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MC: Thomas Elsaesser: Trapped in Amber: The New Materialities of (Media-)Memory

When Jul 05, 2019
from 10:00 to 02:00
Where Phil I, GCSC, R.001
Contact Name
Contact Phone +49 (0)641 99-30042
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The term ‘obsolescence’ has in recent years re-entered the vocabulary of the art world, of memory studies and of new media historians. In the process, it has significantly changed its meaning and enlarged its semantic and evaluative range. From being a wholly negative term within a technicist discourse, it became a critical term when consumerism was attacked for ‘planned obsolescence’. Now obsolescence has shifted into the realm of the positive, signifying something like heroic resistance to the relentless ‘new-ness’ and superficial novelty of electronic gadgets (but also of ideas). Obsolescence has become the badge of honour for all that is no longer useful (to capitalism, to commodification and instrumentalisation) and therefore resists even ‘appropriation’.

Anyone engaged with ‘found footage’, with home movies or our analogue cinematic legacy and technology, can appreciate that the strategic use of obsolescence lies in the fact that, being a term that inevitably associates both capitalism and technology, it is of special interest to the art world, to documentary filmmaking and to media archaeology: confined and defined as these practices now are by capitalism and technology. But obsolescence also gives us another outlook on what has become of the filmic ‘medium’ itself, when we see it in the broader context of ‘geological’ time as well as within the materialist turn that memory studies have taken in the 21st century.


The class will be held in English.



  • Elsaesser, Thomas: “Media Archaeology as the Poetics of Obsolescence.” In: Film History as Media Archaeology: Tracking Digital Cinema. Amsterdam: Amsterdam UP, 2017. 331-350.
  • Elsaesser, Thomas: “History, Media, Memory – Three Discourses in Dispute.” In: U. Ekman/F. Tygstrup (eds.): Witness: Memory, Representation and the Media in Question. Copenhagen: Tusculum 2008. 393-413.

  • Elsaesser, Thomas: “Holocaust Memory as the Epistemology of Forgetting? Re-wind and Postponement in Respite.” In: Antje Ehmann/Kodwo Eshun (eds.:): Harun Farocki: Against What Against Whom. Köln: Walther König 2010. 51-56.

  • Nora, Pierre: “Between Memory and History: Les Lieux de Memoire.” Representations 26 (1989): 7-24.


Recommended Reading:

  • Astrid Erll/Ansgar Nünning (eds.): Medien des kollektiven Gedächtnisses: Konstruktivität – Historizität – Kulturspezifität. Berlin, New York: de Gruyter 2004.
  • Astrid Erll/Ansgar Nünning (eds.): Cultural Memory Studies: An International and Interdisciplinary Handbook. Berlin, New York: de Gruyter 2008.



// Thomas Elsaesser is Professor Emeritus at the Department of Media and Culture of the University of Amsterdam. From 2006 to 2012 he was Visiting Professor at Yale and since 2013 he teaches part-time at Columbia University. Author and editor of some twenty books, his work has been translated into most European and several Asian languages. Among his recent books are German Cinema - Terror and Trauma: Cultural Memory Since 1945 (New York: Routledge, 2013), Film Theory – An Introduction through the Senses (with Malte Hagener, 2nd revised edition, New York: Routledge, 2015 [in German: Film Theorie: Zur Einführung, Junius 2010), Körper, Tod und Technik (with Michael Wedel, Paderborn: Konstanz University Press, 2016), Film History as Media Archaeology (Amsterdam University Press, 2016) and European Cinema and Continental Philosophy: Film as Thought Experiment (London: Bloomsbury, 2018).

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