Ulrich Meurer


The project examines paradigmatic moments of US-American film and media pasts, from the mid-19th century to the introduction of sound film, with respect to their re/productions and utopian imaginations of a governance of “friends”.
The key term philocracy synthesizes several ‘post-Nietzschean’ philosophical approaches (Maurice Blanchot, Jacques Derrida, Gilles Deleuze) that describe the philos or brother as a pivotal figure of thought in debates about democracy. In this context, the project traces philia – non-familial, horizontal, heterarchical and radically relational complexes which depend on the always precarious proximity/distance between independent elements (humans, things, images) – as a narrative, formal as well as techno-medial feature of visual artefacts.
The project builds on a number of case studies (e.g., Mathew Brady’s composite images of 19th century political institutions; pre-cinematic apparatuses [such as Edison’s “Kinetoscope”] during the American Progressive Era; dominant concepts of gender and montage in the work of D. W. Griffith; early experimental cinema; models of community, sympathy, and affect in King Vidor’s melodramas …) to trace the political operations and impact of early photographic and cinematographic image cultures ...


The project explores the potential of “Byzantium” – both as a concrete historical reference point and an abstract thought-image – for describing contemporary film and media cultures.
While most theoretical as well as historical discourses about film correlate the medium with Renaissance visuality (ocularcentrism, perspective, spatial depth, continuity, subjectivity), the project advances the “Byzantine” mode to re-evaluate a different type of media image and perception that has often been marginalized. It draws on late antique pictorial practices and models of sight from Byzantine philosophy to extract from them basic iconographic, formal and conceptual aspects (flatness, luminosity, mosaic, tactility, iconicity) that constitute a widely neglected trait of film aesthetics and can even be linked to contemporary screen media and electronic processes of visualization. At the end of the cinematic era, “Byzantium” may shed light on a specific digital vision, on the ontological shift from photographic presence to pixilated virtuality and from optical projection to light-emitting surfaces ...
The project has been initiated with a grant from the Istituto Ellenico di Studi Bizantini e Postbizantini di Venezia. In 2018, the basic structure and central theses were further outlined during a research fellowship at the Stanley J. Seeger Center for Hellenic Studies at Princeton (for more information, click here).
V I D E O : Gold Ground / Silver Screen: Trailer for the research project