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Posted 18 June 2012

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TEXT OF THE INTRODUCTORY ADDRESS DELIVERED BY PROFESSOR DIANE NEGRA, UCD School of English, Drama and Film, University College Dublin on 16 June 2012, on the occasion of the conferring of the Degree of Doctor of Literature, honoris causa on LAURA MULVEY

Laura Mulvey was born in 1941 and educated at St. Hilda’s College, Oxford.  She is Professor of Film Theory at Birkbeck, University of London and she has been Distinguished Visiting Professor at Wellesley College.

Laura Mulvey’s long career dovetails with the maturation of Film Studies as a scholarly discipline.  She is a key intellectual path-breaker in understanding how film narratives organize and influence social ideas and relations of power. In particular, Laura Mulvey’s work calls our attention to the filmic devices that operate to privilege power in gendered ways.  Her germinal contributions to feminist film studies are particularly renowned and her classic essay “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” is widely held to be the most influential piece of scholarship in Film Studies.  The subtle but crucial point made there that not just men but women also identify with patriarchal conceptual structures through the pleasures of entertainment anticipates the theorization of postfeminism in recent scholarly work and it offers a bracing corrective to the discouraging drift away from unapologetic feminism in both public and academic realms in recent years. 

Laura Mulvey’s masterful deconstruction in that brief bombshell of an essay of the fully naturalized, unconscious forms of visual pleasure that structure Hollywood cinema has been followed by books including Visual and Other Pleasures, Citizen Kane and Death 24x a Second: Stillness and the Moving Image. Mulvey is also a distinguished filmmaker who along with Peter Wollen made six films of which the innovative Riddles of the Sphinx is the most celebrated.  Professor Mulvey’s interests are always evolving, growing in recent years to incorporate melodrama, world cinemas, the representation of the “New Woman” in early cinema and theories of technological change.  Her vast influence on the understanding of cinematic representation and social life has been felt upon generations of students and colleagues, extending far beyond Film Studies to the critical humanities at large.

As Yvonne Rainer has noted, the publication of “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” “unleashed a cri de coeur that was echoed in protests on both sides of the Atlantic against cultural practices that diminished and marginalized women.”

Indeed, Laura Mulvey’s ardor for criticism is inextricably linked to the historical moment of the 1970s women’s movement and its associated political possibilities.  As she herself has noted of that time “things had to be said not from choice but from political necessity.” It would be an easy mistake to assume that such political concerns are now settled or obsolete.

It is indicative of Laura Mulvey’s intellectual integrity that inspired by the baroque 1947 Western Duel in the Sun she wrote an essay “Afterthoughts on Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” re-considering and re-calibrating her earlier arguments.

Laura Mulvey’s work helps us to see that there are political dimensions to the most taken-for-granted entertainment forms. In her scholarly practice, she models intellectual curiosity and a sober sense of purpose tempered with lightness and hopefulness. For Laura Mulvey scholarly reflection arises out of a desire for a better and more just world.  She is one of a generation of “activist academics” for whom social justice and scholarly thought go hand in hand, a conjunction that is becoming far too rare in the neoliberal university. Laura Mulvey challenges us to think clearly and rigorously about popular culture rather than letting it wash over us in a wave, whether we’re talking about a Hitchcock film or an episode of reality television.  Such an ability is a vitally important component of twenty-first century citizenship. 

For her intellectual courage, her freshness of vision, her ability to theorize and elucidate the meanings of obscure early works of cinema alongside the most popular generic forms, Laura Mulvey has accumulated a long list of accolades. In her career as an avant-garde filmmaker no less than in her work as a theorist she has trenchantly explored the complex asymmetries of gendered power. Her passionate engagement with popular culture continues to mark her scholarship in recent years which has attended thoughtfully and fruitfully to the implications of the digital. In her assertions that the form of the classic Hollywood form is intrinsically patriarchal, Laura Mulvey opened the door to a range of critical forays and schools of critical thought including the multiculturalist reading strategies which have been so influential in the contemporary humanities. More than this, the rhetorical and political fearlessness she so amply demonstrates illuminates how we are to grapple with the politics of everyday life.  Laura Mulvey’s commanding critical voice is an inspiration to us today that we still need to have the courage to say what needs saying. 


Praehonorabilis Praeses, totaque Universitas,

Praesento vobis hanc meam filiam, quam scio tam moribus quam doctrina habilem et idoneam esse quae admittatur, honoris causa, ad gradum Doctoratus in Litteris; idque tibi fide mea testor ac spondeo, totique Academiae.

(Produced by UCD University Relations)


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Prof Diane Negra, Prof Laura Mulvey & Dr Hugh Brady, President of UCD