The staging of affect and the “Elsewhens” of documentary space
Fleming, D. (2011). The staging of affect and the “Elsewhens” of documentary space. Media Fields Journal, 3, 1-14.
Permanent Research Commons link: http://hdl.handle.net/10289/5821
A quarter of a century ago, the English critic and writer John Berger said, “The true stories of our time have to be able to reconcile a pile of clothes in a drawer with world historical upheavals.”¹ This seems like an ideal prescription for documentary but, given our times of intensified globalization and the reorganization of “world historical upheavals” around a particular global narrative, the practical challenge behind Berger’s word “reconcile” seems even more daunting than it did in 1985. In particular, the “pile of clothes in a drawer,” the lived spaces of the everyday, the intimate, the personal, the forgotten, the material things tinged with memory, seem even more at risk of consignment to the category of the inconsequential. Certain durable public exceptions, like the piled and tangled frames and cracked lenses of the Auschwich-‐Berkenau spectacles, have achieved an iconic status as personal markers of world historical trauma (thus celebrities being invited to donate pairs of old spectacles to a 2008 exhibit in Liverpool, England, marking National Holocaust Day²) but, if anything, this has raised the bar on just whose “pile of clothes in a drawer” might connect with the “true stories of our time” that Berger envisaged. The recent opening of so many old drawers to the burgeoning “family history” genre (e.g. television’s Who Do You Think You Are?) tends not to facilitate this connection so much as to shift the “pile of clothes in a drawer” into another, tidier space; one equally privatized and disconnected from larger contexts and frames of meaning, except where those get represented as a kind of generalized dramatic backdrop.³
University of California