SCREEN-L Archives

December 1997, Week 2


Options: Use Monospaced Font
Show Text Part by Default
Show All Mail Headers

Message: [<< First] [< Prev] [Next >] [Last >>]
Topic: [<< First] [< Prev] [Next >] [Last >>]
Author: [<< First] [< Prev] [Next >] [Last >>]

Print Reply
Kevin Boon <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Sun, 14 Dec 1997 12:23:08 -0500
text/plain (128 lines)
I believe I see what you're driving at. Perhaps I can clear my position up
even more.
I said,
>...whether it remains faithful
>to some objective truth or not is a moot question because the
>objective truth is not reliably accessible in any totalitarian
U said,
> . . . now I'm not entirely sure i understand this, and am worried by the
>introduction of the notion of "totalitarian" into the debate, with the
>implication, i suspect, that anything definitive, by constraining the
>hermeneutic horizon, necessarily counts as totalitarian . . .
My choice of the word "totalitarian" here was intentional (and paralleled
my reference to Hitler's propaganda films). What I intended in deploying
that term was to stress the danger in believing that absolute, objective
truth can be unproblematically represented in film. Let me outline my logic
here, and you can tell me if I slipped up somewhere.
(1) If we buy the premise that a non-relativistic Truth can be perceived,
and (2) that representation can faithfully refer to that Truth,
then, there must exist (at least one) example of this; that is, some
existing representation (and I'm thinking with this whole discussion
primarily about documentary film) must actually refer unproblematically to
its referent.
Under these premises, any film is potentially an unproblematical referent,
i.e. every documentary is potentially a completely (and objectively) True
Furthermore, critique becomes unnecessary when in possession of complete
and objective Truth.
So, Nazi propaganda films present a narrative as objectively True. But, I
hope, we can clearly see that they are shaped by subjective political and
ideological objectives.  I used Nazi propaganda films because I had ____ (I
can't recall her name, Reni...Rosen..something like that) in mind the woman
filmmaker who made "documentaries" for Hitler, and because I assumed that
most of us would not call these "True" representations. The underlying
agenda is rather blatant. Yet, these films were digested by a lot of
Germans without question, because, I would argue, they believed that a
completely True representation was possible. That belief prevented them
from interrogating the veracity of what they were seeing, therefore, the
ideas promoted in those films exercised absolute control over what they
were able to believe, and therefore, controlled their actions by
controlling what they believed to be possible.
Let me see if I can make this clearer.
The hermeneutic is made possible by the belief that we are not in total
possession of truth.
We critique because we realize that we are not in total possession of Truth.
It is the realization that we are not in total possession of Truth that
empowers us to question authoritative imperatives.
So, to your other comment...
I said,
>"It is precisely this, trendy relativist  pseudo-problem
>that allows human beings to recognize Hitler's
>propaganda films as subjective representations rather than truth."
U said,
>. . . i dont quite know what to make of this but it seems [though i suspect
>that kevin does NOT mean this] that since hitlers propaganda was indeed
>faithful to his own perceptions that it must count as being as "true" as
>anything else in a flawed discursive universe  . . . in other words the only
>thing that could count as a lie is something that was told in bad faith and
>intended as a lie, thus misrepresenting the perception of the teller . . .
>that as long as the teller [or filmmaker] believes  it, it counts as true
. . .
You are quite right, that is NOT what I mean. In fact, I mean the polar
opposite.  I am not saying that we should accept Hitler's narratives; I am
saying we don't question them enough, and that is dangerous. I realize that
in the case of Nazi narratives, we probably all doubt their veracity (which
is, as I said, why I chose it as an example). But, if representation cannot
present a completely (and objectively) True narrative (as I believe), then
no narrative is beyond interrogation, and no interrogation of a narrative
is ever complete. So, we must not only rigorously question Nazi narratives,
we must also question American narratives, and social narratives. The
tendency, I would argue, is to not question narratives we have already
chosen to belief without question (pardon the circular logic). But those
are the most dangerous, because those, like in Germany during WWII, are the
ones that insidiously appear "natural" or "true."
[A contemporary example of a dangerous narrative might be the American
representation of Iraq. Consider how popular the idea of bombing Iraq is
among the general population. I recall one woman (a self-proclaimed loving
Christian) who said during the Gulf War that it was all right to bomb Iraq
into oblivion because "they are all Godless heathens". She held this
position because she did not question the seemingly objective narratives
that the news media were presenting her with. I compare this to the
comments made by one of my students who had fought in the Gulf War. He saw
five-year-old children with their legs blown off, and entire families
destroyed. He saw that Iraq, like any country, is not an insane collection
of sub-humans; it is a place full of real human beings--mothers, fathers,
children, teachers, bakers, and so on.]
Now, to your last point, which I feel is the most important of all.
>i, on the other hand, would think that what we need is a frame of reference
>that allows us to recognize certain representations as lies even if they are
>"subjective representations"
Here I think you touch on the key issue. How do we make distinctions among
subjective representations. And this, I believe, is the domain of Ethics,
not truth. We evaluate representations on an ethical basis, because ethics
are malleable and dynamic, while absolute objective truth is unquestionable
and static.
Online resources for film/TV studies may be found at ScreenSite