Carter’s “Metafilm” and the Affect of Sociological Virulence

July 1st, 2018  |  Published in June 2018

Professor Christopher Carter’s intermedia/new media theory text “Metafilm: Materialist Rhetoric and Reflexive Cinema” proverbially instrumentalizes the paradoxical rhetoric of visual culture by analyzing films that immerse viewers in violent narratives and examining the ethics of these transactions. Carter anaylzes the films of Michael Haneke, Atom Egoyan, Icíar Bollaín, Paul Thomas Anderson, and Ryan Coogler. Using deconstructive modalities, Carter facilitates personal conflicts and intermingles them with inherent violence in warfare, transnational economics, labor exploitation, and racism. Donning a historiographer’s lens, Carter’s analyses range from horror to historical recreation re: depictions of genocide that descend into records of police brutality. Carter’s crux is that he underscores how mainstream censure and ethical modalities conflate viewers into conceptual audience-ship, neatly using director Atom Egoyan’s move-within-a-movie (about the Turkish-Armenian genocide in 1915) Ararat to demonstrate that rhetorical agency in moving images allots for a “rediscovery” of resources for memory, despite hegemonic and socio-political agendas that “block recollection” (Carter 52) – the Turkish government does, to this day,  not recognize the Ottoman government’s systematic extermination of 1.5 million Armenians (in 1915).

Carter argues that the films he has chosen reflect on their inherent forms re: construction, distribution, and audience engagement, as they emphasize material design and the economics of rhetoric in ways many films do not. Carter also responds to Professsor Laurie E. Gries’s new materialist approaches, which she outlines in “Still Life with Rhetoric.” Gries forges “actor-network theory” and rhetoric that implores how moving images and digital circulation incite “circulation and emergent activities” (Gries 72). According to Gries, who employs iconographic tracking in her research, icons of visual culture illustrate how collective images inspire life via actualization. Consequently, they are also applicable as prescient research tools for “studying rhetoric as a distributed, generative, and unforeseeable event” (Gries 90). Gries’s claims that empirical investigations foreground distributed relations, which attend to nonlinear processes of materialization, necessarily ground vital materialist approaches with agential realism and social ontology, emerging to help give immaterial factors their due (Gries 82).

Gries encourages us to look not for meaning but for movement. In “Still Life with Rhetoric: A New Materialist Approach for Visual Rhetorics,” she takes the pulse of things by observing how they travel, where they appear, and how they change along the way. She expresses greater interest in the co-evolution of circulated bodies and socio-political phenomena, preferring them from any metaphoric resonance they might hold. ,studying rhetoric in motion. Carter describes Gries’ tautology as “becoming” and “transformation” (Gries 112) of material rhetoric, whereas the principles of his case examples identify case examples re: rhetorical transformation that captures contradictory ways. Carter takes issue with such “posthumanist thinking,” as such various epistemologies inform new materialism as a mechanic process, where the isolated and dissolved rhetor is amid the process of ideological interpellation. Carter seeks to dissect and divulge the genealogy of “contending bodies” (Carter 72) vis-à-vis techno-human rhetoric that streams through media systems.

Carter opposes the new materialist scholarship that tracks the “flow and transformation of rhetorical things across vast territories” (83) by offering reflexive materialism as a process of alignment. Rather keenly, Carter identifies films like Medium Cool and Fruitville Station, denoting their involuntary protest ethos. Like Medium Cool (more than forty years the predecessor of), Fruitvale Station risks joining a systemic reflexive process that Carter unveils, whereby documented protests enter into the cannon of commodification. Thereby, the video (and by extension the whole purpose), endangers the activist energies that the bolstering agents purportedly promote (Carter 135).

The moving image, framed by the historiographer’s and genealogist’s lenses, refines cultural memory by documenting and dramatizing. Carter provides examples of antiwar protest, African American collectivism, feminist politics, and the militarized suppression of dissent. In visualizing coalitional rhetoric, cultural memory clarifies forms of alliance and contention between various constituencies, allotting for a cross-cultural and hegemonic figural mode to enter the semblance. Furthermore, Carter reflects on its own techniques of mediation, examining technologies of visualization and sound design that populate the story world. That process, Robert Stam explains in “Reflexivity in Film and Literature,” yields that among the technologies that afford us varying degrees of involvement, cinema dominates the “rhetorical encounter” with its heavy quotient of information.

“One Train Can Hide Another: Critical Materialism for Public Composition” by Tony Scott and Nancy Welch focuses on the Kony 2012 phenomena, which was birthed from a video where the U.S. charity Invisible Children exposes a history of atrocities in Uganda. The video presses for the arrest of Joseph Kony, a warlord known for abducting youth and forcing them into military service. After describing the video’s viral spread and its reputation for empowering young people, Scott and Welch note its value for teachers of rhetoric and writing. Classes include “students blogging about the video through Aristotle’s appeals, Lloyd Bitzer’s rhetorical situation, and Michael McGee’s ideographs,” all of which suggests a “public-writing pedagogy” that is poised to reestablish the relevance of rhetorical education (563).

For Carter, however, reconstitution occurs both onscreen and off. Moving images indicate sociopolitical exigency for transformation that exists within a select audience. Hence, any idea that audiovisual rhetoric mediates trauma in unpredictable ways also brilliantly resonates throughout a disjointed party. With respect to Wexler’s Medium Cool, Carter demonstrates the rhetorical sensibility of visceral expression in “reconstitution” (as a narrative fixture) (14).

Carter’s case-example readings reflexively examine the ethics of transaction, economics, labor exploitation, and how films reflect on their sociopolitical engagement by emphasizing their economic and material rhetoric conditions (which extends beyond the screen). However, Carter assumes a coded and territorialized audience, that is interconnected by the films they view and the sociopolitical moment(s) they occupy, which dramatize their entanglement in economic and historical trauma while provoking forms of resistance. Carter’s reflexive materialism could be supplemented by Deleuze and Guattari’s notion of “body without organs” in A Thousand Plateaus, where the “organs-partial objects” are concepts that Deleuze and Guattari mobilize in opposition to the organism and its organization, in opposition to the functional specificity of organs, so as to release the decoded and deterritorialized flows of desire (Deleuze and Guattari 178). The body-without-organs is the “anorganism of the body (80)” a bundle of virtual affects in a non-organic and non-organized multiplicity, “molecular” rather than ” molar,” audience.

Gabrrielle Ivinson and Emma Renold invite Deluse and Guattari’s rhizomal subjectivities into affectively tied histories of space, place, and time through ethnographic accounts in “Subjectivity, Affect and Place: Thinking with Deleuze and Guattari’s Body without Organs to explore a young girl’s Becomings in a Post-industrial Locale.” The duo’s sociological conclusion resounds that ontological intensities allow for viewership to facilitate imagining and potentiality while supporting “new horizons” – a dual affect that is ethnographically accounted for (an account that , at times feels absent in Carter’s text).

The “leakage” that we find in Carter’s text is so exemplified by his descriptions of Paul Anderson’s Magnolia. By leakage, Carter elaborates “border-crossing” (19) – whereby films (re)produce metadiegetic rhetoric that initiates more elaborate forms via identification with characters, audience (and vice-versa). Leakage crosses the juncture of narrative setting and viewer space, as sound identifies characters with the audience and vice versa, positioning real-world audiences within virtual realms.

Carter responds to Sara Ahmed’s “The Cultural Politics of Emotion,” where Ahmed has canvassed “how emotions can move through the movement or circulation of objects. Such objects become sticky, or saturated with affect, as sites of personal and social tension” (Ahmed 16.) In her second chapter, “Sticky Emotions and Identity Metaphors,” University of Cincinnati’s Professor Laura R. Micciche uses “emotion” as an analytic to reveal how compositionists are attached to metaphors, which may reify their subordinate status because they form a negative affective standpoint as “emotional residue” (Micciche 27–31).

According to Carter, both Ahmed and Micciche designate sticky emotional relations as ways of feeling that bind subjects as publics, whether or not they are informed. Carter instrumentalizes Paul Thomas Anderson ensemble drama Magnolia to illustrate ways of feeling that come charged with the trauma of child abuse, some of which is sexual, some psychological, and most borne of neglect. Sarah Ahmed and Laura R. Micciche have as sticky emotional relations, or ways of feeling that inherently bind subjects to publics. In Magnolia, Carter underscores ways of feeling that come charged with the trauma of child abuse, some of which is sexual, some psychological, and most often borne of neglect.

New materialist theory surveys the abundance of multimodal rhetorical devices and media, exemplifying how communicative modes extend beyond their material shells and invite social, technological, spatial, and political situations. While Gries describes a method of prodding popular images from early distribution centers towards their “remixed incarnations,” and, thus, directing scholars away from synchronic analyses of representation toward investigations of the streams, Carter exemplifies how moving images move across deterretorialization, and the exigencies to which they adapt.

Carter’s most provocative case example is, perhaps, Funny Games, which presents an anomaly “in that it ridicules the stream in which it is caught: by announcing the effort to adapt to its reception context, it exposes its desire to foil that expectation” (23). Carter combats Gries’ combat against “representationalism” by lionizing that Funny Games, itself rejects facile ideas of representation, at once both practicing mimesis and disruption it so as to suggest counter-hegemonic means of witnessing violence.

Scholars who view film as language treat it as a “grammatical system of signs” that can be observed in the conventions of framing, camera movement, shot/reverse-shot structure, and various kinds of continuity editing (Blakesley 4). both the immediacy and hypermediacy of Funny Games push viewers toward actively engaged responses—among the most prominent being frustration with our inefficacy before images of unexplained aggression. Insofar as we identify with the family, we may even feel that such aggression is directed toward us. We are not then so apt to see the picture as just a formal exercise in deconstructive filmmaking.

Carter deconstructs the multiplicity of the identification process, whether through filmic or painterly production. Along with tensions among various corporeal and intellectual affinities, Carter adeptly distinguishes consubstantiation from essentialist understandings and conceptions of subjectivity. As Carter underscores, immaterial delivery systems, reflexive materialism identifies those systems with neoliberal ideology and global capitalism.

Carter’s “Metafilm” is an intervention into rhetorical affect studies, one that demands a more political and material engagement with theories of affect and circulation (Wingard 3). In “Branded Bodies, Rhetoric, and the Neoliberal Nation-State,” Wingard accurately states that the scholarship and methodology of Carter’s “Metafilm” are theoretically sophisticated, colored by innovative claims about both materialist paradigms and the cinema’s political affect. Carter’s seminal text, “Metafilm,” draws upon critical conclusions that theorize the sensibilities of film theory’s rhetoric, materiality, and reflexivity, proffering productive considerations of what films can sociologically actuate.

By reframing materialist understanding as multimodal reflective entanglements that invite economic and historical trauma, Carter takes case examples that persuade the filmic audience to identify with onscreen worlds without probing expectations. This is similar to Deleuze and Guattari’s rhizome, outlined in Anti-Oedipus, where a “….rhizome as subterranean stem is absolutely different from roots and radicals. Bulbs and tubers are rhizomes…(Deleuze and Guattari 17)” Carter’s prose is dense and the essay consists not within arguments and rebuttals but reflexive ruminations via case examples and elaborations of cinematic metaphors. Such interconnected concepts illicit Carter’s development of new materialist vocabulary. Carter offers a means of reading moving images where they reproduce conscious and unconscious case experiments that construct the unconscious reflexive material viscosity between “people and our object context “ (Carter 83).

For Carter, filmic players engage in revealing displays—performing tirades in mock environments and staged settings to engage in cathartic dialogue or settelements. Nonetheless, for Carter, virulent films code such displays by emanating them not from autonomous psychological epistemes but from a collective epistemology. A brilliant read, “Metafilm” refuses to distinguish between knowledge and feeling and, hence, is the crux of Carter’s reflexive materialist rendering.

–Ekin Erkan

Works Cited

Ahmed, Sara. The Cultural Politics of Emotion. Edinburgh Univ Press, 2014.

Blakesley, David. The Terministic Screen: Rhetorical Perspectives on Film. Southern Illinois University Press, 2007.

Carter, Christopher. Metafilm: Materialist Rhetoric and Reflexive Cinema. The Ohio State University Press, 2018.

Deleuze, Gilles, and Felix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus: Rhizomes. Venus Pencils, 2009.

Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. Anti-Oedipus: Introduction to Schizoanalysis. Routledge, 2003.

Gries, Laurie E. Still Life with Rhetoric: a New Materialist Approach for Visual Rhetorics. Utah State University Press, 2015.

Gries, Laurie E. Still Life with Rhetoric: a New Materialist Approach for Visual Rhetorics. Utah State University Press, 2015.

Ivinson, Gabrielle, and Emma Renold. “Subjectivity, Affect and Place: Thinking with Deleuze and Guattari’s Body without Organs to Explore a Young Girl’s Becomings in a Post-Industrial Locale.” Subjectivity, vol. 6, no. 4, 2013, pp. 369–390., doi:10.1057/sub.2013.15.

Mannise, Kelly Concannon. “Doing Emotion: Rhetoric, Writing, Teaching (Review).” College Literature, vol. 36, no. 4, 2009, pp. 232–234., doi:10.1353/lit.0.0081.

Scott, Tony, and Nancy Welch. “One Train Can Hide Another: Critical Materialism for Public Composition.” College English, National Council of Teachers of English, July 2014,

Stam, Robert. Reflexivity in Film and Literature: from Don Quixote to Jean-Luc Godard. Columbia University Press, 2006.

Wingard, Jennifer. Branded Bodies, Rhetoric, and the Neoliberal Nation-State. Lexington Books, 2015.


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