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October 1997, Week 5


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Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Wed, 29 Oct 1997 15:00:46 GMT
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These are very interesting questions. I have had similar issues raised by
students. For example, recently a very articulate First Nations student
told me she finds the idea of rational discourse to go against her belief
in the fundamentally spiritual nature of the world. Similarly, the
cultural relativism characteristic of Western academic discourse (which is
a problem for Western-style scholars too of course, cf. Habermas) cannot
be reconciled with the spiritual beliefs that structure the world in her
cultural tradition. Even the idea of analyzing a cultural object (such as
a film) seems to imply doing violence to it, and she finds this
This is a specific example of the ethical stand that I find many
cultural-minority students (First Nations, African diaspora, etc.) take
toward their studies. They have a privileged perspective on the need to
ally critical inquiry with advocacy, and this raises the questions you
pose. I attempt to encourage this ethical critique of Western academic
discourse by situating it alongside existing currents in W. scholarship,
such as feminist critiques of epistemology, Frankfurt School critiques of
instrumental reason, theories of immanence (e.g. phenomenology), and
recent theories of the body as a source of meaning. Thus non-Western
epistemologies can be situated within the rational discourse that is
fundamental to the W. humanities, specifically recent critiques of it.
 Also, I stress the *strategic* value of critical analysis, since of
course it allows them to take on films and other cultural artifacts that
they find  politically objectionable, on the terms sanctioned by the
academy. Like any other institution, academia requires its members to
learn its rules before they can change them.
I think these emerging scholars are in a position to revive the question
of ethics in Western academic discourse, and even to reintroduce questions
of spirituality that understandably have remained taboo in scholarship
until recently.
Laura U. Marks
SSAC: Film Studies
Carleton University
Ottawa, Canada
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