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Member Achievement: Constantine V. Nakassis

Constantine V. Nakassis, Associate Professor of Anthropology, Associate Faculty of Cinema & Media Studies and Comparative Human Development, and Chair of the Committee on Southern Asian Studies (2020–2023) has released his newest book entitled Onscreen/Offscreen.

“Bridging and synthesizing linguistic anthropology, film studies, visual studies, and media anthropology, Onscreen/Offscreen rethinks key issues across a number of fields concerned with the semiotic constitution of social life, from the performativity and ontology of images to questions of spectatorship, realism, and presence. In doing so, it offers both a challenge to any approach that would separate image from social context and a new vision for linguistic anthropology beyond the question of ‘language,’” the book description states.

Nakassis based this work off of over a decade of ethnographic field work in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu where he examined contestations inside and outside the Tamil film industry over the question “what is an image?”.

Colleagues of film and South-Asian studies alike offer their praise for the work. “[Onscreen/Offscreen] is not only a passionate and detailed portrait of Tamil cinema and filmgoing, but also a theoretical meditation about images and their power. Thanks to vibrant analyses and striking case studies, superb ethnographic research becomes a crucial contribution to the current debate about visual media and their political implications,” says Yale University Sterling Professor of Humanities and Film and Media Studies Francesco Casetti.

“By using the tools of semiotic anthropology to examine Tamil cinema, Onscreen/Offscreen models an incredibly innovativemethodology for understanding the cinematic image more broadly and in radically processual terms. Nakassis pursues the question of how images happen and for whom they happen across events, and in doing so he reaches brilliant insights into the gender politics of cinema and the potentials of realism when the power of the image always exceeds what has been recorded and what is projected onto the screen,” says University of Toronto Associate Professor of Anthropology and in the Asian Institute Francis Cody.

Onscreen/Offscreen is published through University of Toronto Press and is open-access thanks to a Special Projects Grant from COSAS. The open-access version of the book can be accessed here.