Monday, July 13, 2015

Ethics and Animation

A talk given at the animation symposium organised by Esther Leslie recently at Birkbeck. Here's a sample from the introductory movement. The paper is mostly on Rango, and on the weirdness of voice synchronisation, and is rather unsatisfactory, in the sense that it poses a problem, then wanders round it poking at the places where it looks vulnerable, but without actually helping. In the conclusion, I made a too familiar and inadequate move, requiring an ethics of reading. Still, there does seem to be a real problem here, and it is in some respects that the solution to an ethical challenge may well be political, rather than ethical.

Applying existing codes to specific, often explicitly didactic or exploitative animations only tells us that the normal norms apply. I wonder whether there is anything that is more specific to animation as such, to the process of animating the inanimate. Should we, as makers or spectators, take responsibility for animated characters and worlds? Do we owe anything to the inanimate, to the resources we use in animating, as design ethics still considers truth to materials? That question is fundamentally ecological, addressing our connectivity with the whole universe. Against both the implicit human exclusivity of utilitarianism and the rationalist individualism of Kantian freedom, animation ethics speaks to what Simon Critchley (2007: 37) calls 'this moment of incomprehensibility in ethics . . . with the subject is faced with a demand that does not correspond to its autonomy'. If, as Critchley (2007: 91) also argues, the accelerating dislocatory power of capitalism does not lead to the emergence of a unique political subject, but rather to the multiplication of social actors', then the unique encounter with the inanimate is not experienced by a subject definable as human, but as a unique constellation of sexuality, ethnicity, class, gender, indigeneity and so on. Consideration of the unique individual and the unique encounter concerns then a uniquely mutual dependence, which however one of the parties at least is capable of rejecting. Ethics normally places us in relation to other people and occasionally animals, but in the Anthropocene, are we confronted with the limits of individual and species autonomy, and does animation give us a laboratory for conducting moral experiments in the relations of control, contingency and autonomy in the frame of universal connectivity proposed by ecology?

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