The Narrative Identity; where human experience, memory and film intersect

May 13, 2010 — 1 Comment

Notes taken from Pedagogy of Pardon

“Aristotle defined narrative as ‘the imitation of an action’. Therefore the ethical challenge of story is to look for ‘points of support’ in the living experience of acting and suffering. The experience of human suffering demands the assistance of narrative and expresses the need for it. Ricoeur then re-iterates the ‘pre-narrative quality of human experience’ as the justification for speaking of the two-fold qualities of life as: (a) a story and (b) an activity (praxis) in search of a narrative so that our lives can be recounted, understood, and ultimately provide us with a sense of meaning, hope and purpose. He proposes that the idea of a plot or story provides us with a means of understanding by which we can discover and not simply impose from the outside, ‘the narrative identity’ which constitutes us.” (p34)

The point is, in essence this is what all doco’s seek to do one way or another. The narrative journey of a documentary, particularly the biographical documentary, needs to have conflict, even if the subjects’ memories are generally positive. This conflict has to be sourced from the living experience of acting and suffering. For instance, in Lowell’s case, he may have made an adventurous life for himself in the Carribean, but what was the experience of leaving home? If this was a good experience, or one without regrets, what are the implications in terms of his sense of roots and home.

The relationship/tension between filmmaker and subject can also be seen as a point of conflict, but one that in my case will be more implicit rather than explicit. The nature of this conflict is the responsibility of the filmmaker to give filmic life to the subjects memories.

Understanding Memory, relating it to the language of Cinema: perhaps somehow there is a way of exploring this representation of anothers’ memory as a theory. After some reading I will try to frame this into a question.

Paul Ricœur was a French philosopher who was best known for best known for combining phenomenological description with hermeneutic interpretation. What’s interesting for in this is that in philosophy, particularly this strand of philosophy, Ricoeur is looking to study human reality, which in effect is what documentary cinema does. So documentary cinema is inherently philosophical and should probably be explored and created in those terms.


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