UCL European Institute


Spotlight: Temenuga Trifonova

As part of our July 2024 spotlight, we feature Temenuga Trifonova, Associate Professor in Creative Arts and Humanities.

Temenuga Trifonova

Tell us a bit about yourself

I am an Associate Professor in Creative Arts and Humanities: Moving Image. I’ve moved around quite a bit: before joining UCL in the summer of 2023 I taught cinema and media studies at York University in Toronto, the University of New Brunswick, and the University of California Santa Cruz. I did my PhD in English at SUNY Buffalo and then went on to do an MFA in Visual Arts (Film) at the University of California San Diego. 

I grew up in a working-class family in Bulgaria, with my mum and my sister, and later attended the American University in Bulgaria, the first American-style, liberal arts undergraduate education institution in Eastern Europe. Like many of my university friends I left post-communist Bulgaria to explore that vaguely defined, nearly mythical space we called ‘the West’. It didn’t take long for me to grasp the meaning of that famous line from John Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance: “This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” 

What are your research interests?

My research interests are quite varied: European cinema, film theory, migration in cinema, neoliberalism and cinema, theories of photography, aesthetic theory, cinema and psychopathology, screenwriting. I have written on a wide range of subjects, from the nature of consciousness, perception and memory in 20th century French philosophy and the sublime in contemporary visual culture to the figure of the migrant in European cinema and neuroscientific theories of film. My books include the monographs The Figure of the Migrant in Contemporary European Cinema (Bloomsbury, 2020), Warped Minds: Cinema and Psychopathology (Amsterdam UP, 2014) and The Image in French Philosophy (Rodopi, 2007), and the edited volumes Screening the Art World (Amsterdam UP, 2022), Contemporary Visual Culture and the Sublime (Routledge, 2017), and European Film Theory (Routledge, 2008). I have also published two novels, Rewrite (2014) and Tourist (2018), and adapted the second one into a film, which won Best Feature at Mostra del Cinema di Taranto. 

Tell us about some of your recent work on European issues

My last book, The Figure of the Migrant in Contemporary European Cinema (Bloomsbury 2020), examined European films dealing with various aspects of globalization, from the refugee crisis and labour migration to the resurgence of nationalism and ethnic violence, and the ways in which the figure of the migrant challenges us to rethink core concepts like European identity, citizenship, justice, ethics, liberty, tolerance, and hospitality. In the monograph I am currently finishing, The Precariat in Western European Cinema, I explore the genre and stylistic features of the new European cinema of precarity, the political and social values embodied in it, the ways in which the cinema of precarity stages class conflict and class struggle and mediates economic and social capital in the age of neoliberalism, and ask whether these films lend validity to Guy Standing’s designation of the precariat as ‘the new dangerous class’.

What does Europe mean to you and why are you interested in it?

Eastern Europe, and the Balkans in particular, have for a long time served as a repository of negative traits against which ‘Europe’ constructed its own self-image. I grew up in a country obsessed with debates around European identity and ‘belonging’ or ‘not belonging’ to Europe. Even to this day Bulgaria continues to think of itself (and is often thought of) as trying to ‘return to Europe’ after forty years of communist rule. This deeply rooted sense of national shame defined the generation of my parents and, to a certain extent, my own generation. Today, as a growing number of people think of ‘Europe’ as a meaningless term used by cultural elites and populist parties spanning the political spectrum, it becomes increasingly important to recall the events of 1989 to try to understand why the promise that historical moment held for Europe never came to be and what can be done about it now.