Do / 18:00 – 19:30

Is anyone else seeing this? A visuality of risk in Jeff Nichols’ Take Shelter (2011)

Keynote as part of the workshop "Seeing Danger: Risk, Security and the Visual"

Hannes Becker

ZOOM & Kulturwissenschaftliches Institut Essen (KWI), Raum 106, Goethestr. 31, 45128 Essen

Read more about the related conference Seeing Danger: Risk, Security and the Visual here.

When Jeff Nichols released his feature film Take Shelter in 2011, the effects of the 2007/2008 financial crisis were still very much palpable in US society while the effects of climate catastrophe started to increasingly impact everyday life. Nichols’ film has Curtis LaForche, a young working-class father in rural Ohio, experiencing several disquieting visions that point towards the coming of a storm of unseen dimensions. Apart from the unfolding of the film’s impressive iconography regarding Curtis’ visions, the narrative focuses on the socially disruptive effects of Curtis’ self-sabotaging strategy to handle those visions. Through the film’s elaborate point-of-view technique, we experience how visual representations of catastrophe may work as a direct and almost visceral call to action – especially when the outcome and success of those actions are all but certain. In Becker’s reading of Jeff Nichols’ feature film Take Shelter, he argues that the visual representation and fictional logic of Curtis’ struggle resonate with the powerful, century-old narrative of Self Reliance (and other forms of what Lauren Berlant termed Cruel Optimism) as a specific form of socially advised risk-taking in US-culture and history. The film addresses the recurrent failure of said narrative to address collective challenges such as economic disruption and climate change. Drawing from Niklas Luhmann’s differentiation between risk and danger, Becker interprets Curtis La Forche’s defective course of action as an example of Self Reliance gone awry, where those devoid of real decision-making power or communal support end up being burdened with responsibilities beyond their reach, or grasp.

Hannes Becker is a German and American studies scholar. He studied modern German literature, literary writing, American studies and history in Berlin and Leipzig. In 2021, he received his doctorate from Humboldt University with a cultural studies thesis on fantasies of prevention using the example of the motif of securing the future in contemporary literature. Together with Benjamin Bühler, Sandra Pravica and Stefan Willer, he edited the anthology Zukunftssicherung: Kulturwissenschaftliche Perspektiven published by transcript verlag in 2019. He also writes theatre and radio plays as well as short stories and works as a translator of plays and poems by Pamela Carter, Caryl Churchill, Lucy Kirkwood, Matthew Lopez, Charles Reznikoff and Rosmarie Waldrop, among others. In addition to other productions for theatre and public radio, he was one of 12 authors involved in the radio play Mein hohles Herz singt Lieder der Versammlung, which was nominated for the ARD Radio Play Prize in 2020.