Anjo-mari Gouws defended her doctoral dissertation, "Recording the Work of a World: Anne Charlotte Robertson's Diary Film and the Domestication of Cinema", on Friday, November 22, 2019. The committee consisted of Brian Price (supervisor), Meghan Sutherland, James Cahill, Sara Saljoughi, exam chair Sanda Munjic, and external examiner Ivone Margulies (Hunter College, CUNY).
We asked Anjo-mari about her work and her interests, as well as her plans for the near future. She says:
My research explores philosophies of cinematic world-making. I am interested in how cinema records and articulates the making of the self, the home, and the world. As a South African scholar born during the country’s first state of emergency, with our first democratic election as the backdrop of my childhood, the complexity of the Global South’s politics and histories has been a lived reality. In my work this emerges through a general interest in histories of trauma and diaspora; and in a particular intersectional inflection — women’s authorship, feminist genealogies, and narratives of mental illness in micro-historical cultural contexts. For me, this enmeshing of personal and political is also a question of form, specifically the types of questions that emerge around cinematic modes of small-gauge, experimental or amateur, personal or diary filmmaking.
My dissertation, Recording the Work of a World: Anne Charlotte Robertson’s Diary Film and the Domestication of Cinema, takes on some of these concerns. The project is a critical consideration of Five Year Diary (1981-1998), a multi-modal diary work by Robertson, an experimental filmmaker, which consists of film, audio and written diaries that span the artist’s life from age eleven to a few years before her death. She was on the schizoaffective spectrum and suffered from delusions and auditory verbal hallucinations that greatly impacted her life, and necessitated multiple hospitalisations every year. It is this experience — of the difficulty of reading her own mind — that Robertson captures in the different types of diaries that comprise Five Year Diary. I was the first scholar to gain extensive access to the Robertson collection housed by the Harvard Film Archive (HFA), and much of the dissertation is based on primary archival research conducted at the HFA.
I plan on pursuing a career in the academy, and will soon start working on turning my dissertation into a book manuscript.
Her supervisor, Professor Brian Price, has this to say about Anjo-mari and her dissertation:
Anjo-marí Gouws’s dissertation is a pioneering study of the heretofore (and egregiously) under-appreciated films of the American avant-garde filmmaker, Anne Charlotte Robertson. After years of painstaking research at the Harvard Film Archive, where Gouws was given unique access to Robertson’s films and papers shortly after they were deposited, Gouws has produced a work of immense significance, of historical reparation. It is a scholarly intervention that cuts across a wide range of methodological, historical, and philosophical concerns. At the centre of Gouws’s dissertation is Robertson’s Five Year Diary, the artist’s life’s work. And by way of this work, so inventively and closely analyzed, Gouws expands the way that we can think about the relation between art and life, especially as that relation is rather importantly understood in terms of domesticity, gendered labour, as well as the cinema as a form of diary making and world creation. “Recording the Work of the World” is also a richly researched account of second wave feminism. Not only does Gouws’s introduce Robertson’s work as a powerful intervention in the history of feminist art and feminist theory, but in so doing, she provides a powerful new story about the gender politics of the American Avant-Garde—a telling that will, indeed must, change the way that we look at the most prominent figures in the history of avant-garde filmmaking. Lyricism, for instance, has never seemed more complicated, thanks to Gouws, than it does now.
Congratulations, Dr. Gouws!