Title: Autoethnography: Journeys of the Self
Author: Catherine Russell, 1999
Excerpt from: Experimental Ethnography, Duke University Press


Autoethnography: Journeys of the Self

Catherine Russell



1. Walter Benjamin, "A Berlin Chronicle," in Reflections: Essays, Aphorisms, Autobiographical Writings, trans. Edmund Jephcott, ed. Peter Demetz (New York: Schocken Books, 1986), 28.

2. Quoted from Benjamin's letter to Martin Buber (23 February 1927) by Gershom Sholem, preface to Benjamin's Moscow Diary, ed. Gary Smith (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1986), 6.

3. Susan Buck-Morss, The Dialectics of Seeing. Walter Benjamin and the Arcades Project (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1989), 31-32.

4. Michael NI. J. Fischer, "Ethnicity and the Post-Modern Arts of Memory," in Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography, ed. James Chifford and George E. Marcus (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986), 194-233.

5. Michael Renov has written about new modes of autobiography in "The Subject in History: The New Autobiography in Film and Video," Afterimage 17, no 1 (summer 1989): 4-7, and "New Subjectivities: Documentary and Selfrepresentation in the Post-Verité Age," Documentary Box 7 (1995): 1-8. See also Jim Lane, "Notes on Theory and the Autobiographical Documentary Film in America, Wide Angle 15, no. 3 (July 1993): 21-36; Ruth Behar, "Expanding the Boundaries of Anthropology: The Cultural Criticism of Gloria Anzaldua and Marlon Riggs," Visual Anthropology Review 9, no. 2 (fall 1993): 83-91; José Munoz, "The Autoethnographic Performance: Reading Richard Fung's Queer Hybridity," Screen 36, no. 2 (summer 1995): 83-99.

6. These terms are both used by Bill Nichols in Blurred Boundaries: Questions of Meaning in Contemporary Culture (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994),1-16.

7. Mary Louise Pratt, Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation (London: Routledge, 1992), 7.

8. James Clifford, The Predicament of Culture: Twentieth Century Ethnography, Literature, and Art (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1988), 94.

9. Renov, "The Subject in History," 4.

10. Munoz, "Autoethnographic Performance," 87.

11. Francoise Lionnet has described autoethnography in literature as a form of métissage that "demystifies all essentialist glorifications of unitary origins, be they racial, sexual, geographical, or culture." Autobiographical Voices: Race, Gender, Self-Portraiture (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1989), 9.

12. P. Adams Sitney, "Autobiography in Avant-Garde Film," in The Avant-Garde Film: A Reader of Theory and Criticism, ed. P. Adams Sitney (New York: New York University Press, 1978), 246.

13. Janine Marchessault, "Sans Soleil," CineAction! (spring 1986): 2-6.

14. Trinh Minh-ha, When the Moon Waxes Red: Representation, Gender, and Cultural Politics (New York: Routledge, 1991), 74.

15. Renov situates Mekas as a crucial contributor to the development of the new autobiography in "The Subject in History," 5-6. See also the anthology To Free the Cinema: Jonas Mekas and the New York Underground, ed. David E. James (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1992).

16. From David James's filmography in To Free the Cinema (321-22), the diary films include Walden (1964-1969, 3 hours); Reminiscences of a journey to Lithuania (1971-1972, 82 minutes); Lost Lost Lost (1949-1975, 2 hours 58 minutes); In Between (1964-1978, 52 minutes); Paradise Not Yet Lost (1977-1979, 96 mins); He Stands in a Desert Counting the Seconds of His Life (1969-1985, 21/2 hours).

17. David James, "Film Diary/Diary Film: Practice and Product in Walden," in James To Free the Cinema 168.

18. Maureen Turim, "Reminiscences, Subjectivities, and Truths," in James, To Free the Cinema, 210.

19. Renov, "The Subject in History," 6.

20. Filmmakers Co-op catalog 1989, p. 363; quoted in Turim, "Reminiscences," 207.

21. Turim, 208.

22. Turim, 206, James, "Film Diary/Diary Film," 160

23. Jeffrey K. Ruoff, "Home Movies of the Avant-Garde: Jonas Mekas and the New York Art World," in James, To Free the Cinema, 294-311.

24. Filmmakers Co-op catalog 1975, P. 178; quoted in Turim. "Reminiscences,"202.

25. David James points Out hat Mekas's editing and "revising" of his footage entails a community practice, a lan guage and a kind of writing that is quite removed from the immediacy of the filming stage ("Film Diary/Diary Film," 161).

26. See Marjorie Keller, "The Theme of Childhood in the Films of Jean Cocteau, Joseph Cornell, and Stan Brakhage" (Ph. D. diss., New York University, 1982).

27. Caren Kaplan, Questions of Travel: Postmodern Discourses of Displacement (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1996),

28. Paul Arthur, "History and Crass Consciousness: George Kuchar's Fantasies of Un-Power," Millennium Film journal 20-21 (fall-winter 1988-1989):156.

29. Christine Tamblyn, "Qualifying the Quotidian," in Resolutions: Contemporary Video Practices, ed. Michael Renov and Erika Suderburg (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996), 19.

30. Kuchar described his editing technique at a post-screening discussion at Millennium, New York, 1986. Tamblyn reports the same thing (19). Kuchar started using the H-8 camera before it became a popular format, exploiting the feature of erasure/retaping as a medium – specific possibility. With the growing availability of editing suites, he has no doubt moved toward more conventional editing techniques.

31. See my "Culture as Fiction: The Ethnographic Impulse in the films of Peggy Ahwesh, Su Friedrich, and Leslie Thornton," in The New American Cinema, ed. Jon Lewis (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1998).

32. Sadie Benning is the daughter of James Benning, which may or may not account for her aesthetic sensibilities, but does suggest how she came to embrace the avant-garde at such an early age.

33. Chris Holmlund, "When Autobiography Meets Ethnography and Girl Meets Girl: The 'Dyke Does' of Sadie Benning and Su Friedrich," in Between the Sheets, in the Streets: Queer, Lesbian, Gay Documentary, ed. Chris Holmlund and Cynthia Fuchs (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997),130.

34. Munoz, "Autoethnographic Performance," 84.

35. Laura Kipnis, "Female Transgression," in Renov and Suderburg, Resolutions, 340-41.

36. Tamblyn, ãQualifying the QuotidianÒ, 13-28.

37. Homi K. Bhabha, The Location of Culture (New York: Routledge, 1994), 50.

38. Ibid, 52.

39. Ibid.

40. Fredric Jameson, The Geopolitical Aesthetic: Cinema and Space in the World System (Bloomington: Indiana University Press and British Film Institute) (1992),192.

41. Jameson points out that the similar ideological lesson of Perfumed Nightmare (the title refers to the attraction to, and dangers of, modern technologies) is "of a type embarrassing if not inconceivable for First-World (realistic) filmmakers" (204).

42. Benjamin, "The Author as Producer," in Reflections, 220-38.

43. Kidlat Tahimik, "Why Is Yellow the Middle of the Rainbow? An Interview with Kidlat Tahimik," interview by Arthur and Corinne Cantrill, Cantrills Filmnotes 73-74 (May 1994): 55; cited hereafter as Tahimik, interview.

44. In the clips from the film-in-progress, it seems that Magellan's slave finally returns to the Philippines with his master, but the natives kill Magellan, thus freeing the slave. Tahimik describes the slave as someone who learned the dress codes and the language of the colonial Other, as well as the law of supply and demand.

45. Jameson, Geopolitical Aesthetic, 207.

46. In his critique of Jameson's theory of national allegory (which is the theory informing Jameson's discussion of Perfumed Nightmare), Aijaz Ahmad suggests that a global perspective of capitalist production is a more appropriate model for a theory that might encompass all Third World literatures. "Jameson's Rhetoric of Otherness," excerpted in The Postcolonial Studies Reader, ed. Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths, and Helen Tiffin (New York: Routledge, 1995), 80.

47. Tahimik's given name is Eric de Guia, and he told the Cantrills that he grew up as a bourgeois kid who wished he were an Igorot (Tahimik, interview, 47).

48. Ibid, 55.

49. Ibid.,59.

50. Some of the best articles on Sans Soleil are Yvette Biro, "In the Spiral of Time," Millennium Film Journal 14-15 (fall-winter 1984-1985): 173-77; Terrence Rafferty, "Marker Changes Trains," Sight and Sound 53, no. 4 (1984): 284-88; Janine Marchessault, "Sans Soleil," CineAction! (spring 1986): 2-6; Michael Walsh, "Around the World, across All Frontiers: Sans Soleil as Dépays, " CineAction! (fall 1989): 29-36.

51. Marker includes "guerrilla" footage shot by Mario Marret and Eugenio Bentivoglio while the narrator comments on the incomparable reality of guerrilla fighting. The main theorization of guerrilla filmmaking is by Fernando Solanas and Octavio Gettino in "Towards a Third Cinema," in Movies and Methods, vol. 1, ed. Bill Nichols (1971; reprint, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976), 44-64.

52. Bill Nichols uses this term in Representing Reality: Issues and Concepts in Documentary (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991), 223.

53. The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon, trans. and ed. Ivan Morris (London: Penguin Classics, 1971).

54. Ivan Morris, introduction to The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon.

55. For Benjamin, the exchange of looks is also founded on sexual difference. The disintegration of aura, which for Benjamin is manifest in the cinema, is also found in Baudelaire's love poetry when he "describes eyes of which one is inclined to say that they have lost their ability to look" (Walter Benjamin, Charles Baudelaire: A Lyric Poet in the Era of High Capitalism, trans. Harry Zohn (London: Verso, 19831, 149). The look of the woman in the crowded metropolis is a "protective eye," one in which distance is collapsed; it promises sex without love and is assigned unambiguously to the prostitute. For Miriam Hansen, Benjamin's discourse on the gaze is thoroughly bound up in an Oedipal structure: "Benjamin undeniably participates in a patriarchal discourse on vision insofar as the auratic gaze depends upon a veil of forgetting, that is, a reflective yet unacknowledged form of fetishism which reinscribes the female body as source of both fascination and threat" ("Benjamin, Cinema, and Experience:'The Blue Flower in the Land of Technology,' " New German Critique 40 (winter 1987): 215).

56. Walsh traces the Orientalist background of Marker's film through Roland Barthes's Empire of Signs and the film studies literature on Japan.

57. Walsh, "Around the World," 35. Walsh supports his interpretation with the work of Andre Gunder Frank, Samir Amin, and Arghiri Emmanuel.

58. Walter Benjamin, "N (Theoretics of Knowledge; Theory of Progress)," trans. of Passagen-Werk by Leigh Hafrey and Richard Sieburth, in Benjamin: Philosophy, Aesthetics, History, ed. Gary Smith (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983), 49.

59. The classical theorization of cinematic realism as a form of preservation is in André Bazin, What Is Cinema? vol. 1, trans. Hugh Gray (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967).