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Chon Noriega: “Peter Wollen and I would regularly head over to the campus café, where, over coffee, we talked about the academic enterprise. We were both new to the profession. I had earned my PhD and started as an assistant professor. Peter was a writer, filmmaker and curator, and he had reluctantly accepted a position as a full professor at UCLA. In those early years at UCLA, Peter described himself as an itinerant and a journalist, even though his book “Signs and Meanings in the Cinema” and such articles such as “The Two Avant-Gardes” (1975) were key works in the development of academic cinema studies. When I pressed him about why he came to UCLA given his ambivalence about becoming a professor, he explained, “I was living in London and sitting at the table doing my bills when the telephone rang, and it was Nick Browne offering me a job.” Frustrated by his answer, I asked, “But why did you accept the job?” “As I said, I was doing my bills…” As an intellectual, Peter neither argued nor explained. Instead, he orchestrated a description of the world that elucidated the intricate connections that made a figure, subject, medium or issue something worth appreciating in detail. In his research, Peter followed the Socratic method. He would spend his mornings in the Arts Library, searching the catalogue and browsing the stacks. As he encountered a text, he found that it both answered a question and raised another, leading him to the next text, and so on. If his research was iterative, his writing did not explicate that process, nor did it elevate it to a method or theory that overlaid the subject. What he did was tell a story wherein the theoretical and political investments were in the story itself. From our discussions, I gathered this was due in part to the fact that Peter had either participated in or had come to know the participants of the 20th-century modern art and cinema that he wrote about. He made no pretense of standing outside the object of study, nor did he reduce it to the empirical “authenticity” of having been there. He was an artist and intellectual, and not a would-be scientist.”

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