Video Essays

July 27, 2009

I was excited to read about video essays at Film Studies for Free. This summer, I’ve been writing about the YouTube stylo for an essay I’ve been commissioned to write about teaching video. It begins thus:

“This, right here, is writing with words on paper about video on YouTube: a variety of YouTube writing, using words to engage digital sounds and images, in a scholarly prose definitive for the field of Media Studies. It is to be read, on paper, in a chapter, within a book. However, the YouTube writing that is the focus of this paper is a new kind of academic text enabled by digital technologies that allow for video to become a pen for expressing critical thinking about a medium and its culture from within. In this chapter, I will introduce ten innovative writing forms displayed in YouTube videos made by my students for my course, Learning from YouTube, held on and about YouTube in the Fall of 2008 and 2009. These student videos critically examine YouTube speaking through its own forms. In the process, their writing traces the shape of the culmination of a dream: what communication might look like when freed from the constraints of word and page; what students might say when liberated to speak in the languages of their time. “It is always interesting to review old utopian visions, as they remind us of our part in fulfilling the expectations of earlier generations,” writes Bjorn Sorenssen in his recent “Digital Video and Alexandre Astruc’s Caméra-Stylo.” He continues: “By developing new media technology there is also created a new and changed pattern of production and distribution and, subsequently, a new aesthetics.”

The ten YouTube writing forms that follow—a new YouTube aesthetics—are the culmination of a century’s efforts to  maximize the ease and accessibility of learning about, making, and watching moving images occurring within and outside the media production classroom. We’ve always dreamed of writing with media; each generation, like me, attesting that theirs is the era where this reverie is at last realized. “A Descartes of today would already have shut himself up in his bedrooms with a 16mm camera and some film, and would be writing his philosophy on film,” proclaims Astruc in his 1948 “The Birth of a New Avant-Garde: The Caméra-Stylo.””

On Film Studies for Free, Catherine Grant turned me on to Eric Faden’s, A Manifesto for Critical Media and I was already familiar with his highly viewed “video essay”:

Digging around a tiny bit more, I learned that he had made Tracking Theory for Vectors, the very place I am situated right now, working to turn all my YouTube writing into a “book,” or digital work, or big multi-modal thingie. My YouTube video-writing has never been refined enough to be a true or at least quality video essay (although many works by my students would qualify), but I am currently focused upon realizing a complex integration of video and text on-line with the help of programmers, designers, and fellow “digital humanists.” I hope to blog soon about my many questions and concerns about actually moving from paper to screen, in long-form, and at least initially for a scholarly readership.

2 Responses to “Video Essays”


  1. Thanks for this. Am excited to read the full essay, and looking forward even more to experiencing your Vectors work.


  2. Most wingnuts have a couple of unmistakable questions regarding.


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