A recurring feature of Patrick Keiller’s work is the lack of human presence and activity. Throughout his films, Keiller delivers a vision of England as a desert island, depopulated and unoccupied. Scrutinizing Keiller’s early shorts and feature-length films, this article argues that the absence of human subjects allows the filmmaker to articulate a broader discourse on space, so that the films can be described as “spatial fictions.” Keiller, by aligning his work with various strands of utopian thinking on space—from the surrealists to Henri Lefebvre and the situationists—forces us to think the relationship between cinema and space and offers a geography of absence as the precondition for the imagination of a new space. The article shows how this framework informs Keiller’s visual grammar, including his emphasis on a deliberate scarcity of gestures and the invisibility of the cinematic apparatus. By withdrawing from the production of the image, Keiller suggests that the absence of a sign always functions as the sign of an absence.
England, That Desert Island: Patrick Keiller’s Spatial Fictions
Daniele Rugo is senior lecturer in the Department of Social Sciences, Media, and Communications at Brunel University London. He is the author of two books, Philosophy and the Patience of Film (2016) and Jean-Luc Nancy and the Thinking of Otherness (2013), and his articles have appeared in Angelaki, Film-Philosophy, Asian Cinema, and the Journal of Italian Cinema. He is the recipient of an Arts and Humanities Research Council Innovation Grant for the project Following the Wires, which uses film to examine postconflict scenarios in Lebanon. He’s currently editing (with Nikolaj Lübecker) a volume on the work of James Benning.
Daniele Rugo; England, That Desert Island: Patrick Keiller’s Spatial Fictions. Cultural Politics 1 November 2016; 12 (3): 263–278. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/17432197-3648834
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