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Image and Territory

Essays on Atom Egoyan

Edited by Monique Tschofen & Jennifer Burwell
Subjects Film & Media
Series Film and Media Studies Hide Details
Paperback : 9780889204874, 426 pages, October 2006


Excerpt from Image and Territory: Essays on Atom Egoyan edited by Monique Tschofen and Jennifer Burwell

From the Introduction

Throughout his career, Atom Egoyan has shown himself to possess the rarest kind of singularity. As Jonathan Romney puts it, Egoyan´s “preoccupations and tropes have been so consistent that he's practically created his own genre” (1995, 8). Hrag Vartanian adds,”Egoyanesque has become a word to film aficionados, commonly understood to mean a cinematic moment that examines sexuality, technology and alienation in the modern world” (2004). For this singularity, Egoyan is widely hailed as a true auteur­­someone carrying on the legacy of the European art-house traditions of Bergman, Godard, and Truffaut. Certainly, his work bears a most recognizable signature­­there is no confusing an Egoyan work with anyone else´s. Like his art-house predecessors, Egoyan clearly intends that his work be, as Dudley Andrew puts it,”read rather than consumed,” that is, viewed meditatively, reflected upon, and discussed (2000, 24). And indeed, in this world in which filmmaking has become commonplacewhere, as Egoyan has said,”what used to be a rarified activity is now available to anyone with a digital camera and a computer” (2001b, 18) he intends through much of his work to recall an earlier image culture in which artists had an ability to produce something that gained its power precisely through its rarity. 1

Egoyan has revealed that he is very aware, however, of the dangers inherent in his wish to capture the magic and rarity of the moving image. He does not mean to promote a naïve nostalgia for more innocent times when filmmakers were blindly worshiped. Rather, he seeks to remember a time that, if not more cynical, was at least more conscious of the powers of image-makers. Egoyan has always understood that the cinema has the power to make people believe that what they are seeing is real, and that this makes it an ideal instrument for propaganda (Egoyan 2004b, 888). 2 He has also observed that in different ways, when other storytelling and representational arts strive to construct the real, they too carry the potential to distort and manipulate, to lie and deny. Seeking to draw attention to the conundrum that the very tools we use to represent ourselves to the world and to translate the world back to ourselves might be deceitful and dangerous, he has consistently tried to lay bare the mechanisms of representational practices, showing, as he puts it,”the frame as well as the picture” (Romney 1999, 6). The central Egoyanesque themes revolving around trauma such as incest, violation, erasure, and forgetting--all of which are elaborated upon by the essays in this volume--thus emerge directly from the place where the logic of representational systems and the agency of individual subjects collide.

A few examples from Egoyan´s works will show what we mean here. In The Sweet Hereafter (1997), a father pictures his daughter as a beautiful rock star. Seduced by this image of herself, the daughter complies with her own violation until she realizes that she never resembled this image. Having once been a victim of the art of misrepresentation, she appropriates its tactics in order to rupture other deceptions and fictions. In The Adjuster (1991), a film censor is molested by her colleague while violent pornography plays on the screen before them and another colleague watches on voyeuristically. She frightens them both by seizing her aggressor´s hand as if about to act out the kinds of scenarios they are beholding, and thus exposes the scenes sadistic logic, rendering her assailants impotent. In yet another film, Ararat (2002), an art historian lectures about the many ways destruction is part of a painting by artist Arshile Gorky, in its genesis as well as in its execution. Her exegesis, which sets this one work on a pedestal above all others, suggests that the image serves as a “mirror” to history, offering what she calls a “'sacred code” that translates the traumatic history of the destruction of her own and the artist´s people. Traumatized by the loss of her father, and seeking to mirror a more private history of destruction, the historian´s stepdaughter constructs an alternative code to articulate her personal pain by seeking to destroy the sacred painting. All of Egoyans human traumas are similarly inextricably bound by and caught up in the logic of the media that represent them. As in Escher´s famous drawing of the hand drawing the hand, in Egoyan's works there are only pictures and frames--nothing is outside of the realm of representation. And yet, as in the examples above, if sometimes this means that his subjects become victims of histories scripted for them, other times this means that his subjects transform the logic of these scripts and are, themselves, transformed for the better.

Egoyan´s output in a wide range of media has shaped the way he conceives the relationships different media can provoke between producers and consumers of cultural products. As a precocious young man living in Victoria, Canada, Egoyan was, by the age of thirteen, not only familiar with but thoughtfully experimenting with the premises of the theatre of the absurd--Ionesco, Genet, Beckett, Pinter, and Adamov--as well as with the British absurdist humour of Monty Python (Egoyan 2004a, 68). 3 In the dozens of plays he has written and that are available in the archive--at least ten of which were mounted on stage, often under his own direction--Egoyan clearly announces the core issues his later work pursues: immigration, dispossession, and placelessness; history, memory, and forgetting; and that highly charged and aestheticized tension between intimacy and violation.

Table of contents

Table of Contents for
Image and Territory: Essays on Atom Egoyan, edited by Monique Tschofen and Jennifer Burwell


Introduction: In Media Res: Atom Egoyan's Utopian Praxis | Monique Tschofen and Jennifer Burwell

Section 1: Technology, Aura, and Redemption

Artifice and Artifact: Technology and the Performance of Identity | Jennifer Burwell and Monique Tschofen

Fetish and Aura: Modes of Technological Engagement in Family Viewing | Elena del Río

The Adjuster: Playing House | William Beard

The Thirteenth Church: Musical Structures in Atom Egoyan's Calendar | Katrin Kegel

The Passing of Celluloid, the Endurance of the Image: Egoyan, Steenbeckett, and Krapp's Last Tape | David L. Pike

Section 2: Diasporic Histories and the Exile of Meaning

Mobile Subjectivity and Micro-territories: Placing the Diaspora | Jennifer Burwell and Monique Tschofen

Telling a Horror Story, Conscientiously: Representing the Armenian Genocide from Open House to Ararat | Lisa Siraganian

History and Memory, Repetition and Epistolarity | Marie-Aude Baronian

The Double's Choice: The Immigrant Experience in Atom Egoyan's Next of Kin | Batia Boe Stolar

Atom Egoyan's Post-exilic Imaginary: Representing Homeland, Imagining Family | Nellie Hogikyan

Section 3: Pathologies/Ontologies of the Visual

Culpability, Innocence, Visual and Narrative Mastery | Jennifer Burwell and Monique Tschofen

Speaking Parts: The Geometry of Desire | William Beard

Look but Don't Touch: Visual and Tactile Desire in Exotica, The Sweet Hereafter, and Felicia's Journey | Patricia Gruben

To Blame Her Sadness: Representing Incest in Atom Egoyan's The Sweet Hereafter | Melanie Boyd

Close: Voyeurism and the Idea of the Baroque | William F. Van Wert

Seeing and Hearing Atom Egoyan's Salome | Kay Armatage and Caryl Clark

Section 4: Conversations

An Imaginary Armenian Canadian Homeland: Gariné Torossian's Dialogue with Egoyan | Adam Gilders and Hrag Vartanian

Ripple Effects: Atom Egoyan Speaks with Monique Tschofen

Bibliography: Comprehensive Bibliography on Atom Egoyan | Angela Joosse

Notes on Contributors

Index of Names

Subject Index

Contributors’ Bios

Kay Armatage is an associate professor at the University of Toronto, crossappointed to Cinema Studies, Innis College, and the Institute of Women’s Studies. She is also a member of the Graduate Centre for the Study of Drama. She is author of The Girl from God’s Country: Nell Shipman and the Silent Cinema (University of Toronto Press, 2003), co-editor of Gendering the Nation: Canadian Women’s Cinema (University of Toronto Press, 1999), editor of Equity and How to Get It (Toronto: Inanna Press, 1999), and author of articles on women filmmakers, feminist theory, and Canadian cinema in books, film magazines, and refereed journals.

Marie-Aude Baronian is an assistant professor in the Department of Philosophy and Media Studies of the University of Amsterdam and a member of the Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis (ASCA). She has written and lectured extensively on Atom Egoyan’s cinema and on issues of representation, testimony, and memory, and is co-editor (together with Stephan Besser and Yolande Jansen) of the volume Diaspora and Memory: Figures of Displacement in Contemporary Literature, Arts and Politics (Rodopi, 2005). She has completed an interdisciplinary dissertation entitled Image et témoignage: vers un esthétique de la catastrophe.

William Beard is a professor of film/media studies at the University of Alberta, where he was for many years coordinator of the Film/Media Studies program. He is the author of Persistence of Double Vision: Essays on Clint Eastwood (University of Alberta Press, 2000) and The Artist as Monster: The Cinema of David Cronenberg (University of Toronto Press, 2001), and co-editor of North of Everything: English-Canadian Cinema since 1980 (University of Alberta Press, 2002). He is currently working on a book about Guy Maddin.

Melanie Boyd received her PhD in English and Women’s Studies from the University of Michigan and is now a postdoctoral fellow at Lawrence University, where she is affiliated with the Gender Studies Program. Her research focuses on contemporary U. S. and Canadian narratives of sexual violence, looking particularly at the rhetorics of innocence, damage, and healing that operate within these political texts; she is especially interested in their construction of narrative authority. Her current book project, Refiguring Incest: Feminism, Narrative, and the Abandonment of Innocence, looks at three decades of feminist accounts of paternal incest to highlight their shifting formulations of victimhood and to trace the implications of those shifts for feminist theorizations of subjectivity, agency, and violence.

Jennifer Burwell is an associate professor in the English Department at Ryerson University. She teaches media studies to Radio Television Arts students at Ryerson and to graduate students in the York/Ryerson Joint Graduate Programme in Communication and Cultural Studies. Her book, Notes on Nowhere: Feminism, Utopian Logic, and Social Transformation (University of Minnesota Press, 1997) examines utopian thought in relation to contemporary postmodern, critical Marxist, and feminist theory. Her current interests include the political economy of communications technology and the relationship between surveillance society and the public sphere.

Caryl Clark teaches musicology in the Faculty of Music, University of Toronto and in the Department of Visual and Performing Arts at UTSC (University of Toronto Scarborough Campus). Her publications reflect interests in the socio-cultural contexts of music-making, gender issues, performance studies, and the politics of musical reception. She is co-editor of two special interdisciplinary opera issues of the University of Toronto Quarterly“Voices of Opera” (1998) and “Interdisciplinary Studies of Opera” (2003), and is co-chair of the Humanities Initiative at the Munk Centre for International Studies. She is currently editing the Cambridge Companion to Haydn.

Elena del Río is an assistant professor of Film Studies at the University of Alberta. Her essays on the intersections of cinema and technology and of cinema and performance have appeared in Camera Obscura, Discourse, the Quarterly Review of Film and Video, Science Fiction Studies, and Studies in French Cinema.

Adam Gilders is a Toronto writer and academic. His fiction and articles have appeared in the Paris Review, The Walrus, and J&L Illustrated. He is the author, with photographer Jason Fulford, of Sunbird.

Patricia Gruben is an associate professor of Film and director of the Praxis Centre for Screenwriters at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver. She is also a filmmaker who has written and directed two dramatic features (Low Visibility and Deep Sleep), a feature-length documentary (Ley Lines) and several experimental narrative shorts including Sifted Evidence and Before It Blows. Recent publications include analyses of narrative structure in The Sweet Hereafter (Creative Screenwriting, March 2001) and Renny Bartlett’s Eisenstein (ScreenTalk, January 2002).

Nellie Hogikyan is a sessional lecturer in Comparative Literature and psycholinguistics at l’Université de Montréal. She is in charge of the Postcolonial Studies Reading Group, which she co-founded in 2000 in the department of Comparative Literature at l’Université de Montréal, where she works on questions of subalternity in the context of Lebanese-Palestinian terrorism. She has published fiction and non-fiction in local newspapers and magazines. Her academic essays include “Silence et résistance: le langage du subalterne. Le cas des réfugié-e-s palestinien-ne-s au Liban” (in Approches de l’outre-langue, ed. Alexis Nouss, Presses Universitaires de Strasbourg, 2005), “De la mythation à la mutation: structures ouvertes de l’identité” (in Poésie, terre d’exil; Alexis Nouss Trait d’union, 2003), and “The Crisis in Reason: Feminism, Simone de Beauvoir and the Marquis de Sade” (Revue de l’Institut Simone de Beauvoir Institute Review 18/19, 2000).

Angela Joosse is a PhD candidate in the Joint Graduate Programme in Communication and Culture of Ryerson and York universities. She is the author of, “Dziga Vertov and Steve Mann: The Embodiment of the Master Metaphor of Vision,” (Intersections Conference Journal, 2005). She is also a Toronto-based filmmaker. Her most recent films are Shapes Eat Shapes (2006), City Window (2005), Ear after Ear (2005), and Avra, which screened at the 2004 Montreal Festival des Films du Monde.

Katrin Kegel graduated from the University of Music and Performing Arts Mozarteum, Salzburg. After several years of theatre work, she took up studies of media communication and film at the University of Arts in Berlin and at Johann Wolfgang Goethe University in Frankfurt. She was as a staff member with the international film festivals of Toronto and Berlin and involved in a broad range of film-production work, with a special interest on international co-productions. She completed her masters in Film Studies with a thesis on ethnicity in the early films of Atom Egoyan (2002).

David L. Pike is an associate professor of literature at American University. He is author of Passage through Hell: Modernist Descents, Medieval Underworlds (1997), which won the Gustave O. Arlt Award and was a Choice Academic Book of the Year, and Subterranean Cities: Subways, Cemeteries, Sewers, and the Culture of Paris and London (2005). He is co-editor of the Longman Anthology of World Literature (2004) and has published widely on nineteenth- and twentieth-century urban literature, culture, and film. He is currently working on a history of Canadian cinema since 1980, to be published by Wallflower Press.

Lisa Siraganian is an assistant professor of English at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. She is currently working on a book about theories of the art object in twentieth-century American literature. She has previous published articles in Diaspora and Modernism/Modernity.

Batia Boe Stolar is an assistant professor in English at Lakehead University. She has recent or forthcoming publications in the Canadian Journal of Film Studies, Studies in Canadian Literature, and Downtown Canada. She is currently completing a manuscript on cultural constructions of the immigrant in Canadian and American literature and film, and researching visual representations of the immigrant in Canadian and American documentaries, photography, and film.

Gariné Torossian is a self-taught filmmaker and photographer. Mining a rich palette of colours and textures, superimpositions and dissolves, mixing formats of Super 8, 35mm, and video, Torossian creates films that bridge the gaps between visual, sound art, cinema, and music video. Sixteen of her films have shown internationally at festivals and universities. Retrospectives of her work have been held at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, Stan Brakhage’s First Person Cinema, Yerevan’s Cinematheque, the Berlin Arsenal, and the Telluride Festival. She has been awarded prizes and mentions at the Berlin, Melbourne, and Houston film festivals.

Monique Tschofen is an associate professor in the Department of English at Ryerson University and a member of the Joint Graduate Programme in Communications and Culture of Ryerson and York universities. She is the editor of Kristjana Gunnars: Essays on Her Work (Guernica 2004) and has published articles on Canadian film, literature, and painting, intermediality and visuality, and violence in representation. She is currently working on a monograph on new-world torture narratives.

William Van Wert was the Laura Carnell Professor of English at Temple University, where he taught film and creative writing and was serving as the director of undergraduate English studies at the time of his death. He was the author of fifteen books, among them novels (What’s It All About, Stool Wives, Don Quixote), short story collections (Tales for Expectant Fathers, Missing in Action, The Advancement of Ignorance), poetry collections (The Invention of Ice Skating, Proper Myth, Vital Signs), and one book of essays (Memory Links), as well as extensive work in the area of film studies. His death is a profound loss to all who worked with him and read his work.

Hrag Vartanian is an Armenian Canadian writer and critic living in Brooklyn, New York. He is a staff writer for AGBU News Magazine, the Brooklyn Rail newspaper, and Boldtype, an online review journal. He also serves on the editorial board of the quarterly Ararat. His writing explores diversity and identity in a global context.


In a culture that often understands formal experimentation or theoretical argument to be antithetical to pleasure, Atom Egoyan has nevertheless consistently appealed to wide audiences around the world. If films like The Adjuster, Calendar, Exotica, and The Sweet Hereafter have ensured him international cult status as one of the most revered of all contemporary directors, Egoyan’s forays into installation art and opera have provided evidence of his versatility and confirmed his talents.

Image and Territory: Essays on Atom Egoyan is both scholarly and accessible. Indispensable for the scholar, student, and fan, this collection of new essays and interviews from leading film and media scholars unpacks the central arguments, tensions, and paradoxes of his work and traces their evolution. It also locates his work within larger intellectual and artistic currents in order to consider how he takes up and answers critical debates in politics, philosophy, and aesthetics. Most importantly, it addresses how his work is both intellectually engaging and emotionally moving.


``Editors Tschofen and Burwell have divided their book into four sections . .. each preceded by a thoughtful introduction by the co-editors, and concluding with the most complete Egoyan filmography yet published in a non-bibliographical study. This is an impressively thoughtful assemblage of texts. ... Tschofen and Burwell also deserve credit for relying almost exclusively on Canadian critics for input. ... Atom Egoyan is nor more generically North American than Ingmar Bergman is generically European. ... Image and Territory is both useful and impressive, and belongs on the shelf of any cinephile interested in the work of the king of Armenian Canadian directors. ''

- Mark Harris, Canadian Literature, 196, Spring 2008

``An excellent book; each of the essays is well thought out and deals with complex issues in an exemplary academic matter. ... I would highly recommend the book to anyone interested in Egoyan's films and in the many contradictions and paradoxes of postmodern life that he evokes. ''

- Mary Alemany-Galway, Topia, 19, June 2008

``The editors' introductions to each section are particularly smart and insightful, identifying Egoyan's chief preoccupations as an artist in terms of trauma, absence, substitution, displacement, denial, inversion, and negation. ''

- J. Belton, Rutgers, CHOICE, July 2007