Cover for Johnson: Jan Švankmajer. Click for larger image

Jan Švankmajer

Animist cinema

Jan Švankmajer enjoys a curious sort of anti-reputation: he is famous for being obscure. Unapologetically surrealist, Švankmajer draws on the traditions and techniques of stop-motion animation, collage, montage, puppetry, and clay to craft bizarre filmscapes. If these creative choices are off-putting to some, they have nonetheless won the Czech filmmaker recognition as a visionary animator.

Keith Leslie Johnson explores Švankmajer's work as a cinema that spawns new and weird life forms—hybrids of machine, animal, and non-organic materials like stone and dust. Johnson's ambitious approach unlocks access to the director's world, a place governed by a single, uncanny order of being where all things are at once animated and inert. For Švankmajer, everything is at stake in every aspect of life, whether that life takes the form of an object, creature, or human. Sexuality, social bonds, religious longings—all get recapitulated on the stage of inanimate things. In Johnson's view, Švankmajer stands as the proponent of a biopolitical, ethical, and ecological outlook that implores us to reprogram our relationship with the vital matter all around us, including ourselves and our bodies.

"Keith Johnson’s Jan Švankmajer is a triumph: a bold, synoptic, and elegantly written conceptual survey that brings fully to life the animating ideas of the Czech surrealist artist-filmmaker. Attending to the work of animation as a philosophy of life rather than an aesthetic technique alone, Johnson’s book lucidly presents Švankmajer’s art as the bearer of 'a vital, emergent, biopolitical, ethical, and ecological outlook.' Featuring detailed analyses of the artist’s full body of cinematic, artistic, and curatorial work, as well as an illuminating set of interviews, Jan Švankmajer presents the Czech artist in vital, living color."--Jonathan Eburne, author of Surrealism and the Art of Crime


Keith Leslie Johnson is a lecturer of English and film and media studies at the College of William and Mary.

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