Alan Cholodenko – The Expanding Universe of Animation (Studies)



This paper is theoretical, speculative, highly so.

Theory, from Greek theoria, is speculating.

Like theory, life is a risky business, too, getting riskier, more speculative, by the minute, especially since I theorise what I live, and I live what I theorise.

So this is ‘food for thought’, perhaps indigestible.

I take my lead for the paper from the title of this conference—The Cosmos of Animation—and this sentence gifted me from its call for papers.

I quote: ‘As the universe itself, animation is constantly evolving and often rapidly changing’!

Note that ‘As’.

 As the universe itself, not like the universe itself.[2]

Why do I insist on the difference?

Because that ‘as’ makes animation the universe and the universe animation.

So, in line with that title and that ‘as’, as well as the call for paper’s recognition of ‘the many incarnations of animation’, my paper explicitly acknowledges and engages with not only the universe of animation but the universe, and all incarnated within it, as animation, at the least taking off from my essay ‘The Nutty Universe of Animation, the “Discipline” of All “Disciplines”, and That’s Not All, Folks!’ (Cholodenko, 2006),[3] treating the universe of animation as subsumed within the universe as animation.

Put simply, ‘the cosmos of animation’ is for me ‘the nutty universe of animation’.

Here, let me repeat the title of that essay: ‘The Nutty Universe of Animation, the “Discipline” of All “Disciplines”, and That’s Not All, Folks!’

It says so much of this paper already.

As my publications have argued for and adopted the last 25 years—from my Introduction to The Illusion of Life: Essays on Animation (Cholodenko, 1991a) and essay therein, ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit, or the Framing of Animation’ (Cholodenko, 1991b) to my essay ‘“First Principles” of Animation’ in the anthology Animating Film Theory (Cholodenko, 2014)my paper today advocates for the most expansive, widest-ranging, most inclusive and most far-reaching approaches to animation, privileges French ‘poststructuralist’ and ‘postmodernist’ approaches to animation as the most informed by and performing animation—approaches pioneered in The Illusion of Life, approaches not simply productivist, life asserting and purely positive[4]—and promotes animation—as I wrote in its Introduction—as of the order of the ‘in between’, as in betweener, as inter-, as inter-disciplinary, as well as

…as a notion whose purchase would be transdisciplinary, transinstitutional, implicating the most profound, complex and challenging questions of our culture, questions in the areas of being and becoming, time, space, motion, change—indeed, life itself.[5] (Cholodenko, 1991a p. 15)

It is a claim I reaffirmed in my Introduction to The Illusion of Life 2: More Essays on Animation (Cholodenko 2007a), where I asserted that ‘animation (therefore animation studies) is relevant to all disciplines and all scholars, operating in, integral to and performed by all of them’ (Cholodenko, 2007a p. 69), reiterating my proposition that animation makes every discipline, including by definition animation studies, always already between disciplines, interdisciplinary, as well as transdisciplinary.

While in my 1991 Introduction I made the radical claim (still in largest measure unembraced by animation film scholars) that not only is animation a form of film, all film, including live action, is a form of animation—expanding thereby the notion of animation film and film animation with the project of reanimating both film theory and animation theory as film animation theory—my paper today advances the even more expansive, more radical claim yet that I proposed in my 2007 Introduction.

I quote:

…unlike the majority of those who write on animation, for me animation is not only an art. And it is not only the life and motion of a genre of film, of cinema, of film ‘as such’. It is far more. It is idea, concept, process, performance, medium and milieu; and it invests all arts, media and communications. (In other words, all arts, media and communications are forms of animation). It invests all sciences and technologies. It invests all disciplines, knowledges, fields, practices (including the history of ideas, the history of philosophy). [And let me add here, institutions.] It invests all relationships (of whatever kind: personal, social, national, sexual, etc.). It invests all life and movement, as it invests all thought. It invests not only the subject, it invests the world, the universe itself. That’s why it is more than only a human practice. It is a process, performance, medium and milieu of world, of universe. What might be called the at once ‘squash and stretch’, elastic, plastic, animated—indeed animatic—nature of ‘all’. It is not only the human that is at stake in animation, it is the world, the universe—everything which is the case, what could be called reality ‘as such’.[6] (Cholodenko, 2007a pp. 67-68)

Indeed, I was tempted to call the paper, with a nod to Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston’s first of 12 principles of animation, ‘The Stretching/Squashing Universe of Animation (Studies)’.[7]

Put simply, my claim is that animation—the endowing with life and motion, death and nonmotion, and all the phases, transformations, metamorphoses in between—has always already never not cornered the market on the universe and all within it.

And for me, not only has my approach to animation been from its outset as expansive and expanding for animation and its study as possible but also, as the title of my paper today indicates, that universe of animation, including by definition the universe of animation studies, is itself expanding.

And my project is, as ever, to try to keep my scholarship expanding with it, even to push it further.

When I claim that the universe of animation is expanding, what I mean is that, given my proposition that all disciplines, knowledges, fields, etc., are always already never not forms/modes/practices/performances of animation, then that expansion is at the least but their increasing visibility as modes of what I call, after my mentor Jean Baudrillard, second order ‘reality’ animation.

And of course one, more or all of those disciplines, knowledges, fields, etc., can expand within the bounds of second order ‘reality’ animation, even as individually and collectively they can expand, and contract, at the same time.

My point is: as disciplines of animation, all disciplines are per se modes of animation studies.

You cannot get more expansive than that in terms of disciplines!

Indeed, all studies for me are studies of animation.

Which means, as I proposed in my Introduction to The Illusion of Life 2 and my ‘“First Principles” of Animation’: 1. the Society for Animation Studies’ ‘animation studies’ should be renamed film animation studies, or possibly, given its never not expanding, media animation studies, some such descriptor, and that—again fancifully—2. all disciplines should have the word ‘animation’ appended to their names, eg. philosophy animation, art animation, biology animation, physics animation, etc.[8]

With the proviso that—granted that animation as what I call the animatic is never not operating within all definition, indisciplining definition itself, including that of animation[9]—any definition, including of any discipline, including ‘by definition’ animation studies, could only ever be provisional, contingent and ‘by definition’ not definite(!) nor sufficient.

Moreover, in my ‘Nutty Universe’ essay I proposed not only that ‘animation engages processes, disciplines, knowledges, discourses, and institutions across the spectrum, across all the faculties, across arts, the humanities, the social and the natural sciences, including philosophy, from the Pre-Socratics on’ but that ‘animation studies needs to engage with all of them, for all of them for me “engage with” animation’, engage with the Society for Animation Studies’ animation studies.

Put otherwise, all disciplines not only study animation, all disciplines are themselves modes of animation, performers of animation, that is, animators, reanimators, at once animate(d), animating, and reanimating, including animating/reanimating not only themselves but each other, as well as the institutions in which they operate, which likewise animate/reanimate not only themselves but each other, as well as the disciplines which they propound and promote.

Which means that all other disciplines are reanimating film animation studies, reanimating what not only film animation studies but animation studies ‘itself’ is, even as film animation studies reanimates them and ‘it’.

So for me there is no choice: film animation studies must engage with that expansion, that stretching, and that contraction, that squashing, simultaneously co-animated with it.

Here I quote Paul Wells:

‘Localised’ thinking inhibits the growth and development of fields because it does not acknowledge enough the necessity of expansive paradigms of both animation and thought itself to properly apprehend what animation as a form has done not merely to be ‘art’ but to change lived experience. That is, for me at least, why it is a perpetually modernist form, and one that holistically represents who we are and what we do in all its manifestations. (Email communication with me 6 September 2015. And see Wells, 2009).

I concur with Paul’s characterisation, criticism and call, but with this qualification: for me, animation so defined partakes of those pertinences that link it to metaphysics, humanism, the subject, the social, the historical (modernism), the ontological, wholeness, unity, identity, self-identity, etc., whereas for me there is something anterior and superior to animation—the animatic—as I have defined it in numerous essays, here from my Introduction to The Illusion of Life 2:

I theorize the animatic as not only the very logics, processes, performance and performativity of animation but the very ‘essence’ of animation—the animation and animating of animation. The animatic subsumes animation, is its very condition of at once possibility and impossibility, at once the inanimation in and of animation and animation in and of inanimation. The animatic is that nonessence enabling and at the same time disenabling animation as essence, including Eisenstein’s protean plasmaticness as essence (which is why I put essence in quotation marks). Not only is the animatic uncanny, the uncanny is animatic. The animatic is not simply different but radically, irreducibly Other.[10] (Cholodenko, 2007a pp. 43-44)

‘Other’ with a capital ‘O’.

‘Blind spot’ of the ‘blind spot’[11]—process, performer, medium and milieu of the entre– (an entre– never not in play intra-, within) and the trans11—the animatic is hauntological, conjuring, spectring animation, at once enabling and disenabling animation as merely ontological, making animation the special case, the reduced, conditional form, of the animatic, meaning that for me there is no essence, no as such, to animation.[12]

In light of all this, I submit that, even as Karen Beckman declared in her ‘Animating Film Theory: An Introduction’ to her anthology Animating Film Theory (Beckman, 2014)—‘the primary goal is to explore the kinds of theoretical questions that have remained underexplored because we [scholars of cinema and media studies] have allowed ourselves to be constrained by too narrow a sense of what cinema is’ (Beckman, 2014 p. 19)—and called for ‘the animation of film theory’ (Beckman, 2014 p. 19)—a point and call I first made in my 1991 Introduction to The Illusion of Life, and in many publications thereafter—so, as well for me, animation scholars have allowed themselves to be constrained by too narrow a sense of what animation is, a point I likewise made in that Introduction by marking the nature of animation as I understood it and the nature of the ‘poststructuralist’ and ‘postmodernist’ interventions the essays in The Illusion of Life were making in animation (studies).

And while Beckman’s anthology seeks scholars to reanimate and ‘expand’ film studies,[13] insofar as for me animation as the animatic is process, performance, of world, of universe, it never not reanimates and ‘expands’ animation, including animation studies, including film animation studies, which needs to expand to engage what is happening outside, within, from and to it, especially as the animatic reanimates all animation with the most profoundly deconstructive and seductive consequences, including for all disciplines, individually and collectively, including film animation studies, indeed for all entities conceived of as pure, entire unto and master of themselves.

So against any ghettoizing, protectionist, ‘sheltering’ approach to animation, SAS animation studies—if it is to claim the name animation studies as representing animation studies ‘as such’, even as implicating all other modes of animation study within it—must take the widest, most expansive possible approach(es) to animation, approaches far in excess of my call in 2007 for animation studies to engage with Film Studies and media studies to cure its ‘blind spot’—them.[14]

So, in line with animation as inter- and trans-disciplinary, I continue to call for animation studies to model itself on animation!, even on the animatic!, therefore to engage across all the disciplines, all the faculties, including the ‘hard’ sciences, as I undertook with quantum cosmology and animation in my ‘Nutty Universe’ essay, where I ‘entangled’ Baudrillard and Jacques Derrida, my other mentor, with Stephen Hawking and James Hartle, ‘entangled’ the universe of childhood and the childhood of the universe, brought quantum mechanical processes of tunneling, Niels Bohr’s wave/particle duality, Werner Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, Erwin Schrödinger’s cat, etc., to an understanding of the quantum laws of physics nuttily, animatically animating the universe of animation and the animation of the universe, operating in and exemplified best for me by the cartoon, laws almost totally ignored by scholars in the humanities for around 100 years now when they write of the ‘laws of nature’, for the fundamental ‘laws of nature’ are the quantum laws of physics which at once enable and disenable the classical laws of physics and of the putatively ‘normal’ world.[15]

And when I say widest, most expansive possible approaches, I mean to include not just the theoretical approaches and logics of the universes animating them but the topics and content, too.


But here the plot thickens, expands, stretches…and simultaneously thins, contracts, squashes.

For me, that expansion (and contraction) of animation can be thought in terms of what I also claimed in Part 4 of my 2007 Introduction, to wit:

…since THE ILLUSION OF LIFE was published [in 1991], animation—indeed, the animatic—has increasingly come forward, presented itself, as the most compelling, indeed singular process of not only contemporary film but the contemporary world. We live in a world increasingly animated, increasingly animatic (at the same time acknowledging that, like film, the world was never not animated, animatic). This means that the logics and processes of animation, of the animatic, of which film animation provides singular exemplification and performance, offer the best description of not only film animation but the contemporary world (and the subject therein). The implication is clear: we need animation film theory, film animation theory, animation theory ‘as such’, to understand film, the world and the subject. And we need television, video and especially computer animation theory as these media increasingly pervade and reanimate the mediascape, or rather immediascape, of the world and the subject, an immediascape, world and subject increasingly hyperanimated, hyperanimatic—the pure and empty, virtual forms of animation and the animatic. (Cholodenko, 2001a pp. 68-69)

Animation (re)defines, or better, (re)(in)defines, the world.[16]

By ‘world’ here, I mean, after Baudrillard, everything which is the case, including the universe itself and its expansion.

Granted that, for me, again after Baudrillard, expansion can occur not only within the bounds of second order ‘reality’ and its universe of animation, it can go beyond its bounds and universe, an expansion that at the same time increasingly contracts, or better hypercontracts, not only what it is leaving behind but itself.

So the question is: is the expansion I am noting within the bounds of second order reality or beyond it?

For if that expansion takes one beyond second order reality, then that universe of animation itself has changed, lives no longer.

For it has crossed the event horizon, passed beyond itself, morphing—reanimating—into what I reference in that quote as hyperanimation and the hyperanimatic, the pure and empty form of animation and the animatic, where animation is everywhere except in itself and everything is in it but it, commensurate with what I have called the hyperuniverse of hyperanimation,[17] where all within it is in that hyper state—where ‘the stretching/squashing universe of animation (studies)’ morphs into ‘the hyperstretching/hypersquashing hyperuniverse—hypercosmos!—of hyperanimation (hyperstudies)’ commensurate with the advent of Baudrillardian hyperreality—his third order, radically uncertain, post-apocalyptic, holocaustal, oncological, biogenetic, cybernetic, biotechnomediated, hyperimmediated, hypertechnological, hypercontrolled universe, one of extreme, excessive, delirious, proliferating, saturating phenomena and events, animated by processes of the exponential, the maximalising—the ecstatic in its metastatic expression—the hypertelic—the pushing of things to their limits where they at once fulfil and annihilate themselves—universe of the obese, the obscene, the terrorist and the hostage, the viral, the fractal, the clonal, the quantum, the global, the mass, etc., as described by Baudrillard and from which nothing is exempt—what would be for me, speaking cosmically, what I call the ‘Big Chill’, the heat death of second order ‘reality’, a heat death, or Rip even, arguably already having happened!, the heat death therefore of animation, where animation and the animatic morph into cold, disenchanted hyperanimation and the hyperanimatic.[18]

And that brings with it the crucial consequence that all theories, understandings, approaches, critiques, practices, etc., that presume what they address and from where they address it is still the second order universe of animation and so treat it by definition miss the mark, the hyperreal hyperuniverse of hyperanimation rendering them irrelevant, inapplicable, to it and all its hyperpertinences.

And this includes ‘new’ disciplines, knowledges, fields, etc., assuming, in approaches, logics, topics, content, whatever, the persistence still of second order reality.

For second order reality and all its constitutive pertinences—purity, essence, presence, the ontological, identity, self-identity, wholeness, closure, meaning, truth, value, reality, the individual, the social, the Subject, production, reproduction, representation, etc.—the great referentials, as well as the grand narratives, of the culture, including those of humanism[19]—have been left behind for a third order hyperuniverse,[20] the pure and empty form of universe, and whose expansion is accelerating.[21]

Put simply, in the wake of Baudrillardian hyperreality, where the universal passes beyond itself into the global, humanism—its putative ‘universality’ of values of a putative ‘universal’ human nature, whether theistic or secular—what I call humanimism—is an ontology become hyperontological.[22]

Indeed, for Baudrillard, everything tends to pass into its hyperform, the hypertelic, maximalising, ecstastic form of ‘more x than x’,[23] its virtual, pure and empty form, where everything is everywhere but in itself and everything is in itself but itself.[24]

Where life morphs into hyperlife (life more death than death), death into hyperdeath (death more life than life), motion into hypermotion (acceleration more inertia than inertia), nonmotion into hypernonmotion (inertia more acceleration than acceleration).

While the animatic figure of lifedeath is for me never not operating in animation, its hyperanimatic form is that of hyperlifedeath—a life without life, a death without death, a lifedeath without lifedeath, a life and the living more dead than dead and a death and the dead more alive than alive. Here we pass from death as absence to the absence of death. Here death has met its death, and ‘lives on’ beyond it, as does life, too, as ‘life’.

And what constitutes that ‘centrality’ of animation to the contemporary world and all within it is not the putatively full centre of animation at the full centre of the universe but the void, empty centre of hyperanimation at the void, empty centre of the hyperuniverse–the dead point, blind spot—the black hole—at its/their ‘core.’[25]


So, given animation redefines by never not reanimating not only our world, our universe, and everything within it but also itself—the question is: what and where is animation today?

And its cognate: what and where is animation studies today?

I take it there could be no more relevant questions than these for an entity called the Society for Animation Studies.

Put simply, is animation and its universe at stake today?

Are they disappearing?

Or, given the hypothesis of the(ir) passage already into the hyperanimated hyperuniverse of hyperreality, are they at stake no longer?!

Are they terminated?!

So this is a question of the life and death of animation (studies) today.

For if life and death are at stake, so is animation.

And if animation is at stake, so are life and death.

And insofar as animation animates animation studies, as long as animation persists, animation studies can persist.

But if animation ends and reanimates, morphs, into hyperanimation, it reanimates, morphs, animation studies into hyperanimation hyperstudies, requiring its scholars to expand their purview to this hyperexpanded hyperuniverse of hyperanimation, and, crucially, to do so with approaches et al. commensurate with it.

Here animation (studies) and I converge with the new developments.

Here I recall what I wrote in my 1991 Introduction: ‘Animation…poses the very questions of life itself, movement itself and their relation,…’ (Cholodenko, 1991a p. 15).[26]

My claim that ‘animation’ draws forward, presents itself, today as the most compelling, singular process of world, of universe, is for me not only incarnated but directly visible in the manifest coming forward today of life itself in what’s been called in the literature ‘the question of life’ (eg. Colebrook, 2014 p. 192)[27]—‘the age of life’, too (Benvenuto 2010, n.p.)[28]—what I call ‘the turn to life’—where life is the overt focus of theories in and across so many disciplines, knowledges, fields, practices, institutions, etc., as to constitute not only the transdisciplinary but transinstitutional, transcultural focus and question today.[29]

And, put simply, for me, that ‘turn to life’ is the turn to animation, a turn for me never not always already occurred.

That turn is for me more striking, more glaring, in some disciplines, etc., than in others, animating these ‘trans’ theories I am in the process of researching: Thing Theory, Object-Oriented Ontology, Vital Materialism—reanimated, morphed, forms of animation as animism, vitalism—personalism, pantheism, panpsychism, too, as well as—on the ‘mechanist’, ‘science’ side—quantum theory, biogenetics, cybernetics, AI, transhumanism, etc., marked too by what I call ‘the turn to death’.

While I cannot go into them individually here, I can offer these key, but preliminary, provisional, general thoughts.

Insofar as these major developments of the last 30 years in different ways centre their attention on life (marked in their use of the prefixes anima-, bio-, vita-, zoe-), even using the word ‘animation’ and its cognates, including that telltale phrase ‘a life of its own’, they are studying and promoting animation without—as continues to be the case across the disciplines and faculties—twigging to animation itself as central, intrinsic and integral to that attention and demanding engagement in its own right, which is to say engagement with work in film animation studies, and, obviously, in particular for me, with the approaches to animation my colleagues and I have pioneered.[30]

But this is no inconsequential, so to speak ‘academic’!, matter.

For here the question of life—whether life, that is, animation, is at stake—is posed.

As Joanna Zylinska, reflecting on this question and age of life, writes in her Minimal Ethics for The Anthropocene (2014): ‘Life typically becomes an object of reflection when it is seen to be under threat’ (p. 9).[31]

And let me add: death becomes such an object, too.

So the key question for me for animation studies, including these developments, is this: is this ‘turn to life’ and ‘age of life’—callable as ‘the turn to animation’ and ‘age of animation’!—the coming forward of animation or of hyperanimation, of life and death or of hyperlife and hyperdeath?

Is winter coming, or is it here?![32]

Are the dead coming, or is it the hyperdead?!—and who are here already?!—hyperzombies[33] and their clone relatives, cyborgs—hyperimmortal ‘anthropophagists’, that is, cannibals, I call zomborgs.

The life and death in and of the animation of the universe and the universe of animation today pose that question to animation studies and its universe, asking what universe it lives, and dies, in and animates today.

So animation (studies) will live and die by the nature of that coming forth.

Regarding this, in Bioethics in the Age of New Media (2009), Zylinska writes of the paramount bioethical issue in the age of the digital as ‘the transformation of the very notion of life and of the accompanying notion of ‘the human”’ (p. 35).

But for me it is more: not just the transformation—the reanimation—of the notions of life and the human but the transformation—the reanimation—of life itself and the human itself.

And the subject itself.

And therefore the very author of the author—the animator itself—morphing into the more authored than authored, the hyperanimator, a cyborg, zomborg even, a subordinate computer operator-animator to the computer operating, animating, it. (See Cholodenko, 2015a.)

And likewise the spectator itself, become hyperspectator, another cyborg, zomborg even.

Computers all.

For, as I say in ‘“Computer Says No”, or: The Erasure of the Human’, as part of what I call, with a wink at Darwin, the descent, the devolution, of the human into the hyperhuman: ‘If you don’t compute, YOU don’t compute!’ (Cholodenko, 2015a p. 39).

In the main, singularly marking the link between this for me ironical, paradoxical transdisciplinary turn to life and animation, the ‘new’ theories privilege not the life of the human and the subject but the life of objects, recalling for me what I wrote in my 1991 Introduction, that animation privileges not the subject but the object, therefore that ‘animation cannot be theorized without theorizing the life of objects (the nonhuman can be included in this category) and vice versa’ (Cholodenko, 1991a p. 32, note 15).[34]

This turn away from the life of the (human) subject to that of the nonhuman object, even that of inorganic objects—what vital materialist Jane Bennett, author of Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things, calls ‘the turn to things in contemporary theory’ (Bennett, 2012 p. 232)—takes up a place for me also in what I wrote of in ‘(The) Death (of) the Animator, or: The Felicity of Felix’, Part 2: ‘A Difficulty in the Path of Animation Studies’, that is, the great decentrings of the human, including Darwin’s demotion of the human to an animal among animals, and so many more decentrings, de-anthropocentrisings, thereafter,[35] resulting in the demotion, and the promotion of that demotion, of the human from its position at the centre of the animation universe—sovereign, authorial, all-controlling and alone, exempt from and master of the object, the world, the universe—to an object among all nonhuman objects, a thing among all nonhuman things, a person among all nonhuman persons, a quantum wave/particle entangled among all quantum waves/particles even—whether objects, things, persons, quantum waves/particles, all as agents, agency for me the capacity to animate.

So, in the Age nominated ‘Anthropocene’, age of the rule of the human over the planet and its future—reread by critical theorists rather as the age of the human’s mass disruption and destruction of the planet—age for me after Baudrillard of the human’s drive not only to but for its own extinction, its own death, age for me commensurate with hyperreality—the human is, partly paradoxically, so demoted and the nonhuman object—or hyperobject for Baudrillard—takes the lead over the human subject, privileging all the more the study of that object and its Age by the animation scholar, or rather hyperanimation hyperscholar—a decentring most of the developments I am researching advocate, participate in and contribute to, though they never give Baudrillard and his provocative, prescient work on the object due acknowledgement as their precursor.[36]

So when Bennett—asserting in Vibrant Matter that ‘so-called inanimate things have a life, that deep within is an inexplicable vitality or energy, a moment of independence from and resistance to us and other bodies: a kind of thing-power’ (Bennett, 2010 p. 18) and defining thing-power as ‘the curious ability of inanimate things to animate, to act, to produce effects dramatic and subtle’ (Bennett, 2010 p. 6)—asks explicitly of that animation of matter, ‘Is there a form of theory that can acknowledge a certain ‘thing-power’, that is, the irreducibility of objects to the human meanings or agendas they also embody?’ (Bennett interviewed in Khan, 2009 p. 94) animation studies has, of course, the answer for her, as for other ‘anti- or post-humanist humanists’[37]—animation theory.

My answer: animatic theory.

But that would be an answer ‘from’ and for second order reality, not third order hyperreality, where life has morphed into its own hysteresis, merely ‘living on’, surviving,[38] in the ‘after life’, its afterlife, that is, Second Life, digital life, virtual life, hyperlife—life quote unquote—from where the answer would be: hyperanimation hypertheory.

Mine: hyperanimatic hypertheory.

So my ‘conclusion’ is that the ‘new’ developments are engaged in a form of what Baudrillard called ‘Operational Whitewash’ (Baudrillard, 1993 p. 44), also ‘The Great Laundering’ (Baudrillard, 2002, p. 70), what I call ‘theoretical cocooning’, trying to avoid—or rather, struggling to escape—the black hole they are already caught in, nostalgically, abreactively redoubling their effort to preserve, protect and shelter second order reality—including life, which is to say, including animation, and as ontological—to preserve, protect and shelter even the human and the subject, human-ist in that sense still, against hyperreality, hyperlife, hyperanimation, hyperhumanism, which effort, granted hyperreality, can but fail,  a hyperreality marked in the very nature of their totalized formulations, the otherwise varyingly hyperanimist, hypervitalist, hyperontological, hypermaterialist, hypermechanist, hyperlifeaffirming hyperpositivities, hyperproductivisms, hyperbecomings at once hyperstretching and hypersquashing them.[39]

 To wit, if everything is animism, nothing is (to say nothing of animism without anima), if everything is vital, nothing is, if everything is ontological, nothing is, if everything is a person, nothing is, if everything is matter/materialist, nothing is, if…[40]

But let me note: in light of this ‘coming forward’ of animation in these new areas, my claim in a number of publications over the years that animation is almost universal ‘blind spot’ in and across the disciplines is in the process of reanimation, even as it becomes more evident some of these disciplines could issue a challenge to film animation studies, claiming that they are more animation studies than animation studies.[41]

So here lies a good reason for as expansive and expanding a view of and from animation (studies) as possible, a view including awareness of the contracted and contracting processes at work simultaneously within it.

You see, I do not want to find myself coming to have to ask, including on behalf of these ‘new’ developments: is the expanding universe of animation (studies), even hyperexpanding hyperuniverse of hyperanimation (hyperstudies), film animation studies’ ‘blind spot’?!


Dr Alan Cholodenko is an Honorary Associate of The University of Sydney.



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Cholodenko, A. (1997). ‘“OBJECTS IN MIRROR ARE CLOSER THAN THEY APPEAR”: The Virtual Reality of Jurassic Park and Jean Baudrillard’, Jean Baudrillard, Art and Artefact, (ed.) N Zurbrugg, Sage Publications, London, in association with the Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane, reprinted in International Journal of Baudrillard Studies, vol. 2, no. 1, January 2005.

Cholodenko, A. (2000). ‘The Illusion of the Beginning: A Theory of Drawing and Animation’, Afterimage, vol. 28, no. 1, July/August.

Cholodenko, A. (2003). ‘Apocalyptic Animation: In the Wake of Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Godzilla and Baudrillard’, in Baudrillard: West of the Dateline, (eds.) Victoria Grace, Heather Worth and Laurence Simmons, Dunmore Press, Auckland, New Zealand, reprinted in International Journal of Baudrillard Studies, ‘Special Issue: Baudrillard and War’, vol. 11, no. 2, May 2014.

Cholodenko, A. (2004). ‘“The Borders of Our Lives”: Frederick Wiseman, Jean Baudrillard, and the Question of the Documentary’, International Journal of Baudrillard Studies, vol. 1, no. 2.

Cholodenko, A. (2005). ‘Still Photography?’, Afterimage, vol. 32, no. 5, March/April, reprinted in International Journal of Baudrillard Studies, vol. 5, no. 1, January 2008.

Cholodenko, A. (2006). ‘The Nutty Universe of Animation, the “Discipline” of All “Disciplines”, And That’s Not All, Folks!’, International Journal of Baudrillard Studies, vol. 3, no. 1, January.

Cholodenko, A. (2007a). Introduction, The Illusion of Life 2: More Essays on Animation, (ed.) A Cholodenko, Power Publications, Sydney.

Cholodenko, A. (2007b). ‘Speculations on the Animatic Automaton’, The Illusion of Life 2: More Essays on Animation, (ed.) A Cholodenko, Power Publications, Sydney.

Cholodenko, A. (2007c). ‘Animation—Film and Media Studies’ “Blind Spot”’, Society for Animation Studies Newsletter, vol. 20, no. 1, Spring.

Cholodenko, A. (2007d). “(The) Death (of) the Animator, or: The Felicity of Felix”, Part II: “A Difficulty in the Path of Animation Studies”, Animation Studies, vol. 2.

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Cholodenko, A. (2011). “(The) Death (of) the Animator, or: The Felicity of Felix”, Part III: ‘Death and the Death of Death’, in Selected Writings from the UTS: Sydney International Animation Festival 2010 Symposium, (ed.) Chris Bowman, Faculty of Design, Architecture & Building, University of Technology Sydney, Sydney, Australia, reprinted in International Journal of Baudrillard Studies, vol. 11, no. 1, January 2014.

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Cholodenko, A. (2015b). ‘The Animator as Artist, the Artist as Animator’, Animation Studies, vol. 10.

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[1]  Whithering, as in shaking, soliciting, quaking, as by a gust of air, wind, as in therefore animating, animatically so—after Jacques Derrida’s notion of soliciting as shaking, the very operation of deconstruction, not only, simply or merely ‘whither’ as ‘where?’—animation (studies).

[2] I ask parenthetically: is this ‘as’ an ostensible parapraxis, that is, a Freudian slip, one ventriloquised by the universe itself?! And for ‘as’, that is, animation (studies)?!

[3] Insofar as the Oxford English Dictionary defines cosmos as ‘an ordered and harmonious system’ and universe as ‘the whole, the sum of existing things…’ (from uni– + versus, past participle of vertere to turn)’, the nutty universe of animation I propose is at the least deconstructive of any cosmos and universe thought as simple order, harmony, system, whole, sum, rather at the least in accord with James Gleick’s redefinition of chaos in his Chaos: Making a New Science (1987), as what I call the at once order of disorder and disorder of order. See my ‘The Nutty Universe of Animation…’. Arguably, the vert of uni-verse always already di-verts, disseminates and seduces the uni-, turning the uni-verse into not merely the multi-verse but the per-verse, always already, never not, perversely leading the uni-verse astray. Thanks to Tom Loveday for so turning my attention to the etymology of the words cosmos and universe.

[4] See Cholodenko, 1991a p. 14 for what distinguishes the anthology’s (including my) intervention in the theorizing of animation and in animation studies, quoted and reaffirmed in Cholodenko, 2001a pp. 37-38.

[5] Pushing that claim much further, my 2006 ‘Nutty Universe…’ essay, as its title overtly declares, posits all disciplines as disciplines of animation, marking the transdisciplinary as of the order of animation.

[6] See too my ‘The Animation of Cinema’, where I posit animation as never not ‘the very “core” of [not only] cinema and culture “as such”…but of world “as such”, universe “as such”—animation world, animation universe’ (Cholodenko, 2008 p. 1).

[7] Described in their book, entitled when I first encountered it in the late 1980s, Disney Animation: The Illusion of Life, not The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation, which reversal of the title occurred as best I can tell in 1995, four years after the publication of my The Illusion of Life. Their principle allows me to say: that animation of the universe and universe of animation is stretching!, a stretching also invoking Eisenstein’s plasmaticness in Eisenstein on Disney. And squashing, too, at the same time, by definition for me, after Jacques Derrida’s treatment of binary opposition, where each term of an opposition is necessarily inextricably coimplicated, ‘entangled’, you might say, with its opposite term, making each dependent on the existence and operation of the other.

[8] Obviously, every art, medium and mode of communication, every science and technology, every discipline, knowledge, field, practice (including the history of ideas, the history of philosophy)—and let me add here, as I have elsewhere, institution, dispositif (apparatus)—has its own forms, modalities, components, elements, means, techniques, etc., of animating, which are themselves animators, calling for elucidation by the scholar, practitioner, critic, theorist, etc.

[9] Here the complex deconstructive, animatic theorizing of animation I have elaborated since 1991—misrepresented, even flattened into a pancake, by some commentators—puts paid to any simplistic, conventional definition, including either/orist, of animation.

[10] On what I call the animatic apparatus, see Cholodenko, 1991b p. 234.

[11] For ‘the blind spot of the blind spot’ see Cholodenko, 2008a, Cholodenko, 2009, Cholodenko, 2007d and Cholodenko, 2008b.

[12] The animatic informs my hauntological Cryptic Complex of animation, including quantum cosmological Cryptic Complex of animation, composed of the uncanny, the return of death as spectre, endless mourning and melancholia and cryptic incorporation. See Cholodenko, 2006.

[13] That need for expanded and expanding vision and engagement is one not only I but my two anthologies promoted and pursued in advance of Beckman’s anthology.

[14] Even as I at the same time called for Film Studies and media studies to engage with animation to cure their ‘blind spot’—it. See Cholodenko, 2007c, as well as Cholodenko, 2007a and Cholodenko, 2014.

[15] To which I would add Cholodenko, 2000, on drawing as animation; Cholodenko, 2005, on photography as animation; and Cholodenko, 2015b, on art as animation.

[16] See Cholodenko, 2007b, where I take up the (in)defining nature of what J. David Bolter in his book Turing’s Man: Western Culture in the Computer Age (1984), described as ‘defining technologies’, the most recent and for our epoch being the computer, which for me hyper(in)defining hypertechnology I address in Cholodenko, 2015a.

[17] This term I coined—hyperanimation—first appeared in Cholodenko, 2003. Hyperanimation marks at once the fulfilment and death of animation and the start of the pure and empty form of animation, in anime and computer animation in hyperfilm hyperanimation. In that regard, see Cholodenko, 2007a. So hyperanimation could be understood as an answer to the funereal conundrum Paul Wells posits in Wells, 2009.

[18] No wonder the hostility marked in the literature toward the work of Baudrillard, even the attempted erasure of it, in the desperate rearguard action to recuperate, to preserve, what has disappeared or is increasingly disappearing—second order ‘reality’, its ‘principle’ and all that characterizes it. On Baudrillard’s key reference for the passage into hyperreality—Elias Canetti’s dead point, blind spot, black hole beyond reality in his The Human Province—see Cholodenko, 1997, Cholodenko, 2003, Cholodenko, 2004 and Cholodenko, 2010.

[19] By ‘the grand narratives of the culture’, I refer to Jean-François Lyotard’s defining of them in The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge (1984), narratives such as the never-ending progress of history and human evolution, liberation through science and technology, etc.

[20] Here a qualification. As I observe in Cholodenko, 2011, note 16: ‘…it is actually third/fourth order, but since for me the fourth partakes of hyperreality, I shall just use the word ‘third’ when referencing it’. On those orders, see my sketch of them in that note, as well as my reprising of his second and third orders in Cholodenko, 2010.

[21] Intriguingly, a stretching and squashing of the universe was proposed by Albert Einstein in his General Theory of Relativity and arguably confirmed this very February by the detection of gravitational waves by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO). Moreover, Marcus Strom relates ‘New Hubble’s Constant Shows Local Universe is Expanding Even Faster Than We Thought’, Strom, 2016. So even local expansion is accelerating. See Baudrillard, 1994, on the hyperprocesses of acceleration and inertia, where inertia increasingly accelerates and acceleration increases in inertia.

[22] Indeed, not just human nature but humanism as the positing of the human as nature, as natural, as pre-cultural, as well as as exceptional, as Karen Barad tells us in Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning, a couplet I call humanimism, the human as ensouled/enspirited, enlivened, in a word, animated animistically, ontologically fully so, as presence, essence, a ready figure with which to dominate, and even exterminate, those taken as less than or other than human. To be expanded upon in Part 2 of this essay.

[23] Here I note: whenever I utilise Baudrillard’s ‘more x than x’, it is to be read as ‘at once more and less x than x’.

[24] Including the coming forward in their hyperforms of the object, the uncanny, the spectre, my Cryptic Complex, the hauntological.

[25] Which would morph Paul Wells’ ‘art’ and ‘lived experience’ into their hyperforms—‘hyperart’—art more nonart than nonart, and ‘hyperlived—that is to say, more died than died—hyperexperience’—experience more nonexperience than nonexperience.

[26] See Cholodenko, 1991a and Cholodenko, 2007a, plus Cholodenko, 2014, on this. In focusing on life rather than movement in the paragraphs that here follow, I raise again the concern I posed in Cholodenko, 2014, and Cholodenko, 2015b, regarding what I took as highly symptomatic. I wrote in the latter:
…the increasing tendency of animation scholars to treat animation as only involving movement and not life I find worrying, not least because it suggests that movement is increasingly gaining ground and life increasingly losing it, that life is increasingly only a matter of movement.
To be developed in Part 2 of this essay.

[27] Following upon so many scholarly turns in the last half century or so—‘the turn to history’, ‘the turn to linguistics’, etc.—the turn to life seems to have its advent at the least in Michel Foucault’s turn to biopower and biopolitics in The History of Sexuality in 1976.

[28] His Age of Life’ is for me rather the hyperage of hyperlife, as his ‘drive towards the real’ is for me the drive towards the hyperreal, a drive for me associated with the drive on the part of the human species to exterminate itself, what Colebrook calls ‘the human species…own self-extinguishing tendencies, including ‘extinguishing what renders us human’ (Colebrook, 2014 p. 11).

[29] As Eugene Thacker—using the word ‘animating’ repeatedly and emphasizing what, familiar to animation students, he repeatedly calls ‘the plasticity of life, its shape-shifting quality’ (p. 4)—points out in his book After Life (2010):
…the concept of ‘life’ is not simply about this ambivalent conjunction of biology and politics [in biopolitics]—today it is also being extended across broad swaths of social, economic and cultural existence…. (Thacker, 2010 p. xiv)
And he offers this most pertinent conclusion:
If the question of Being was the central issue for antiquity (resurrected in the twentieth century by Heidegger), and if the question of God, as alive or dead, was the central issue for modernity (Kierkegaard, Marx, Nietzsche), then perhaps the question of ‘life’ is the question that has come to define our contemporary era… (Thacker, 2010 p. xiii)
For me, even as Thacker’s ‘perhaps’ needs dropping, unless it is there to mark the impact of ‘life’’s change to life and to the very (in)capacity to answer this question, so too his positing of the ontology of life needs deconstructing. For, given that for me the only essence of animation is that there is no essence of animation, the only essence of life is that there is no essence of life.

[30] An ever-expanding list of disciplines involved in this ‘turn to animation’ includes literary studies, art, media studies, cultural studies, feminist studies, gender studies, religious studies, philosophy (including ethics), sociology, politics, science studies, ecology studies, animal studies, anthropology, psychology, medicine, biology, genetics, biogenetics, botany, zoology, ethology, neuroscience, including cognitive neuroscience, physics, cosmology, cybernetics, IT, Artificial Intelligence, etc.

[31] Indeed, Colebrook asks: ‘Why is it that the increasingly shrill affirmation of life—nor just human life, but life as a living that furthers and values itself—occurs precisely at the moment in the history of life when it is at its most destructive and at its most evident end?’ (Colebrook, 2014 p. 204).

[32] ‘Winter is coming’ is the motto of House Stark in Game of Thrones.

[33] In Game of Thrones Ser Davos says, ‘The real war is between the living and the dead; and make no mistake, my lady, the dead are coming’. But for me, and as the drama exemplifies, it is not the dead that are coming but the hyperdead White Walkers, what I call hyperzombies, to distinguish them from the earlier voodoo zombie. On the hyperzombie, animated by George A. Romero in The Night of the Living Dead in 1968, and increasingly with us in countless films and TV series, including the ‘long-lived’ The Walking Dead, see Cholodenko, 2011. On the cyborg, see Cholodenko, 2007b and Cholodenko, 2015a. In this regard, Alex Garland’s compellingly instructive Ex Machina (2015) will be addressed in Part 2 of this essay.

[34] In my ‘Nutty Universe…’ essay, I write that animation privileges:
the quantum universe; the abnormal; the child; the insane; the primitive; the object; the nonhuman; death; différance; dissemination; the hauntological; Seduction, Illusion; Evil; irreconcilability; the littoral; connotation; Deleuze’s cinema of the time-image; Lyotard’s notion of the postmodern; Kristeva’s of abjection, etc.

[35] In that essay I list these ‘decenterers’:
Copernicus, Darwin, Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, Einstein, quantum mechanics, quantum cosmology, chaos theory, cybernetics, systems theory, computer codes, molecular biology (the DNA code), robotics, structuralism, semiology, etc.

[36] Including on the object and its games as superior to the human subject and its desires, an object that takes the lead over the subject.

[37] For example, Barad in Meeting the Universe Halfway distinguishes humanism from her posthumanist stance, the de-exceptionalising of the human she, and others, mount. As she states:
By “posthumanist”, I mean to signal the crucial recognition that nonhumans play an important role in naturalcultural practices, including everyday social practices, scientific practices, and practices that do not include humans. But also, beyond this, my use of “posthumanism” marks a refusal to take the distinction between “human” and “nonhuman” for granted, and to found analyses on this presumably fixed and inherent set of categories. (Barad, 2007 p. 32).

[38] Surviving in the face of these crises succinctly listed in the frontispiece and on the back cover of the collection Theory and the Disappearing Future: ‘The humanities are flooded with crises of globalism, capitalism and terrorism, contemporary narratives of financial collapse, viral annihilation, species extinction, environmental disaster and terrorist destruction’. And see too Colebrook, 2014 p. 11. The key issue of living ‘versus’ surviving, of life ‘versus’ ‘bare life’ (Giorgio Agamben), including in relation to hyperlife, will be taken up in Part 2.

[39] Like Jurassic Park dinosaurs taken for real, they describe and promote what they take to be realist when it is become hyperrealist. As Tom Cohen, playing on the élan of élan vital, declares:
To some degree, the elan [sic] of trends today like Object Oriented Ontology reach for an animism impossible to locate, after all projected or accommodated or ventriloquized ‘others’ have been run through (Cohen, 2016 p. 72).
For me, and what Cohen asserts cannot but remind of Baudrillard, that impossibility is because animism has passed into hyperanimism, helped along by these trends.

[40] If everything is an object, nothing is. It is already passed beyond. Ditto thing, quantum particle/wave…

[41] For an alert to animation scholars in league with the caveats of my two animation anthologies and other writings, as well as this essay, see Langer, 2002.

© Alan Cholodenko

Edited by Amy Ratelle