Review of Atlas of Emotion: Journeys in Art, Architecture, and Film
Verso, New York, 2018 (first published 2002)
519 pp. Include free eBook. Paper, $31.50
Nearly twenty years after the date signed on the Prologue (December 1998), Giuliana Bruno’s Atlas of Emotion has been reissued after it had been out of print for a long period. Hence, one cannot review the book as if it was new, but more towards an eye on the current contexts where the already so well received and much hailed investigation of art history, architecture, fashion, and importantly film, sits now. The richness of Bruno’s take on the relation of motion and emotion –- the movement of the body and the movement of images, the temporal dimensions of memory and the architectures of sites of memory alongside multiple forms of travel and wandering, wondering and imaginaries -- demonstrates its continuing relevance for current interdisciplinary visual cultural research. And it is more than just interdisciplinary. It does not just combine already existing positions but carves out something in between that speaks to a multitude of concerns in visual culture and the arts in ways that handles its objects of research with such care that they become singular instances instead of merely repositioned as fully explained objects of knowledge. This in-between becomes generative instead of merely identifying. True, the book has found its own position and readership: it has become integrated into discussions in media archaeology, fashion studies, and art and visual analysis. And now it can recursively offer a way to investigate again some of the infrastructures of theory and method of contemporary contexts of approaches to moving images in contexts of art and architecture.
A lot of the themes in Atlas of Emotion can be seen emerging from the debates in the 1990s. Material ways of understanding visual culture through synesthetic embodiment, the modalities of movement that relate to philosophical ways of elaborating spectatorship, and the sort of post-phenomenological vocabulary that was visible in how for example some of Gilles Deleuze’s philosophy entered the discussions. In Atlas of Emotion, this is visible in notions such as texturology that also reappears and becomes more central years later in Bruno’s later book Surface. Textures – including architextures -– are part of both the artistic materiality of collections, museums, maps, but also fashion/textiles where cinema finds itself articulated before and after its “birth”. Hence the tactile materiality that finds a route from Alois Riegl to contemporary art, including a discussion of Gerhard Richter’s work, is one thread that connects it to a range of other discussions in cinema studies but also, more widely, new materialism of the arts gradually since the early 2000s.
While affect has become a go-to term in contemporary studies, Bruno’s keyword is emotion due to its shared stem with motion. While the differences between affect, feeling and emotion might not be entirely defined, emotion takes a similar place in Atlas of Emotion to that what many others might prefer (later) to call indeed affect: not an internalised and individualised personal psychological space, but a way to understand the movement of passions and desires. The book’s opening theme recurs: Madeleine de Scudéry’s 17th century Map of Tenderness, Carte du pays de Tendre ties maps to imaginaries and to emotions (love, tenderness) as they are sited. The locatability of emotion and affect does not however dismiss its dynamics; it’s always tied to memories, time, history and space, but ones that are discussed as ruins and relics. And in such a manner of relations, space becomes temporalized as historical layers; historical discussions become spatialised as geographies; and geographies become understood not merely as sites but through vectors of movement. Indeed, as one epigraph from Frantz Fanon puts it: “In the world in which I travel, I am endlessly creating myself”, also implicitly raising the question in this reader’s mind about the contemporary forms of geopolitics of migration, refugees and politics of racialization. These, also, speak to the current contexts of what travels means as related to geopolitics of ruins and the active ruination that is part and parcel of the toxic condition of global movement.
In Atlas of Emotion, cinema travels but also bodies and emotions do. Movement is approached on two parallel layers: what moves in thought must move in bodies, to echo William James’ radical empiricism which itself does not feature in Bruno’s text but could be thought of as an implicit reference point. Imaginary travels (e.g. literary examples such as Xavier de Maistre’s Voyage Autour de Ma Chambre) to travel fashion such as on the planetary catwalk of Nellie Bly’s 1889 world tour are another part of this expansion of traveling from geographic to the mental. In Bruno’s words, writing about Bly: “She ends up going around the world in one dress, showing us how the modern woman’s new, mobile identity is to be differently fit and suited—fashionably self-designed” (p. 126). Figures of fashion – dresses, shoe trunks, but also the body and architecture as fashioned – are then part of the emergence of new industries that produce movement in multiple ways. These industries also include travel and cinema, as they change how gendered bodies move and are in movement in urban life. This is one way of unfolding the triple form of spectacle of cinema, fashion and urban architecture.
One way to think of the book would be to consider it as a cabinet of curiosity, which is a recurring reference point in the historical travels of Atlas of Emotion. While acknowledging that such an allegory might be a too obvious one, the richness of parallels, juxtapositions, and movements is what underlines the aptness of this metaphor. But another allegory to capture the sort of mix of style and method of Atlas of Emotion could be, again perhaps obviously, atlas. This speaks to the methodological arrangement of the book itself. While Aby Warburg’s Mnemosyne Atlas is one reference point as becomes clear towards the end of the book, the figure of the atlas is present in many other instances too; it is found in its geographical and visual arts connotations, well summarised in Bruno’s reading of Richter’s work Atlas (started in 1962):
“Atlas displays the building of narrative space itself. To enter the exhibition is to enter geography—the makings of a filmic-architectural dream whose mapping is made available to us through the very design of the installation. Here, as the photographic image becomes an architecture and pictures turn into an environment, the ensemble creates further space. The assembled images make room for us to inhabit just as architecture does, creating space for living—an intersubjective site of transfer for stories of the flesh.” (332-333)
The cinematic connotations of Richter’s installation of still images are analysed in their spatial dimensions. Frames, montage and narratives are central elements of this space, and the gallery becomes subsumed into cinematic vocabulary. During the 20th century, the atlas becomes cinema and more specifically, the movie theatre. Again the back and forth between art, architecture and cinema becomes the defining movement of Bruno’s own (e)motional methodology underpinned by topophilia; however, Atlas of Emotion wants to qualify this easily romanticising nostalgic attachment by defining topophilia as “cinematic discourse that exposes the labor of intimate geography” (354). In other words, it takes energy to maintain travels, space, bodies, and intimacy, too.
Set in current contexts, one can see why Atlas of Emotion and Bruno’s more recent Surface have become reference points for theoretical work in fashion theory -– including fashion film. Similarly, the work persists as a central reference in the still current debate about moving images in galleries and contemporary art; hence, one can see it as pre-empting some of the discussions about post-cinema, the dispersion of cinematic moods and movements across different social and aesthetic institutions and platforms. But as mentioned, this post-cinema functions through an archaeology of cinema; not merely a history of cinematic industries, but movement as installed in architectural and embodied cultural practices in ways that constantly reimagined cinema alternatively, not merely as a summary of what it became as a technology. While some other work in media theory has been more determined to define the centrality of materiality in contemporary culture, Bruno lets matter travel across formats and frames, rooms and homes in ways that is part of the more poetic strand of media archaeology. While I once referred to media archaeology as a traveling field and set of methods that never settled into one discipline, Giuliana Bruno had already earlier shown what this means in practice of cultural analysis.