[Published in a graduate school review Visual Sociology, 1995]
We all become living specimens under the spectral light of ethnology, or of anti-ethnology which is only the pure form of triumphal ethnology, under the sign of dead differences, and of the resurrection of differences. It is thus extremely naive to look for ethnology among the Savages or in some Third World—it is here, everywhere, in the metropolis, among the whites, in a world completely catalogued and analysed and then artificially revived as though real, in a world of simulation: of the hallucination of truth, of blackmail by the real, of the murder and historical (hysterical) retrospection of every symbolic form—a murder whose first victims were, noblesse oblige, the Savages, but which for a long time now has been extended to all Western societies.
— Jean Baudrillard, Simulations
In Documentary: A History of the Non-Fiction Film, Barnouw chronicles the evolution of documentary cinema from its genesis in 1874, through the moments when non-fiction film, because the demand for newsreel footage often outweighed the technological and circumstantial capabilities, was steadily being “reconstituted” through a combination of both non-fictional and fictional footage towards the turn of the century. The “reality” that documentary film purported to reveal gradually became tainted by the falsification of “truth”—posed or fictional sequences were methodically injected into the sterile stream of “reality.” Fictional scenes were spliced with actual footage and the lines between the “real” and the “staged” became blurred. History, as had been represented by non-fiction film, seemed to be invaded by the domain of fiction, reality became obfuscated by fable, and what was considered to be the “true nature” of documentary film was irreparably ruptured (pp. 24-25).
Throughout his life, Vertov worked to untangle the representational ambiguity which separates “truth” from “fiction” in film. His concept of kino-pravda (film truth) points to a third realm of interpretation outside the opposing concepts of reality and fiction—that of observation and representation through the kino-eye (camera-eye):
Not kino-eye for its own sake, but truth through the means and possibilities of film-eye, i.e.., kino-pravda.
Not “filming life unawares” for the sake of the “unaware,” but in order to show people without masks, without makeup, to catch them through the eye of the camera in a moment when they are not acting, to read their thoughts, laid bare by the camera.
Kino-eye as the possibility of making the invisible visible, the unclear clear, the hidden manifest, the disguised over, the acted nonacted; making falsehood into truth.
Kino-eye as the union of science with newsreel to further the battle for the communist decoding of the world, as an attempt to show the truth on the screen—Film-truth (Vertov, p. 41, emphasis mine).
Inasmuch as Vertov attempts to capture film-truth in his work, he was heavily criticized, and even labeled a Formalist, because his film, Man with the Movie Camera (1929), utilizes many of the cinematic contrivances and artificiality that Vertov himself criticized. A proponent of what would later be coined direct cinema, Vertov stages shots, plays technological “games” with the camera, and even films himself in Man with the Movie Camera. The objectivity of the camera eye thus became a point of contention within cinematic representation at this time, as Vertov’s film demonstrates the necessary or unavoidable implication of the filmmaker and the camera-eye within every filmic moment; thus the distinction between the “unaware” and “aware”, the non-staged and staged, the acted and the “natural”, the factual and the fictional posed a threat to the socio-political orientation advocated by Soviet realism in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Furthermore, the traditional view of non-fiction film as an informational discourse which searches for a truth, a series of facts, about that which we “know” to be reality was challenged, eventually leading to massive changes in documentary film and film theory. Vertov’s Man with the Movie Camera suggests that subjectivity is necessarily inscribed within every cinematic moment, angle, and frame, ultimately questioning—and perhaps negating—the possibility of separating that which is “fact” and “fiction” as prescribed by Western epistemology.
Jean Rouch, a French anthropologist-filmmaker, adopts and expands upon the notion of kino-pravda through what later came to be translated as, à la Vertov, cinéma vérité. However, cinéma vérité differs from kino-pravda in that instead of attempting to capture a truth through the non-involvement and purely observational mode of the filmmaker, cinéma vérité struggles to undermine the logic of truth embedded within direct cinema’s “invisible” gaze by suggesting that “artificial circumstances could bring hidden truth to the surface” (Barnouw, p. 255). In many of his ethnographic works, Rouch uses film to analyze specific moments or situations in various African cultures (i.e. Les maîtres fous (1955), a film about Haouka possession rituals and La circoncision (1949), a film dealing with circumcision rites), while attempting to break with both anthropological and documentary tradition which virtually prohibits the ethnographer’s and filmmaker’s involvement with the “other” aside from so-called “non-intrusive” observation:
But, when the moment comes that the observer becomes a simple spectator among other spectators, when the moment comes when he speaks and understands the language sufficiently to know what is being said and to respond to it sometimes, he participates just like his neighbors. And so it follows that at each possession dance that I witnessed, the deities came to greet me as well as my neighbors and spoke at length to me…
The penetration of more circumspect domains, like the magician’s milieu, posed other problems. After a slow and gradual approach, contact could be established (with the aid of the intervention of the deities in the course of a possession dance). Slowly, I entered the game, but as soon as certain doors opened before me, they would close behind me, prohibiting all retreats and cutting all ties with the outside. The observer was completely overwhelmed by what he observed. Was this still a matter of observation? (Rouch 1960, pp. 5-6)
In his films, one can see how Rouch methodically chips away at the barrier separating the “self” and “other” prescribed by both anthropological discourse and traditional non-fiction cinematic practices. His films attempt to deconstruct the traditional notion of “non-intervention” with respect to anthropological observation and the gaze of the camera-eye. Through his innovative use of film technology (ie. synchronous sound) and technique (ie. the lack of obtrusive voice-overs), Rouch works with the medium allowing the camera to penetrate traditional cinematic boundaries, translating “film-sight”, “film-hearing”, “film-movement”, and “film-editing” into a type of “film-thinking” which ultimately yields a film-truth (Rouch 1978, p. 7). Furthermore, Rouch challenges anthropological tradition through not only his own involvement in many of the filmed sequences and his direct participation in the lives of his subjects, but also through the film content which often questions the very relevance of the anthropological field.
Through Rouch’s ethnographic films we are confronted with a myriad of problems which relate directly to intellectual discourse concerning the disciplines of film and anthropology, but which, in more general terms, point to a crisis in Western epistemology, since the representation and interpretation of the “other” has long been based on knowledge which evidences itself through the internalization of truths and the interment of fictions. Fiction, as de Certeau points out, cannot simply be dismissed and put into its own “place” since, because of its “metaphoric” nature (unlike the “univocal” discourse of science), fiction naturally “moves into the domain of the other” (p. 202). De Certeau continues this logic stating that:
Knowledge is insecure when dealing with the problem of fiction; consequently, its effort consists in analysis (of a sort) that reduces or translates the elusive language of fiction into stable and easily combined elements. From this point of view, fiction violates one of the rules of scientificity. It is a witch whom knowledge must labor to hold and to identify through its exorcizing. It no longer bears the mark of the false, of the unreal, or of the artificial. It is only a drifting meaning. It is the siren from whom the historian must defend himself, like Ulysses tied to the mast (p. 202).
Fiction, a discourse which “informs the real” is posited against science, a discourse which pretends to “speak the real” (de Certeau, p. 202); thus, fiction exists in a constant state of agitation, fragmentation, reconstruction, and redefinition in relation to science. Consequently, de Certeau delineates historiography not to the realm of pure fiction or science, but instead to a domain where science and fiction meet as a field of “knowledge” whereby the “questions of time and tense regain central importance” (p. 203).
Viewed in this way, one might say that anthropology is a discourse which utilizes scientific methodology in order to “objectively” render explicit as many productive, behavioral, and cognitive regularities as possible for a given society, and in turn to suggest how these regularities might arise out of specific conditions, while it simultaneously defends these truths by “exorcising” the orbiting fictions which challenge its legitimacy. However, the crisis that anthropology, as well as other social sciences, faces is that within discourse, there exists a “given” which evidences every product or result of scientific method as “fact” thereby presupposing the questions of power and trust which, ipso facto, are also “given”. Thus, through scientific practice, truths are embraced, fictions are dismissed, and the questions of power and trust remain elided in order to promote the illusion of transparent fidelity to “science”.
Jean Rouch’s films attempt to subvert traditional notions in the practices of ethnographic cinema, anthropology, and scientific discourse in general, with (what I believe to be) an underlying objective of questioning the authority or power inscribed within Western epistemology. His use of film attempts to unveil the dissension which divides: fact from fiction, documentary from narrative cinema, the natural action from the “prompted” or “provoked” re-action, and “non-intervention” from participatory camera-eye. Rouch also strives to undermine these very same notions in the domain of anthropology as he challenges not only the authenticity of knowledge extracted through the so-called “non-intervention” of the anthropologist, but also the authority—the structures of power and knowledge—which anthropological discourse embodies in representing the “other” through allochronism (a distancing of time), the lack of coevalness in the “self”/”other” relationship. Rouch endeavors in destroying traditional anthropological notions of the “objective”, the “natural”, the “un-staged”, and the “non-interventive” as the scientific foundations which invoke knowledge of a truth. Instead of accepting these truths, Rouch strives to shatter the panoptical, ethnographic gaze by turning the cameras back onto the “self”. In so doing, Rouch imposes a similar, critical gaze on anthropological and documentary filmic discourse, ultimately questioning the veracity of what we label and know to be “knowledge” of both the “self” and the “other”.
In this way, we cannot help but question “objective”, scientific method and the results it yields. We must examine the fictions embedded within truth, the fables entangled within reality, by uprooting anthropology and pulling it from the arena of “pure science” and by drawing it back into the domain where fact and fiction communicate and where every morsel of “truth” lays bare, predisposed to examination—even if it be post mortem. Since, as de Certeau contends, knowledge is insecure with its counterpoising fictions, we must examine discourse which both “informs the real” as well as “speak[s] the real” (de Certeau, p. 202) by acknowledging the enigmas and instabilities that infest Western epistemology: that fiction does indeed pervade the sphere of scientific discourse; that so-called objectivity in anthropological studies, for example, is an ontological impossibility—for objectivity cannot be achieved as easily as creating a controlled environment for spores to germinate in biological experiments (and even then this is often under scrutiny); and that the allochronic distancing, and hence examination, of the “other” in documentary film and anthropology should not be understood, much less embraced, as the official discursive practice which further separates the knower from the known, the “self” from the “other”, and which simultaneously lends to the unearthing of “truths” and to the legitimation of the structures of power through which knowledge is attained. Instead, anthropological discourse (and, more comprehensively, Western epistemology) should be subject to scrutiny, forced into a state of perpetual archaeology in order that anthropological discourse might communicate, interpret, and even represent who the “self” and “other” are, if, in fact, these two can be separated or defined at all. However, this is an onerous task, even for today, as it is still common to find anthropological queries which promise to be “postmodern” and self-reflexive whilst idly ambling on the heels of scientific praxis. Representation ought to engage subjectivity through an ongoing process of dialogical critique, taking into account not only the “unseen” facts and fictions, but also acknowledging how the relations of power and domination inscribe themselves in seemingly disinterested and “objective” accounts of the world.
Jean Rouch’s films evidence a paradox inherent in both documentary and anthropological discourse: that the observational engagement of “objectivity”, non-intervention, “invisibility”, and scientific methodology does not necessarily yield a more valid truth about a culture or group of people than the participatory, provocative, visible, and interventive stance taken by a filmmaker or ethnographer. Through cinema vérité, Rouch attempts to tear down the bricks and mortar which epistemologically divide the “self” from the “other”, as he questions the validity of allochronic discourse embodied within the tenets of ethnographic film and anthropology. By challenging these discourses, Rouch ultimately rebuts the discipline of anthropology, the supreme authority of knowledge and Western epistemology, and the context of power through which knowledge and “truths” are derived.
Using the model of Jean Rouch’s 1961 film, Chronique d’un été, I shall examine the discourse of ethnography and documentary film uncovering the scientific veil assumed by both disciplines, thus demonstrating the fictions which necessarily emerge from scientific method and the possible “truths” revealed through fictional methodology. Furthermore, I will evidence the current crisis in ethnographic and documentary discourse whereby the “other” is “the object of information, never a subject in communication” (Foucault, p. 200) and through which discourse “sequesters” and “disindividualizes” knowledge and power, distancing the very subjects it seeks to inform from the objects upon which knowledge is based. In this way, current interpretation (and representation) of the “other” is distanced from the “self” and all examination allegedly takes place within the sterile environment of science: the “other” is held up to light, examined, tested, proofed, returned to the petri dish, and conclusions about the specimen are entered into the log. The information extracted from the “other” is automatically assumed to be an absolute truth resulting from scientific praxis, not a possible truth resulting from the interaction of the “self” and the “other”. The problem with this scheme is that the exercise of scientific methodology presupposes the dissolution of or disregard for the “self”; yet, science cannot escape the “self” since it is based upon episteme which is, in part, formed by the “self”. Therefore, the “self” necessitates the interpretation of the “other” whereby there can be no understanding of the “self” without the “other” and, likewise, no understanding of the “other” without the “self”. As the “self” and the “other” are inextricably woven into the fabric of experience, there must exist a level outside of the discourse of the gazer and gazee through which representation can faithfully be achieved and whereby the representation and interpretation of either the “self” or the “other” necessitate a mirror-like referentiality, posing any discourse within a realm where the “self” and “other” must exist dialogically.
I shall examine the panoptical gaze administered by the “self” to the “other” which is “architecturally” implicit within every observed moment and thus obliges the object of spectacle (through scientific praxis) to engender the ontological and epistemological status of “other”. As the acquisition of knowledge takes place within the context of power, the representation of the “other” is implicated within discourse and within the context of trust—a trust that relies explicitly on the “guarantee of the real” (de Certeau, p. 213) and the credibility of the representation. Thus, the veracity of any representation of the “other” in this context would pose truth as being “real” and the false as being “fiction”. Yet, any interpretation and representation of the “other” would, in a sense, presuppose a rupture in the membrane dividing “reality” from “performance” whereby the observation of anything is automatically (and architecturally) established within the realm of the theatrical, the staged. Ultimately, I question whether or not there is any possibility of revealing a pure “truth” of the “other”—whether it is possible to reveal “reality” by allochronically examining the “other” without simultaneously examining the “self”. Using Rouch’s and Morin’s collaborative effort, Chronique d’un été, I shall demonstrate that the “/”, the wall which epistemologically divides the “self” and the “other”, must be torn down, that any ethnographic or filmic pretense of revealing the “truth” must not presuppose a pre-written, a pre-conceived, a pre-represented “truth”, and that unearthing and representing “truth”, filmically and anthropologically, can only be a dialogical process.
Panopticism and Discourse
In Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, Foucault discusses Bentham’s Panopticon and its potential for “automiz[ing] and disindivualiz[ing] power” (p. 202) whereby visibility becomes a locus through which the inmates are observed while the guardian remains invisible to the objects of surveillance:
[A]t the periphery, an annular building; at the centre, a tower; this tower is pierced with wide windows that open onto the inner side of the ring; the peripheric building is divided into cells, each of which extends the whole width of the building; they have two windows, one on the inside, corresponding to the windows of the tower;the other, on the outside, allows the light to cross the cell from one end to the other. All that is needed, then, is to place a supervisor in a central tower and to shut up in each cell a madman, a patient, a condemned man, a worker or a schoolboy. By the effect of backlighting, one can observe from the tower, standing out precisely against the light, the small captive shadows in the cells of the periphery. They are like so many cages, so many small theatres, in which each actor is alone, perfectly individualized and constantly visible. The panoptic mechanism arranges spatial unities that make it possible to see constantly and to recognize immediately. In short, it reverses the principle of the dungeon; or rather of its three functions—to enclose, to deprive of light and to hide—it preserves only the first and eliminates the other two. Full lighting and the eye of a supervisor capture better than darkness, which ultimately protected. Visibility is a trap (p. 200).
Through the process of surveillance, the inmate is reduced to a subject of study, the specimen of examination, and is aware of the fact that he orb she is being observed. In this way, the fact that someone is or not in the tower of observation is irrelevant as the state of the prisoner is cemented within the fact that he or she is being watched. The architectural structure of the Panopticon creates a theatre for the spectator whereby the walls encompassing the “balcony seat” are perpetually enmeshed with non-stop action. The prisoners, the objects of study, are implicated within the structures of power as their ontological status within the prison walls ensures that they are contributing to the “study” whereby information about them is collected while the prisoners are never certain from one moment to the next if they are actually being observed.
Using the Panopticon as an analogy for Power, Foucault ascribes Power relations to a similar ideological structure whereby power is disseminated, everyone is implicated, and, most importantly, power remains “visible and unverifiable” (p. 201). In this way, every individual is synchronously the guard and the prisoner, each person feeds into and takes from the structure of Power: “He who is subjected to a field of visibility, and who knows it, assumes responsibility for the constraints of power; he makes them play spontaneously upon himself; he inscribes in himself the power relation in which he simultaneously plays both roles; he becomes the principle of his own subjection” (pp. 202-203). Foucault demonstrates how the panoptical structure allows for the extraction and discernment of knowledge, whereby in depth observation, analysis, and retrieval of knowledge is possible within the “laboratory of power” (p. 204): “[I]t gains in efficiency and in the ability to penetrate into men’s behaviour; knowledge follows the advances of power, discovering new objects of knowledge over all the surfaces on which power is exercised” (p. 204).
As Foucault describes Bentham’s panopticon as a “pure architectural and optical system”, the camera eye in the context of documentary film fits this description all too perfectly, as here Vertov explains the physics of kino-eye and its relation to class and cinematic consciousness (and unconsciousness):
Kino-eye is understood as “that which the eye doesn’t see,”
as the microscope and telescope of time,
as the negative of time,
as the possibility of seeing without limits and distances,
as the remote control of movie cameras,
as X-ray eye,
as “life caught unawares,” etc., etc….
The establishment of a visual (kino-eye) and auditory (radio-ear) class bond between the proletariats of all nations and lands on a platform of the communist decoding of world relations.
The decoding of life as it is.
Influence of facts upon workers’ consciousness.
Influence of facts, not acting, dance, or verse (pp. 41-66).
In cinema, the director maintains the role of the guard, watching over the objects of study, collecting information, recording every movement, gesture, and utterance. The objects of “microscopic” and “x-ray” observation are thus inscribed within the relations of power between the filmmaker and the camera—their every breath and muscular twitch is woven into the informational fabric which is framed within the structures of power.
According to Vertov, the “decoding” of action through the medium of the camera catches life “unaware” through its lenses—every filmic object is then implicated within the cinematic moment and the power of the filmmaker/guard remains “visible” yet “unverifiable”. However, the problem which arises from his notion of the “unaware” poses serious empirical questions regarding kino-pravda which, according to Vertov, exists only when the “unaware” and the “factual” are filmed as opposed to the “aware” and “acted”. This “decoding of life as it is”, a basic ideological and technical standard for much documentary film production even today, assumes that the relationship between the “self” and “other” is purely objective, non-intrusive, and that the filmmaker catches life on film as accurately as if he or she had been invisible, inaudible, to the objects of study. In other words, documentary discourse assumes that the “invisibility” of the camera eye presupposes an empirical (and epistemological) breakdown of the “self”/”other” relationship—that the camera eye takes on the privileged focal point within the world of the “other” escaping the reflection of the “self”. This notion is extremely problematic since in any type of “observation” the “self” and “other” are necessarily implicated and inscribed within the configuration of power. Hence, the “self”/”other” relationship is empirically present in the context and in the moment of observation, study, and film—including the so-called non-fiction film. Thus, aware or unaware, “visibility is a trap” whereby the acts of being observed and of observing, feeds into the relations upon which movement is recorded, knowledge is extracted, theories are constructed, fictions are discarded, and “truth” is represented.
As the anthropological object of study, the “other” is often named and represented as a “barbarian”, “hunter-gatherer”, a “violent people”, etc.; hence, fiction invades the realm of the “other”. Allochronic discourse aids the ethnographer, the filmmaker, the spectator, and the student in putting distance between him or herself, between the two “distant” worlds, and between the fictions and logics which threaten the epistemological and empirical construct of his or her “reality”:
Sometimes—rarely—the Other is revealed as irreducible: not because of a sudden scruple, but because common sense rebels: a man does not have a white skin, but a black one, another drinks pear juice, not Pernod. How can one assimilate the Negro, the Russian? There is here a figure for emergencies: exoticism. The Other becomes a pure object, a spectacle, a clown. Relegated to the confines of humanity, he no longer threatens the security of the home. This figure is chiefly petit-bourgeois. For, even if he is unable to experience the Other in himself, the bourgeois can at least imagine the place where he fits in: this is what is known as liberalism, which is a sort of intellectual equilibrium based on recognized places (Barthes, p. 152)
The observer takes the “easy way out” by assuming a false, but distant, panoptic role, allowing for interpretation and representation to fall within the thin walls of “objective” discourse—the observer is seemingly omitted from the implications enmeshed within the gaze and is exonerated of all responsibility for representation and interpretation, as he or she acts in the name of “objectivity” and “science”:
In my own experience of collaborations between historians and computer scientists, a reciprocal illusion makes each group assume that the other discipline will guarantee what it otherwise lacks—a reference to the “real.” From the computer sciences, historians ask to be accredited by a scientific power capable of providing certain “serious” quality to their discourse (de Certeau, p. 213).
In this way, representation of the “other” remains unquestioned since the insurance policy protecting representation (through allochronism) is science: the power subsumed in the act of representation is thus diffused and relegated not to the ethnographer or filmmaker, but to the field of science where the methods and dogma of representation assume total responsibility for the represented “other”. Thus, to quote the operations of power is to “bestow credibility on the representation” (de Certeau, p. 213).
Inasmuch as science lends legitimation to documentary and ethnographic discourse, it also engraves the representation of the “other” within the domain of the real and the arena of truth. Intellectual discourse strives to differentiate the theatre of scientifically based observation and representation from the theatre of spectacle, stage lights, and actors using the principle that invisibility yields reality and that visibility reaps fiction. Derrida, however, discounts this notion in L’écriture et la différence in discusses Artaud’s role in the theatre: “Artaud s’est tenu au plus proche de la limite: le possibilité et l’impossibilité du théâtre pur. Le présence, pour être présence et présence à soi, a toujours déjà commencé à se représenter, a toujours déjà été entamée” (p. 366). In this way, the theatre is a stage for performance where life and fiction are indistinguishable; hence, the act of observation, the spectatorship of fictional theatre or of “reality” is implicit within the construct of power regardless of its “true” nature.
In A Fragment on Government, Bentham demonstrates that in eighteenth century law, fictions between people and government existed as primary grounds for the construction of legal contracts. Moreover, Bentham contends that “the season of Fiction is now over: “insomuch, that what formerly might have been tolerated and countenanced under that name, would, if now attempted to be set on foot, be censured and stigmatized under the harsher appellations of encroachment or imposture” (p. 53). Bentham furthers his argument by delineating the role of the Author as the subject who has “the Supreme Power of making laws” (p. 86)—the Author is therefore empowered to create, reshape, and enforce these laws which, according to Bentham, “intitle” discourse (pp. 86-87). Discourse thus becomes a tool for the author, artist, and anthropologist by which fictions are resisted and truths are accepted—the dichotomy between fiction and truth is further reinforced in both scientific and epistemological Law. In this way, truth and power maintain a reciprocally advantageous and symbiotically legitimating relationship with one another: “‘Truth’ is to be understood as a system of ordered procedures for the production, regulation, distribution, circulation and operation of statements. ‘Truth’ is linked in a circular relation with systems of power which produce and sustain it, and to effects of power which it induces and which extend it” (Foucault 1980, p. 133). Discourse is positioned within the complex matrix of ‘Truth’ and power—it is located at the very crosshare where ‘Truth’ and power lend legitimation to one another. By embedding its roots within their structures, discourse, therefore, maintains its authority and direct link to Knowledge through the reciprocal legitimation of ‘Truth’/power.
The plurality of fictions which perpetually traject across the field of “reality” are inevitably met, and their paths stopped, by the “univocal” reason of science, the anchor of “truth”—the constant interaction between fiction and the “real” irrevocably bows to science for legitimation and authorial power. De Certeau contends that the ontological posture of fiction and reality is contingent upon the discourse of science:
At the level of analytic procedures (the examination and comparison of documents), as at the level of interpretations (the products of the historiographical operation), the technical discourse capable of determining the errors characteristic of fiction has come to be authorized to speak in the name of the “real.” By distinguishing between the two discourses—the one scientific, the other dictive—according to its own criteria, historiography credits itself with having a special relationship to the “real” because its contrary is posited as “false” (p. 201).
Here, we witness a vacuum within intellectual discourse of the “other”: the “real” takes on both a literal and epistemological meaning only within the relationship that discourse shares with science. Any discourse clinging to science (and this would mean most discourse) would necessarily have the special characteristic of being able to “distinguish” the territory of “truth” from that of fiction. Questioning the validity of discourse would essentially threaten the superiority that “truth” holds over fiction and knowledge and would threaten the structures of power which both maintain and receive legitimation from discourse itself. Therefore, challenging discourse would mean that not only knowledge, but also the “truths” and structures of power legitimating discourse, would be threatened—knowledge would exist in a constant state of realignment, fragmentation, and metamorphosis and, ultimately, the structures of power would be perpetually threatened.
Yet, merely positing knowledge within the sphere where truth and fiction interact would not necessarily subordinate discourse, placing it in a position of being challenged, queried, or opposed since all “questions” would simply be deferred to the supreme defense counselor: Science. Epistemological praxis (especially within the domain of the social sciences) must take into account that science serves as a foundation for investigation and often for the interpretation of facts; however, on the basis of these facts or logics, science can no longer serve to distinguish “truth” from fiction:
[A]ssume that the expression “psychology”, “history of science”, “anthropology” refer to certain domains of facts and regularities (of nature, of perception, of the human mind, of society). Then the assertion is not clear as there is not a single subject—LOGIC—that underlies all these domains…
Moreover, there is not a single science, or other form of life that is useful, progressive as well as in agreement with logical demands. Every science contains theories which are inconsistent both with facts and with other theories and which reveal contradictions when analyzed in detail. Only a dogmatic belief in the principles of an allegedly uniform discipline “Logic” will make us disregard this situation. And the objection that logical principles and principles of, say, arithmetic differ from empirical principles by not being accessible to the method of conjecture and refutations (or, for that matter, any other “empirical” method) has been defused by more recent research in this field (Feyerabend, pp. 204-205).
Due to the empirical nature of observation and research enmeshed within the social sciences, a purely scientific analysis of a specific situation, time, or group of people would actually diminish, if not totally discount, the empirical reality revealed at a specific moment. What is essential to understand here is that science lends to one kind of interpretation—a heavily ethnocentric interpretation based on Western science. The utter consumption of empirical understanding subordinates and obfuscates subjectivity —the particularityof space and time that existed before discursive interpretation and representation. Thus, reality as demonstrated through science maintains a special position within the structures of power since the “symbolic power to impose the principles of the construction of reality…is a major dimension of political power” (Bordieu, p. 165).
Within the theatre of anthropological discourse, the act of observation interpolates an empirical moment and further diffuses the spectacle amidst epistemological practice and discourse. The objects of study become actors for the anthropologist and their every movement and utterance is stripped bare of all empirical meaning. Instead, the objects of investigation are given the epistemological paraphernalia through which anthropological praxis operates: costumes, dialogue, roles, and settings. The lights are turned on, the curtain is raised, and the action commences as the actors fulfill their pre-written, pre-scripted roles by merely existing, moving their lips, gathering roots, and going into drug induced trances. The ticket holders fold their programs, pull out their opera glasses, listen, and watch. Empirical reality is immediately subtitled by the laws of scientific discourse which yield an epistemological reality. In “The Author as Producer,” Benjamin contends that Brecht utilizes epic theatre as a means of conjuring up the “real” since the interruption of action inherent in epic theatre “counteracts an illusion in the audience” (p. 235):
For such illusion is a hindrance to a theater that proposes to make use of elements of reality in experimental rearrangements. But it is at the end, not the beginning, of the experiment that the situation appears—a situation that, in this or that form, is always ours. It is not brought home to the spectator but distanced from him. He recognizes it as the real situation, not with satisfaction, as in the theater of naturalism, but with astonishment. Epic theater, therefore, does not reproduce situations; rather it discovers them (p. 235).
In this way, anthropology could be said not to represent reality, but to discover one type of reality—reality as seen through the spectacles of Western epistemology. Reality is epistemologically underwritten by allochronism—the performers and the spectators are “distanced” by the panoptical discourse, the architecture of the observational tower and the surrounding cells. Everyone is implicated within the structures of power and etched into the epistemological headstone which reads: “Self/Other”.
The Ethnographic Gaze and the Kino-Eye
Ethnographic studies rely on the fact that all acquisition of knowledge takes place in the context of power. This knowledge is thought to be a representation of the reality of the “other” conceived outside of ethnocentric ideals—a “pure”, yet scientifically legitimated, representation of the “other”. Yet, some anthropologists have cast doubts on the representation of the “other” that anthropological discourse yields, speculating and challenging the modes of perception and representation embedded within anthropological praxis. Years before the establishment of the discipline of anthropology, however, Bentham seems offer a solution to the crisis in anthropological representation today: “[Bentham] wished to master reality by reshaping, and by rendering visible, the modes of its fictional construction” (Bender, p. 36). For anthropology, this would mean interpreting reality neither through the “other”, nor through the “self”, but through a dialogical praxis which bends and reflects back and forth between the mirror of the “self” and the image of the “other”, creating an awareness, a truth, of where knowledge is mined, interpreted, and hence, represented.
According to Fabian: “Anthropology emerged and established itself as an allochronic discourse; it is a science of other men in another Time. It is a discourse whose referent has been removed from the present of the speaking/writing subject” (p. 143). He demonstrates how the temporal distancing between the subject and object of anthropology are invoked to support the argument that the temporal conditions of fieldwork and those “expressed in writing (and teaching) usually contradict each other…that the discourse that pretends to interpret, analyze, and communicate ethnographic knowledge to the researcher’s society is pronounced from a “distance”, that is, from a position which denies coevalness to the object of inquiry” (p. 71). This distancing of the subject and object of anthropological study on both an empirical and epistemological level has been the center of study for Clifford who examines allochronism in anthropological fieldwork contending that ethnography should not be relegated to the “experience and interpretation” of a “circumscribed ‘other’”, but must be conceived in terms of “experience and interpretation… involving at least two, and usually more, conscious, politically significant subjects” (p. 41).
In examining the fieldwork of Griaule, Clifford demonstrates how anthropological praxis prescribes the methods of observation of the “other” by means of mapping out strategic points of observation where specialists (anthropologists) are stationed in order to observe and gather and record information about the objects of study. Referring to this process as a “war of gazes”, Clifford states: “The theatrical tug of war actually ends with an arrangement entirely to the advantage of the outsiders, who are able to complete their excavation, remove numerous relics, and establish ground rules for later intensive ethnography” (p. 70). Yet, Clifford contends that Griaule is entirely conscious of the “disruptive power” that his presence and gaze embodies: “Investigation, looking into something, is never neutral” (p. 70). Just as Benjamin contends that Brechtian theatre “distances” reality from the spectator, Clifford argues that Griaule himself was “distanced” from the reality of culture: “…Griaule saw culture itself, like personality, as a performance or a spectacle” (p. 77).
In his ethnographic films, Jean Rouch, one of Griaule’s later colleagues, plays with the notion of theatre and performance through his use of cinéma vérité, breaking every Rule of anthropological and documentary practice by using methods and techniques that were then—and still are—generally considered “taboo”. Some of these unorthodox ethnographic and filmic practices include Rouch’s: provoking action, staging scenes, direct intervention (and often involvement) within sequences, complete disregard for the “invisibility” of the anthropologist-filmmaker, and even his collaboration with the objects of study, allowing them to be both objects and subjects of investigation. The film that best demonstrates Rouch’s criticism of anthropological discourse is Chronique d’un été. This work is doubly paradigmatic and provoking since Rouch, in collaboration with French sociologist Edgar Morin, not only strives to discredit the notion of anthropological and documentary “objectivity” and the knowledge that is revealed through both filmic and ethnographic “unconventionalities”, but also, instead of filming a group of Sonhay performing ancient rites in West Africa, Rouch literally turns the camera-eye, the ethnographic gaze, back onto itself by filming a group of individuals in Paris, France, during the Summer of 1960.
In Chronique d’un été , Rouch and Morin question epistemological praxis, our very knowledge of the “other” and the “self”, by filmically, ethnographically, and culturally questioning the notion of truth:
[T]his term cinéma-vérité is daring, pretentious; of course there is a profound truth in works of fiction as well as in myths. At the end of the film the difficulties of truth which had not been a problem in the beginning became apparent to me. In other words, I thought that we would start from a basis of truth and that an even greater truth would develop. Now I realize that if we achieved anything, it was to present the problem of the truth. We wanted to get away from comedy, from spectacles, to enter into direct contact with life. But life itself is also a comedy, a spectacle. Better (or worse) yet: each person can only express himself through a mask, and the mask, as in Greek tragedy, both disguises and reveals, becomes the speaker. In the course of the dialogues each one was able to be more real than in daily life but at the same time more false (Morin).
Applying the concept of cinéma vérité, Rouch and Morin “unmask” the truths embodied within the fictional moments as well as the untruths which haunt the so-called “honest” moments. Rouch and Morin challenge knowledge, holding a mirror up to the panoptical gaze of Western epistemology, presenting a different type of reality by forcing the spectator to question that which is accepted (ipso facto) as true and also that which is accepted as fiction. More concretely, Rouch and Morin dispute “truth” by questioning discursive methodology and praxis within the disciplines of anthropology and non-fiction film. I shall examine Chronique d’un été in relation to the empirical and epistemological concepts, practices, and “rules” that these researchers query through their use (although to some, this might be called abuse) of “revolutionary” filmmaking and ethnographic techniques which ultimately attempt to break down the “/” which divides the “self” and “other”—the epistemological barrier which separates the subject and the object of study. Rouch and Morin evidence the impossibility of polarizing the “self” and “other”, for in their film everyone, including Rouch and Morin, is both subject and object.
Visibility and invisibility are key tools utilized within Chronique that serve to break with the traditional ethnographic and documentary conceptions of subject and object. The film opens with Edgar Morin, Jean Rouch, and Marceline sitting around a dining room table discussing the fact that they are being filmed and wondering whether or not they “will be able to talk absolutely normally.” They briefly discuss Marceline’s memory of Auschwitz and her deportation and then the conversation turns to Marceline discussing what she does at home, what her attitude is towards men in general, how she feels about her past lovers, and how she feels about her life. Rouch and Morin periodically pose questions and make comments to Marceline, yet she does most of the talking. The camera takes a few close-ups of Marceline and Rouch, but primarily it remains still, focused on all three sitting around the table and talking. Rouch’s and Morin’s presence throughout the film is pervasive—even as Marceline walks alone in the street, we see a shot of her back, yet we hear the voice-over of Rouch and Marceline:
MARCELINE: Listen, there are times when I go out in the street in the morning…when I have things to do…but there is no guarantee I’m going to do them. I mean I never know what I’ll be doing from one day to the next. It’s like I live thinking that I don’t know what tomorrow will bring…and then, for me, adventure is always just around the corner.
ROUCH: And if we asked you to go into the street and ask people the question “Are you happy?”, would you go?
Marceline continues to walk down the street, her back to the camera, following Rouch’s off-screen question.
Even in this scene, the film’s first moment when neither Rouch nor Morin are on screen, Rouch nonetheless “appears”—his voice, his dialogue with Marceline, subverts the allochronic gaze. Perhaps Rouch’s and Morin’s “object-ivity” can best be “seen” in the film’s last sequence: alone, Rouch and Morin pace back and forth in Musée de l’homme in Paris as they discuss their work on the film. The visibility of the filmmakers permeates and dissolves any possibility of their retaining the position of subject within the film; for even when Rouch and Morin are not on camera, the knowledge that they could enter the frame at any moment disintegrates any subject-ive/object-ive moment that may otherwise superficially appear.
In a later scene, Marceline talks to a garage mechanic and his wife. Throughout much of this scene, Marceline is absent and at times she is barely in the frame—only her shoulder appears. Marceline’s “invisibility” posits her in the role of the subject, the interviewer, who remains outside of the sequence, the action, and the film narrative. Close-ups of the mechanic, his wife, and a stranger remind the viewer of the distance which seems purposefully administered. There is an even stranger paradox embedded within the film: the manner in which invisibility actuates visibility. This is best demonstrated in the scene when Marceline, in response to Rouch’s proposition, goes around Paris interviewing Parisians by asking them: “Êtes-vous content?” Although we sometimes see Marceline approaching the passersby, she is nevertheless inscribe within the role of interviewer and once the question is posed, the camera focuses on the person as they answer or as they say, “What the fuck do you care?” As one of the twelve major figures in the film, Marceline is both the object and subject of study. While her visibility (obviously) lends to her “object-ification”, her invisibility empowers her own “subject-ification”.
The “self”/”other” dichotomy is further destroyed through the tactics which Rouch and Morin use in planning and structuring the film: not only do Morin and Rouch plot the film, but also the subjects/objects of study are often directly involved in the production and planning of many of the filmed sequences. As mentioned above, Marceline agrees to walk around the streets of Paris interviewing people—she. Yet, throughout the film one is constantly aware of the conspiracy between the filmmakers and the subjects/objects of study in constructing the film. For example, in the sequences when Rouch films Angélo going to work, entering the Renault factory gates, and even when Angélo is hard at work, we cannot help being aware of the involvement and commitment that Angélo lends to the film. In order for Rouch to film Angélo at the Renault factory, Angelo had to get permission from his supervisor and then the head of the plant (Morin). However, the strongest example of the involvement that everyone has in the film is the second to last scene in the film, when the participants are no longer “on film” but are watching, via montage, the very same film that we are watching: Chronique d’un été :
We hear for a moment more the song of the Milly picnickers, as the beam of a projector lamp appears on the screen, shining across the room plunged in obscurity. Then the song ends, the beam goes out, light returns to the room revealing the characters of Chronique d’un été, who have just seen the projection of certain sequences of their film, alongside Edgar Morin and Jean Rouch. Close-ups of different people as they respond.
In this segment the film’s participants actively engage in conversations (and disputes) about what they saw and, more importantly, what they thought about the film as an integral representation of their lives at a specific time and place. Morin’s and Rouch’s comments further aid in stripping down the “self”/”other” dimension as they too voice their opinions about the study and even more general, philosophical issues: “MORIN: Maxie’s suggestions sounded monstrous to me, and really, for, hers are reactions which are against the emergence of truth in the world, in social life, in people’s lives or in life among people.” We see here how the filmmakers abet their own “object-ification” by letting go of absolute and total authorial power, while synchronically the other participants engage in the creative and communal filmmaking process, thus realizing their own “subjet-ification” through artistic empowerment.
One of the first films made with synchronous sound equipment, Chronique presented new possibilities for cinematic technique since it allowed filmmakers to capture a new kind of reality on film. Technologically, Rouch exploits the “self”/”other” paradigm: he disseminates the film technology to the other participants, implicating them within the film and its production through the extensive network of microphones and tape recorders. In the scene when Marceline is interviewing Parisians, she is carrying a satchel which contains the tape recorder from which the microphone extends. She holds the microphone out to the people walking by as she repeats her question: “Êtes-vous content?”. In a later shot, Regis, carrying a tape recorder, meets Jean-Marc after his exams. Even though no sound is recorded, we are constantly reminded of the fact that the participants are technically active in the films production. Antithetically, there is a moment in the film, during the conversation about the Algerian “problem”, when Viguier, a cameraman, is shown in a close-up without any film equipment. In a later scene, during a discussion about the Algerian situation, Rophe, a sound recordist, takes part in the dialogue, but also without his equipment. These two moments exhibit the irony embodied within the film’s technical production: the alleged objects of study play a major role in the technological production of the film while the official film technicians, Viguier and Rophe, when filmed, do not possess any of the technology.
The film opens with various scenes of Paris, from its center to its smokestack-filled industrial sectors. The day breaks, workers are filmed ascending from the metro stations, and the titles begin. Off-screen the voice of Jean Rouch is heard: “This film was not played by actors, but lived by men and women who have given a few moments of their lives to a new experiment in cinéma-vérité.” Yet, while one views this film, there are several moments when one wonders if what is revealed is really a “natural” action, an unprovoked reaction, a truthful comment or answer, etc. Moreover, before the film is over, the viewer’s suspicions are confirmed by the participants of the film who also question the motives, or rather the authenticity of action and dialogue disclosed in much of the footage. In the sequence when the film’s participants watch the film from the screening room, one of the major points of contention that arises from the various discussions is that of “truth” as it pertains to what the camera-eye captures and what the various participants did “naturally” or perhaps “acted”:
ROUCH: You’ve just seen yourselves on the screen…Edgar and I would like to know your opinions…Véro, do you like what you saw?
VERONIQUE: Oh, well, it’s not as good as Chaplin, but you know…
MORIN: So, what’s your impression, in the end?
VERONIQUE: I don’t know…explain it to me!
MORIN: There’s nothing to explain. Some people say it’s not true, others say its true.
VERONIQUE: Say what’s not true? I mean, you can’t lie in front of a camera….
JACQUES: You say there’s empathy between Angélo and Landry, that’s obvious: it’s that all that isn’t natural, it’s not natural and it’s artificial, you know…
ANGELO: I don’t agree, because when there was the scene with Landry, I didn’t know a thing about him. And then it turned out that when I talked with him, I didn’t see the cameras anymore. I didn’t see them anymore, the cameras. It was only the problem that concerned me….
MARILOU: It seems to me that in the end, to have a tiny spark of truth the character usually has to be…I mean, it’s not a rule…alone and on the verge of a nervous breakdown…
JEAN-PIERRE: If the sequence of Marceline is much more perfect than the others…you say that is truer than truth…it’s because she is acting…
In an act of closure, Rouch ends the film gathering everyone to discuss their reactions to one version of Chronique. Ironically, the major topic of discussion was about the “truth” or “fiction” embedded within certain parts of the film. Veronique claims that one cannot lie before the camera, Jacques believes that Angélo’s encounter with Landry was “artificial”, and Jean-Pierre believes that Marceline’s monologue about her father’s death in a Nazi camp is “acted”. In attempting to make cinéma-vérité, Rouch shows the potential dissonance embodied in his own film—the fact that many sequences would come over to the audience as acted, staged, or artificial. Rouch did, in fact, stage many scenes, prompt individuals with questions, and of course, was responsible for the final product through his ultimate control of the cinematography, camera position, and editing. This brings us back to the definition of cinéma-vérité from Barnouw who states that it suggests that “artificial circumstances could bring hidden truth to the surface” (p. 255). Viewed in this way, Chronique is the incarnate product, the quintessential specimen, of cinéma-vérité in the sense that if Rouch and Morin can make just one person question the “truth” of what they see in their film, then they have accomplished their task. Therefore, the cross-examination of fact and fiction, truth and fallacy, throughout this film further deconstructs the dichotomy of “self” and “other”, for the unquestioned acceptance of any truth relies heavily—if not completely—on the panoptical gaze and the “self’s” somnambulant and complacent belief of “truths” presented about the “other”.
The breakdown of the “self” and “other” is perhaps best demonstrated through the film’s context—the topics of discussion which are chosen to be filmed. Rouch and Morin carefully choose Parisian students (Jean-Marc, Nadine, and Régis), a factory worker (Angélo), an Italian immigrant (Marilou), a Jewish concentration camp survivor (Marceline), and two Africans (Raymond and Landry) to be participants in the film. Given the heterogeneity of culture, economic status, and educational experience, Rouch and Morin explore the interaction of their participants in the context of discussions about the Algerian question, racism, and anti-Semitism:
MORIN: You don’t give a damn about this issue, about the war in Algeria, do you?
JEAN-MARC: No, we do give a damn….
CELINE: If only the majority of the French would show their opposition…would show it publicly.
ROPHE (sound recordist): But to what end?
CELINE: …to put an end to this absurd war.
REGIS: This war has been going on for six years, that’s the first thing to be said, and people are always forgetting it…Saying that we’re installed in a sort of mutual habit…a sort of resignation to a state of fact. In fact there are crimes going on out there that are not by mistake…they’re facts and most people refuse to see them.
And then in dialogue between Marceline and Rouch:
MARCELINE: Personally I would never marry a black.
NADINE: For the children?
MARCELINE: No, not at all, absolutely not…not at all
MARCELINE: Well…why…Because for me it has nothing to do with…I’m not a racist. I understand perfectly that one can love a black….
And then in reference to Marceline’s tatoo:
ROUCH: We’re going to ask Landry a question…Landry, have you noticed that Marceline has a number on her arm
ROUCH: What is it, do you think?
LANDRY: No, I…have no idea…
ROUCH: No idea…Okay, and you, Raymond…what do you think?
RAYMOND: Well, I don’t know exactly…I know that there are sailors who usually have numbers on their arms…and since she’s not in the Navy…
ROUCH: Why? so, what is it that…Why? do you know more or less what it means?
RAYMOND: Maybe, yeah…
REGIS: But why a number, anyway?…
ROUCH: Why a number?
MARCELINE: I could have put a heart?
JEAN-PIERRE: It could be her telephone number…
MARCELINE: I could have put a heart.
RAYMOND: That couldn’t be a telephone number because it’s too long…78-750….
Through these dialogues we see various tactics plotted out by Morin and Rouch: to purposefully dichotomize cultures in order to reveal commonalities between the two polarized worlds, to demonstrate how a person from one culture interprets and relates to the “other”—and situations specific to the “other”—in terms of the “truths” embedded within their own culture and to demonstrate the truths which can —and do —emerge from the dialogical interaction of the “self” and “other”. Furthermore, choosing conversation topics like race, Algeria 1960, and anti-Semitism allows for a broader ethnographic interpretation of both the Europeans and Africans by both Europeans and Africans. That is to say that instead of posing questions like “How do you go about hunting giraffes?” or “Could you show us your shamanistic rituals?” which have their answers, their truths, already inscribed within the questions asked (especially when posed to one specific group of people), Rouch and Morin hypothesize specific situations which hold international and intercultural relevancy, causing (or perhaps forcing) the participants to interact and to derive their own, individual “truths” based on the given situations. Ultimately, this process allows everyone—the participants, the ethnographer, and the viewer—to tear down the epistemological shroud which had previously distanced and polarized their world from the world of (that which they knew as) the “other”.
In questioning the “truths” emerging from ethnography and documentary film, Rouch and Morin evidence the problems of discourse, method, and practice in these fields as well as the enigmas regarding “fiction” and “truth” embodied in Western epistemology. By breaking ethnographic and filmic “laws” and using their brand of ethnography and cinema, Rouch and Morin shatter the epistemological gaze, the “/”, which divides the “self” and the “other”. In tearing down this barrier, the ethnographer-filmmaker and the film’s participants are displaced from the age-old roles of “self” and “other” and thus inscribed as both the “self” and the “other”, the subject and the object. Through the synchronous “object-ification” and “subject-ification” of the ethnographer and the persons to be “studied”, we are forced to examine knowledge, the structures of power, which systematically weed out the “fictions” and digest the “truths”. For Rouch and Morin, “truth” can only be achieved through the dialogical interaction of: the ethnographer-filmmaker with the “objects” of study (which thereby renders both the ethnographer-filmmaker and the “objects” of investigation the subject/object) and the contextual discordance between that which appears to be “true” or “natural” with that which seems to be “false” or “acted”. Ultimately, Chronique d’un été demonstrates that “truth” is posited as a dialogical process, not a monological end.
Essentially, what contributes to the success of Chronique is that it demonstrates an alternative to allochronism—an dialogic alternative that is, in fact, immune from the pitfalls of allochronic discourse. Due to its privileged relation to power and Knowledge, allochronic discourse needs to maintain the status quo, it must sustain the monolith of “truth” by positing all “legitimate” information as a static or an absolute truth. Were it to alter its discursive allusion to “truth” in the slightest, allochronism would compromise its own efforts and thus contribute to its own demise. On the other hand, Chronique demonstrates the attempt to breakdown the monolithic structure of “truth”, whereby the subjects/objects of study communally take part in the film and everyone involved —including the film audience—has equal access to interpretation and/or representation. In this way, everyone involved with the film can indirectly address the structures of power upon which knowledge is based. The crucial difference between these two types of discourse is that Chronique does not offer “truth” as an end, but demonstrates truth as a possible understanding, a representation of momentary interaction between the “self” and the “other”. Thus, because Chronique neither purports to have access to autocratic Knowledge through epistemological praxis nor pretends to reveal absolute truths, it does not need to defend or answer to the Supreme Power/Knowledge construct.
Chronique d’un été essentially subverts the authority of Power/Knowledge through the dialogical methods of ethnographic filmmaking embodied within its every frame—Rouch and Morin demonstrate that dialogical method poses a perpetual threat to discourse which is deeply rooted within Power/Knowledge. In other words, by questioning Knowledge, Rouch’s and Morin’s specimen of dialogical discourse subordinates Power/Knowledge, placing Power/Knowledge in an interminable process of decomposition, shifting, restructuring…. Rouch and Morin proffer a radical alternative to the standard archetype of Power/Knowledge which exists solely to crank out theories, paradigms, and solutions which further strengthen the Power/Knowledge structure from which these theories were born—an archetype of Power/Knowledge which exists in a permanent state of tautological reason. Rouch and Morin turn the Old Order on its head, offering dialogic discourse as a radically new modus operandi of knowledge which serves to criticize and undermine not only the traditional institutions of Power/Knowledge but also to understand knowledge as: that which is temporal and relative, that which allows for a plurality of voices—even if they be conflicting, and that which cannot successfully exist without posing a threat to itself, ultimately contributing to its own death. This brand of dialogic discourse, therefore, is the danger, the very threat of epistemological deterioration, embodied within the act of questioning Power/Knowledge—it is the risk that we are not always willing to take…
Chronique forces us to re-examine anthropological and documentary discourse—if not also to challenge epistemology and the practices it institutes. Since the acquisition of knowledge takes place in the context of power, everyone is implicated within the institutions that constitute and contribute to Knowledge. Therefore, we must ask ourselves if what we know to be “truths” about the “other” is truly an honest interpretation and representation formed in part through scientific discourse or whether we are also actors working from the script of Western epistemology which is inscribed with the theorems, proofs, and “truths”—a script that is written, edited, and acted out even before we step onto the stage. Our understanding of the “other” and more so, our drive to understand the “other”, seems to presuppose that we understand the “self”. Therefore, the dialogic interaction of the “self” and “other” would somehow threaten this firmly planted, this deeply entombed Knowledge. Perhaps Zizek gives us the best example of how through discourse we “see”, interpret, and represent the “other”:
Let us take Hitchcock’s Rear Window : the window through which James Stewart, disabled and confined to a wheelchair, gazes continually is clearly a fantasy-window—his desire is fascinated by what he can see through the window. And the problem of the unfortunate Grace Kelly is that by proposing to him she acts as an obstacle, a stain disturbing his view through the window, instead of fascinating him with her beauty. How does she succeed, finally, in becoming worthy of his desire? By literally entering the frame of his fantasy; by crossing the courtyard and appearing “on the other side” where he can see her through the window. When Stewart sees her in the murderer’s apartment his gaze is immediately fascinated, greedy, desirous of her: she has found her place in his fantasy-space (p. 119).
In this same way, anthropological discourse, sets up a panoptical gaze, looking at, admiring, investigating, and desiring the “other”—viewing the “other” through the “fantasy-window”. Any encroachment on this gaze would then threaten our discourse, and hence, the structures of power which legitimate the knowledge acquired, absorbed, and memorized. Through epistemological praxis, not only have we constructed the window and maintained the gaze, but we have even created the situation, the apartment, the murderer, and the woman. Like James Stewart, we too have realized our fantasy.
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