In Shimmering Images Eliza Steinbock traces how cinema offers alternative ways to understand gender transitions through a specific aesthetics of change. Drawing on Barthes’s idea of the “shimmer” and Foucault’s notion of sex as a mirage, the author shows how sex and gender can appear mirage-like on film, an effect they label shimmering. Steinbock applies the concept of shimmering—which delineates change in its emergent form as well as the qualities of transforming bodies, images, and affects—to analyses of films that span time and genre. These include examinations of the fantastic and phantasmagorical shimmerings of sex change in Georges Méliès’s nineteenth-century trick films and Lili Elbe’s 1931 autobiographical writings and photomontage in Man into Woman. Steinbock also explores more recent documentaries, science fiction, and pornographic and experimental films. Presenting a cinematic philosophy of transgender embodiment that demonstrates how shimmering images mediate transitioning, Steinbock not only offers a corrective to the gender binary orientation of feminist film theory; they open up new means to understand trans ontologies and epistemologies as emergent, affective, and processual.
By Eliza Steinbock, 2019