Precious Bodily Fluids

Phenomenology’s Material Presence – Gabrielle Hezekiah, 2010


Phenomenology’s Material Presence: Video, Vision, and Experience – Hezekiah’s project is a refreshing and unique one in film and cultural studies these days. She first aims to situate her approach in terms of the major 20th century phenomenologists: Husserl, Heidegger, and Merleau-Ponty. Before outlining their unique takes on categories like being, intentionality, reduction, and the like, she makes it clear that these methods will not bind her own experience of the films under analysis. To be more specific, though, it is just as much Hezekiah’s own experience of the films that is under analysis as it is the films themselves. In this way, she exemplifies the nature of phenomenology as the anti-method of philosophy. Phenomenology means to open our eyes to the way in which we see and otherwise experience phenomena in the world, clearing away the external debris that would cloud our pure perception of, in this case, videos broadly classified as documentaries. The filmmaker, Robert Yao Ramesar, is a Trinidadian video artist whose works cover various traditional and cultural ceremonies and rituals with roots in various religions but that are embedded in the experience, sometimes itself nestled beneath the surface of mundane contemporary existence, of Trinidadian people. Hezekiah wants to locate something in the nature of video that holds phenomenological potential, although she does acknowledge that her overall approach, in large part gained through study of Vivian Sobchack’s The Address of the Eye, is conducive to other visual media. Nevertheless, she writes,

By attachment to the camera’s movement experienced as the video’s own kinaesthetic engagement with the world, we are drawn in. As the video releases movement to contemplate a scene, our consciousness expands to dwell with that image. Video’s peculiar characteristics of intimacy and immediacy secure the attachment more fully. In Ramesar’s work, video does not merely address questions of philosophy–it enacts philosophical method as its own exploration of the world. Video’s material body makes that possible (12).

Hezekiah also does well to offer discrete applications of each of the three aforementioned philosophers in separate chapters, according to different films/videos. For one thing, it is easy with an approach like phenomenology to collapse already slippery categories into one another, when in fact a Husserlian approach differs substantially from a Heideggerian one, which in turn is distinct from a Merleau-Pontian one. Further, each approach has different strengths that are not mutually exclusive. Husserl is concerned with a transcendental method that is all about the cognitive. Heidegger is concerned with beings, being, and Being, and the trajectory from the perceiver to the perceived constitutes their being. Merleau-Ponty, on the other hand, pursued an existential phenomenology firmly grounded in bodily experience that acknowledges the embodiment of not only the perceiver but also the perceived, and the way in which the object constitutes the perceiving subject, and vice versa.

Another helpful note from Hezekiah: Ramesar’s work does not fit neatly into any of the better-known categories of postcolonial film. It does not seek to supplement, supplant or speak to a colonial archive. It does not explicitly address questions of identity and representation. It is not located in northern ‘host countries’ where the conditions of diaspora and exile are often most keenly felt. Ramesar’s attempt at reconnecting with memory is based on a profound understanding of the continuance of memory in local contexts–of its existence beneath the surface of the everyday. Its origin is not primarily in loss but in forgetting (5).

This entry was published on September 10, 2013 at 9:55 pm. It’s filed under Book Summaries and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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