April 22 | Emblematic Affect, Hysterical Laughter, and Early Cinema

Please join us this Friday for our event with Maggie Hennefeld!

Emblematic Affect, Hysterical Laughter, and Early Cinema

Friday, April 22, 12:00 pm ET
Columbia Faculty House, plus hybrid Zoom broadcast (register here)

From 1903 to 1915, it was common practice to conclude a short film with moving images of the lead performers posing and making funny faces at the camera. Now known as “the emblematic shot,” it was not a far cry from twenty-first century viral selfie videos. In this presentation, I will explore a form of emblematic visibility that wears its joyful affect on its sleeve (sometimes quite literally, as trick decapitation was a popular sight gag in early cinema). Against the affective turn toward opacity, unfeeling, humorlessness, and killjoy refusal, I ask: what’s a hysterically laughing head to the politics of communal sensation? We will look at various archival examples and see where they fit.

Maggie Hennefeld is Associate Professor of Cultural Studies & Comparative Literature and McKnight Presidential Fellow at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. She is the author of Specters of Slapstick and Silent Film Comediennes (Columbia UP, 2018), an editor of the journal Cultural Critique, and co-editor of two volumes, Unwatchable (Rutgers UP, 2019) and Abjection Incorporated (Duke UP, 2020). She is co-curator of Cinema’s First Nasty Women, a 4-disc collection featuring 99 archival silent films that will be released by Kino Lorber in spring 2022.

Please RSVP to our rapporteur, Alec Joyner (alj2140@columbia.edu), if you plan to attend in person. Feel free to write, too, with any questions.


Columbia University encourages persons with disabilities to participate in its programs and activities. The University Seminars participants with disabilities who anticipate needing accommodations or who have questions about physical access may contact the Office of Disability Services at 212.854.2388 or disability@columbia.edu. Disability accommodations, including sign-language interpreters, are available on request. Requests for accommodations must be made two weeks in advance. On campus, seminar participants with disabilities should alert a Public Safety Officer if they need assistance accessing campus.