Microcultural Incidents

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IMA Number: 744.00 | 3 credits
Course Type: Production
Professor: Michael Gitlin
This class meets THURS 2:10PM-5PM in HN 544
Full Course Description:

The desire for cultural definition; the forces at play in the constitution of self’; the relationship between self and other; the pleasures and problematics of “intercultural” encounters; the secret history of subcultures: these are a few of the thematic concerns found within a broad strain of experimental film and video and which can be seen as evidence of what might be called an ethnographic impulse. This course is a combined screening and production class in which we will seek to define, uncover and explore the variety of ways in which that impulse is manifested. Topics to be examined include: the “salvage paradigm” and the desire for the lost; methods of observation and myths of objectivity; varieties of reflexivity; ritual and the utopia of ecstatic community; and postcolonial humanism and the totalizing eye.

Our readings and screenings will take us across boundaries between experimental media, on the one hand, and more traditional works of “visual anthropology” on the other, and across genre boundaries within these two broadly defined disciplines. We will be looking for areas of formal similarity and difference and for convergences or dissimilarities of intention and methodology. For example, how does the methodology of visual anthropology, with its scientific gloss in which shooting film or tape becomes “collecting visual sampling data” and interview subjects become “informants,” affect its claims of objectivity and veracity?

Readings and screenings will be conducted with a critical eye in which both the intersection and the collision of ideas will be foregrounded, and contradictions between and within texts will be highlighted. Screenings should be understood not as arising out of a canon of “great works” but as exemplary instances of particular themes or tendencies.

“In this world of fragile mirrors, standing beside men and women for whom any clumsy action may provoke or inhibit trance, the observer’s presence
can never be neutral.” –Jean Rouch, from On the Vicissitudes of the Self

“I do not intend to speak about, just speak nearby.” – Trinh T. Minh-ha, from Reassemblage

Permissions: Cleared after advisement with IMA Program Assistant.