COV&R-Bulletin No. 13 (Oct. 1997)
Report from the COV&R Conference held at Graz, June 23 -27, 1997
This year's COV&R-meeting at Graz/Austria from June 23 until June 27 was a very special event in several regards. It took place in the capital of Styria, a charming mid-European town hardly known to most of our participants form overseas. This city has, however, been in the center of Europe-wide attention because of the 2nd European Ecumenical Assembly coming together during this same week (with the COV&R-meeting partially integrated in its cultural program). Furthermore our symposium took up a rather unusual topic, namely "Film and Modernity: Violence, Sacrifice and Religion", with several full-length screenings of contemporary art- and commercial films. Consequently it attracted also quite a few non-COV&R-people from Austria and other European countries. Herein lay chances and risks of this meeting which was organized by the Institute of Fundamental Theology (Catholic Theological Faculty of Graz University) in loose collaboration with the local Institute for American Studies. Among the almost 120 congress-participants there were besides the COV&R members, among whom there where many Americans and Canadians, quite a few people with only a general knowledge of the Girardian theory, but with a great interest to learn--like film-specialists or theologians who also wanted to be in contact with the ecumenical issue. Besides we had to cope with two different places for work and discussion, the "Bildungshaus Mariatrost" and the "Schubertkino" in town with all its numerous activities. Yet, amazingly enough, most of the interests and expectations seemed to fit together and also on a human level there apparently was a good atmosphere throughout. For many new participants--above all at Renéé Girard's public lecture on Thursday evening--there was a good chance to get into touch with COV&R and its goals.
The connecting line through the four days was the genuine Girardian topic of violence and sacrificial structures in political, ethnic and social life as reflected in contemporary films and related to the challenge of "reconciliation"--the main theme of the Ecumenical Assembly. After a welcome by the president of the University of Graz and the dean of the Theological Faculty G. Larcher pointed out the general affinity of film to the technological project of modernity and its violent substructures. He then also touched the difficult question of the function of art-film for a search of historical identity and reconciliation in face of the Bosnian conflict referring to films of Angelopoulos ("Ullysses's Gaze") and E. Kusturica ("Underground"). H. Baloch and F. Bogen, former Austrian ambassador at Sarajewo, contributed conflict- and peace perspectives from their personal Balkan experiences. R. Hamerton-Kelly outlined the historical background and analyzed the present conflict from the standpoint of mimetic theory.
A particularly strong convergence issues of violence in a totally market and media-dominated society linked the film discussions on Wednesday morning (on Abel Ferrara) and afternoon (on Michael Haneke, the Austrian Cannes 97 participant) as well as on Friday morning (on Oliver Stone and Quentin Tarrantino). M. M. Roßß, B. Murauer, T. Pace and P. Hasenbergpresented Ferrara's films (esp. "King of New York", "Bad Lieutenant", and "The Addiction") as uncovering the latent everyday violence in American society and A. Heller even radicalized this analysis in face of the hyperfibes of Stone ("Natural born killers") and Tarrantino ("Pulp fiction") thematizing violence in an American world of simulacras and virtualities with only few ambivalent religious aspects. H. Meindl, Ch. Suppan and M. Haneke himself, who personally presented his latest film "Funny Games", pointed to the close interconnection of ethics and filmart within a reductive aesthetics of iconoclastic interruption. It is the form of showing violence which is decisive ...
As a unit of its own and yet and in a consequent connection with the above mentioned movies on social violence the two films on capital punishment (Tim Robbins' "Dead Man Walking" and Frank Herz' "The last judgement") can be seen. B. Neurathner, C. Ginther and E. Arensspoke of capital punishment as a manifestation of controlled vengeance "in a sacrificial system." An outstanding event was also Rééne Girard's public lecture in the overcrowded Schubert-cinema ("Christian Reconciliation in the Modern World") preceded by an introduction in Girards thought through W. Palaver. Very interesting papers presented by A. Bartlett and Jon F. Pahl on Friday morning helped to build a bridge between Girardian theory and questions of violence and aesthetics in contemporary films. At the end of the symposium on Friday afternoon we had several parallel workshops with papers by D. Culbertson, A. Faber, P. Gardeil, T. Graham, M. Kratter, Ch. Kirk-Duggan.
It cannot be denied that there were heavy discussions and also basic disagreements on the aesthetic value of some of the chosen films. Above all A. Duque with his paper on "Modern Film and the Crisis of Human Values" (Thursday noon) expressed strongly his critique, supported by C. Bandera and others. Not to speak of possible ("kenotic") alternatives in viewing difficult contemporary art-film, but rather as an extreme challenge for the hermeneutical value of the mimetic theory in face of postmodern developments in media and film.
On the whole, I think, Graz 97 can be considered to have been a fine event with a lot of young interested people taking part. That almost everything was so well organized had to do with the extreme preparation work of E. Küührner, my secretary, and Ch. Wessely, my assistant. The rates and fees were low, the combination of the activities in Mariatrost and in the cinema in town appreciated, as well as the pleasant receptions by the city of Graz and the country of Styria, that gave a little impression of Austrian hospitality. I hope all of you who took part will keep it in a good memory.
Gerhard Larcher, Graz