One of my loveliest and most beloved friends, Miriam Hansen, died peacefully at Northwestern University Hospital yesterday after a twelve year battle with multiple cancers. She was a noble soul besides being one of the wisest individuals I have known. Picture on the right shows her with me (center) and Seema (right) standing in the balcony of her beautiful apartment in Chicago. This is what her husband and my dear friend Michael said about her last moments:
“Her death came suddenly, but she passed away gently, more gently than you would ever consider imaginable. In one of her last lucid moments on Friday morning she said twice, the first time more determinate and the second time more resigned: “Ich sterbe”; and this is what she proceeded to do. In life and death she was Miriam.”
From Film studies for free:
Miriam Hansen was Ferdinand Schevill Distinguished Service Professor in the Humanities at the University of Chicago, where she also taught in the Department of English and the Committee on Cinema and Media Studies. Her publications include a book on Ezra Pound’s early poetics (1979) and Babel and Babylon: Spectatorship in American Silent Film (1991). She was completing a study entitled The Other Frankfurt School: Kracauer, Benjamin, and Adorno on Cinema, Mass Culture, and Modernity. Her next project was to be a book on the notion of cinema as vernacular modernism.
Inspired by her lifelong study of the Frankfurt School, Hansen's work rethought cinema as a part of the public and counterpublic spheres, situating it within a larger discourse of popular culture, and thus opening up the essential study of such 'periphery texts' as fan magazines, gossip columns, movie reviews, and so on. But her development of the concept of vernacular modernism also completely set the scene for the field of world or transnational cinema studies; and her historical work on cinematic spectatorship and her highly original addressing of the sensual experiences of film and new media are likewise in the process of revolutionizing their field of study (as W.J. T. Mitchell argues in relation to 'Miriam Hansen’s urging that cinema and other media be regarded as a vernacular modernism in which new theoretical propositions might be articulated while the senses are being reeducated').
It is hard to think, then, of anyone who has made a more significant contribution to Film Studies (and, latterly, new media studies), in the context of the Humanities as a whole, than she did.
Film Studies For Free hopes that Hansen knew just how grateful we are for her research — how changed we are by it — as well as for her inspiring work as a teacher. Here is a link to a warm and touching tribute by one of Hansen's former students.