Sara Tongiani

Panel 3E Cinematic Transcodifications/2
Session 3 – July 2, 11:00 – 13:00

The Trans-medial Perspective of Metamorphosis

Based on a principle of instability, metamorphosis embodies (through time, space, and culture) the manifold becoming of shapes, figures, bodies, identities, and conditions. Throughout the ages, metamorphosis has been the exclusive preserve of literature, theatre, paintings, sculptures and prints. Indeed, metamorphosis represents a traditional figure within the visual framework: it is both a process and a medium in which the becoming and the transmigration are reflected. Regarded as figure, theme, and discourse, metamorphosis also bears elements, characteristics, and patterns of a “narrative structure”. All those recognizable parts incessantly migrate and transmigrate from one artistic medium to another, e.g. from literature to photography and cinema. Since the advent of cinema, metamorphosis has become a paradigmatic figure of the visual and media frameworks, marked by moving images. It can be argued that cinema, defined as “movement form” (Deleuze 2001), and more specifically as “temporal form” (Merleau-Ponty 1964), appears naturally devoted to host and reproduce the becoming of metamorphosis. The protean nature of contemporary images is especially emphasized by this kind of “magical manipulation” (Flusser 2011), which also contributes to define the contemporary “quick change” culture (Sobchack 2000) and the “soft” visual landscape (Hoelzl, Marie 2015).

Exploring the condition of “being in between”, this paper aims to retrace some recurrent aspects which define metamorphosis, such as the relationship and the opposition between stillness and motion, visible and invisible, alive and dead, organic and inorganic, human and animal. Among the main metamorphic themes and motifs, the “becoming animal” has been over the centuries one of the most recurrent and influential in literature, cinema and arts. This paper will analyze some narrative and visual figures, and attempt to shed light both on the transmigration and on the media transcodification made by animal metamorphosis. The case studies exemplify the multiform variant of the same narration through different media and technics: from cinematographic morphing (The Wolf man, G. Wagger, 1941), to images manipulation (Matthew Barney, Daniel Lee), and mobile filters (Instagram). In terms of method and approach, employing critical perspectives of theory of literature which cross cinema and visual studies, this paper focuses on the re-mediation of narrative and visual figures. At the same time, we will take into account a few philosophical theories upon the “becoming animal” developed by Jacques Derrida, Giorgio Agamben, Gilles Deleuze, Félix Guattari, and Roberto Marchesini.


Sara Tongiani (PhD in Comparative Literature at the University of Turin, and PhD in Digital Humanities at the University of Genoa) is a post-doc researcher at the University of Udine. She has been a contract professor in Film Criticism and Production at the University of Genoa, where she has recently organized national and international conferences such as The Postmodern Condition: Forty Years Later (2019), Contemporary Images (2019), Technophobia and Technophilia (2018). Her lates essays inlcude: Virgil Widrich, Marco Brambilla e la necessità di ri-animare il corpo del cinema (“La Valle dell’Eden”, 34, 2019, pp.65-72); Adam Zagajewski: nel segno dell’esilio (“Ticontre. Teoria Testo Traduzione”, IX, 2018, pp. 2017-219); Westworld, dove la finzione è reale (Il realismo nelle arti, a cura di P. Montani, “Costellazioni”, 4, 2017, pp. 129-145).