experience of watching and responding to a film; and (3) the context of socio-ecological relations within which a film is made, shared, encountered, and made sense of, and which is in turn changed by the experience.

Let us take these and break them down into further triads. Cinema, I argue, produces and discloses worlds. It is cosmomorphic: it provides for the morphogenesis, the coming into form, of worlds. Following Peirce's triadism, I distinguish among three dimensions of a film-world: its objectworld, which expresses cinema's "geomorphism," its taking on the form of a seemingly stable, material-like world that is there, given for agents like us to act within; its subject-world, which is its "œanthropomorphism," the world of those who are recognized – and who recognize themselves – as active subjects and agents shaping their lives within it; and its life-world, the "interperceptive" and "biomorphic" world of things that are lively and dynamic, that see and hear and respond to one another, and that are constituted by an interactive to and fro between subject- and object-making. This is the first ring of our three-ring circus. 1

The second ring, the cinematic experience, has three layers as well. There is, first, the thick immediacy of cinematic spectacle, the shimmering texture of image and sound as it strikes us and resounds in us viscerally and affectively; this is the moving image that moves us most immediately and directly. Second, there is the sequential unfolding of film's narrative "eventness," the one-thingafter- anotherness that we follow in order to find out what happens next and where it will lead. And third, there is the proliferation of meanings that arise once our already existing worlds are set into motion by what we see, hear, witness, and follow in watching a film or video. I call these three layers or dimensions cinema's spectacle, its sequentiality or narrativity, and its signness; and the results of each of these as they impact us are, respectively, the affective, the narrative, and the referential or semiotic.

The third ring consists of the ways in which cinema affects and interacts with the broader ecologies within which films and moving images are produced, consumed, and disposed of. These include cinema's material ecologies, such as the physical and biological relations necessary for the production of films and the material impacts of that production; and its social ecologies, namely, the social interactions that go into film production and the effects on society of depictions of social actors and groups. But they also include an intermediate realm that I call cinema's perceptual ecologies, a realm in which images and sounds, looks and listens, are exchanged and transmitted among the elements of a world that is communicative by its very nature. Each of these sets of ecologies has been radically altered as moving image media have become established as perhaps the most powerful currency of communication in our world.

This book, then, attempts to understand the nature of the worlds that cinema creates; the ways we are drawn into those worlds, cognitively and affectively, by following their lures and negotiating relations with them; and how those worlds relate to the extra-filmic world – the world that exists before cinema as well as alongside it, and one that continues to exist – albeit in a changed way – after cinema has done its work upon it.

An ethical imperative underlies the model of cinema presented here: the imperative to revivify our relationship to the world. In the second of his Cinema volumes, philosopher and cineaste Gilles Deleuze argued that the point of cinema is "to discover and restore belief in the world, before or beyond words."2 Cinema, Siegfried Kracauer said, is our way of "redeeming physical reality."3 The world as we experience it and the world as cinema portrays it are not two different things – they are many different things. But to the extent that a shared world underlies the many, that world calls for a different and more sensitive involvement on our part than that which industrial-capitalist modernity has promoted and practised for quite some time. In the readings of films that make up the bulk of this book – films that cover a broad spectrum, from westerns and road movies to science fiction blockbusters and art films to ethnographic and nature documentaries to animation and experimental films – I highlight films and film styles that have set precedents – and those that have challenged precedents – in the cinematic creation of object-worlds, subject-worlds, and life-worlds. I will be positing a specific synthesis of ideas and approaches by which we might think about film and the world and applying these ideas to the history of cinema.

This book is directed at several distinct audiences. I hope to entice other film theorists and critics to recognize the virtues of an approach to cinema that is ecological in its sensibility and that is rooted specifically in the process philosophies of Whitehead, Peirce, Deleuze, and others. I hope to entice other ecocritic – and environmentalists more generally – to think ontologically and philosophically and to grapple with cinema in more ambitious ways than they have typically done. I hope to attract students of diverse fields – including film, media, and cultural studies, as well as philosophy and environmental studies – to the task of thinking deeply about the relations among cinema, nature, and humanity. And I aim to satisfy those film lovers who simply want an interesting read about many films they have seen and some they have not seen, and who are willing to take up the intellectual challenge that any novel philosophical approach requires. If this book can provide new tools for taking up that challenge, then it will have succeeded.

Table of contents

Table of Contents for Ecologies of the Moving Image: Cinema, Affect, Nature, by Adrian J. Ivakhiv



1. Introduction: Journeys into the Zone of Cinema

Two perspectives on the visual | The cinema as cosmomorphic, or world making: geomorphic, biomorphic, and anthropomorphic | Stalker as paradigm: Tracking the cinema, stalking the psyche | The argument | Overview of the chapters

2. Ecology, Morphology, Semiosis: A Process-Relational Account of Cinema

The three ecologies of images: material, social, perceptual | Process-relational ontology | Perceptual ecologies: How we get drawn into the cinematic world | Peircean semiosis: firstness, secondness, and thirdness | Spectacle, narrativity, and signness | Scenes, episodes, and cinematic impact

3. Territory: The Geomorphology of the Visible

Geomorphism in life and in image | An initial typology | Picturing "nature": Landscape aesthetics as socio-natural production | Anchoring the filmic world | Staking claims and territorializing identities: Making the West | Dovzhenko's cinematic pantheism | Nature, holism, and the eco-administrative state | Industry, existential landscapes, and the firstness of things | Post-westerns, pantheism, and the ecological sublime | Kinetic landscapes, the exhilaration of movement, and the differentiation of space | Cinematic tourism, object fetishism, and the global landscape | Enframing the world, or expanding perception? | "Burn but his books": Deconstructing the gaze from both ends

4. Encounter: First Contact, Utopia, and the Becoming of Another

The ethnographic paradigm | Nanook/Allakariallak and the two-way gaze | King Kong's imperial gaze: From ethnographic to cinematic spectacle | Upriver journeys, hearts of darkness, and contact zones | Beyond first contact | Cinematic holism, auto-ethnography, and visual sovereignty | From the deconstruction of reality to its reflexive reconstruction | Green identities: images of choice, hope, struggle, and community

5. Anima Moralia: Journeys Across Frontiers

Pointing, seeing, gazing | Animating the image, imaging the animate | Writing, seeing, and faking nature | Making nature: inter-natural coproductions | Animation, plasmaticness, and Disney | Boundary traffic: seeing, being seen, and the horror of crossing over | Animal by analogy: penguins and family values | Individual crossings: Bittner's birds, Treadwell's bears | Sheer becomings: one or several types of packs | Boundary strategies: ethics of the contact zone

6. Terra and Trauma: The Geopolitics of the Real

Recapitulation of the argument | Trauma and the imagination of disaster | Strange weather, network narratives, and the traumatic event | The sublime and the Real | The eco-imaginary in post-9/11 culture | Political ecologies in three dimensions and more | Avatar's eco-apocalyptic Zone | Toward a Peircian synthesis: aesthetics, ethics, and ecologics of the image-event | Ecology, time, and the image | Ecophilosophical cinema: moving images on a moving planet

Afterword: Digital Futures in a Biosemiotic World

Appendix: Doing Process-Relational Media Analysis




Moving images take us on mental and emotional journeys, over the course of which we and our worlds undergo change. This is the premise of Ecologies of the Moving Image, which accounts for the ways cinematic moving images move viewers in ways that reshape our understanding of ourselves, of life, and of the Earth and universe.

This book presents an ecophilosophy of the cinema: an account of the moving image in relation to its lived ecologies—the material, social, and perceptual relations within which movies are produced, consumed, and incorporated into cultural life. Cinema, Adrian Ivakhiv argues, lures us into its worlds, but those worlds are grounded in a material and communicative Earth that supports them, even if that supporting materiality withdraws from visibility. Ivakhiv examines the geographies, visualities, and anthropologies—relations of here and there, seer and seen, us and them, human and inhuman—found across a range of styles and genres, from ethnographic and wildlife documentaries to westerns and road movies, and from sci-fi blockbusters and eco-disaster films to the experimental and art films of Tarkovsky, Herzog, Greenaway, Malick, Dash, and Brakhage as well as YouTube’s expanding audiovisual universe.

Through its process-relational account of cinema, drawn from philosophers such as Whitehead, Peirce, and Deleuze, the book boldly enriches our understanding of film and visual media.


  • Runner-up, Alanna Bondar Memorial Book Prize 2017


"The publication of Adrian J. Ivakhiv's Ecologies of the Moving Image marks an important moment in the development of ecocritical film studies. . .. Ivakhiv's book surveys and synthesizes a vast number of critical perspectives and systematically and intelligently analyzes a staggering array of primary texts. .. Ivakhiv's book will come to be viewed as required reading for the growing ranks of ecocinema scholars. "

- Bart Welling, ISLE

"This is a rich book that I feel is only beginning to reveal its significance to me. "

- Niall Flynn, University of Lincoln, Cinema: Journal of Philosophy and the Moving Image

"not only develop[s] a form of ecocriticism appropriate to cinema, but several different strands of philosophy and film theory are also brought together into a structure that represents a general theory of cinema. . .. There are thus two projects underway in this book: one to give an account of how the 'world-making' of cinema connects materially to the world through the 'vectors' of perception, and the other to identify and give an account of films that have historically advanced this understanding of the world as in a continuous process of flux. The two together generate three separately enjoyable products: (1) a history of classic films seen from the perspective of ecological awareness, (2) an ecological ontology of cinema, and (3) a history of ideas knitting together a significant strand of philosophy and film theory building up to an ecology of cinema. "

- Helen Hughes, Film-Philosophy

"Adrian Ivakhiv makes a major contribution to eco-film studies and film philosophy by proposing a process-relational theory of cinemas. The first two chapters give a lengthy exposition of the book's theoretical and philosophical position. Central to a process-relational approach to cinema is the idea that "a film is what a film does" (48). This includes the complex interaction of several processes, "from its making to its viewing to its after-effects, including its reverberation in viewer's perceptions, sensations, conversations, motivations, and attunements to one thing or another in the social and material fields that constitute the world" (48). A. N. Whitehead's process philosophy and Charles Peirce's tripartite phenomenological theory of semiotics provide a complex vocabulary to understand the way cinema creates worlds. ... A useful Appendix gives a bullet-pointed summary of its main points and lists pertinent questions that students can ask of a given film in order to do process-relational media analysis. ... Ivakhiv's film analysis is superbly researched and insightfully synthesises existing criticism of his chosen films with his Peircian conceptual framework. ... The range of reference make it indispensable for anyone interested in studying film from an ecocritical perspective. ''

- David Ingram, Green Letters: Studies in Ecocriticism, 19/1

"A capacious and authoritative ecophilosophy of the cinema [. ..] build[s] a theoretical framework for understanding the power of cinema both to reveal 'the world' and to create new ways of seeing that world. [. ..] Ivakhiv's grasp of ecocinema as a body of work is truly impressive. It would be hard to find a film with any hint of an environmental theme that he does not mention and discuss. "

- Joni Adamson, Arizona State University, JSRNC

"Reflecting the interdisciplinarity within environmental humanities, Ivakhiv impressively draws upon a century of film history, as well as critical scholarship from anthropology and geography to discuss an astonishing array of films, including ethnographies, wildlife films, blockbuster science fiction and action cinemas, experimental and essay films, digital cinema, documentaries, animated films, Westerns, road movies, and European art films. . .. offers a timely and significant meditation on the material realities of moving images and the shared connections between humans and non-humans which surround them, to the benefit of scholars and graduate students alike. "

- Rachel Webb Jekanowski, The Journal of Ecocriticism

"Adrian Ivakhiv's Ecologies of the Moving Image: Cinema, Affect, Nature (2013) is a book that pushes beyond conventional reflections on film and environmental thought. It is, significantly, a book where 'the conceptual' and 'the material' enter into co-productive relationships in and through Ivakhiv's examination of cinema and the worlds it creates. ... Its scale and scope exceed the purview of the humanities and offers far-reaching conceptual and methodological insights of interest to anyone attempting to make sense of our contemporary environmental condition. "

- Harlan Morehouse, Society and Space

". .. an exquisite, complex journey through film's capacity to produce worlds [. ..] an intricate, historically comprehensive edition. "

- Edie Steiner, The Goose

"Ivakhiv, a leading light in the emerging eco-critical film studies, wraps two themes around each other, the cinema of and as ecology. His concern is with how cinema produces worlds, lives, and human subjects intricately implicated in the processes of Earth. Marrying Whitehead, Peirce, and Deleuze with eco-philosophy, Ivakhiv gives us a rich, eloquent, wide-ranging, and moving account of movement: as world, as cinema, and as hope. "

- Sean Cubitt, Goldsmiths, University of London

"Ecologies of the Moving Image is an ambitious book, and a capacious and satisfying one. In addressing 'the wild phantasmagoria of images' among which we live today, Ivakhiv gives us an account that is at once systematic and brimming with rich detail. Moving-image forms both render imaginative worlds to us and help to constitute the world we live in; this book gives us a brilliant process-relational account of both of these dimensions of media experiences."

- Steven Shaviro, DeRoy Professor of English, Wayne State University