Some qoutes on Documentaries, Steve McQueen, and Biology

July 12, 2006 at 5:24 pm

From October 114

T.J. Demos – The Art of Darkness: On Steve McQueen

“Current documentary practices, for instance, may return dangerously to precitical notions of representation that make problematic assumptions of transparency or neutrality. They may also run the risk of proclaiming truthful depictions of a ‘reality’ of authentic subjects living beneath a spectacle of stereotypes…the proposed transparency of a political signified may bring with it a paradoxically authorative interpretative structure that forcloses an otherwise open and polyvocal field of meaning.”

May? isn’t transparency after all one of the lasting methods of proving truth these days? If everyone releases their data on the internet we can all interpret it together… but of course even transparency leads to multiple meanings, example: Mann’s hockey puck thesis of global warming is available online and has been sliced and diced both inside and outside of academia and has lead instead to an increased polarising of climate sceptics and scientests. Simiarly, as The Bible became more transparent, the multiplicity of religious orders increased dramatically.

“McQueen’s work is part of a growing trend….that is developing a new model of documentary form, one incredulous about the objective or unmediated representation of some truthful event or experience, even while it refuses to dispense with the recent ethical imperative to pose new relationships of proximity-if troubled and complex-to those typically excluded or marginalized from the global order… [it] unleashes an uncertian relation to time, uproots any secure material site, and opens onto a multiplicity of meanings…it is the uncertianty between the real and the virtual that Western Deep stresses.”

I’m not sure what Demos means by the virtual here, I guess I’m a little out on art criticism terms, but I’m assuming the virtual means the imagined or interpreted parts of the documentary, for instance the formation of the arguement that the documentary is trying to prove (say gun control in the case of Bowling for Columbine) hence McQueen’s Western Deep makes this unsteady relation apparent and uses it as a means of increasing the depth of his execise, something that Kirk Fitzhugh seems to be searching for in biology:

“Are species classes, that is, the mental constructs consisting of compilations of objects based on properties of those objects? Or do species have the ontological status of objects or individuals? (Objects and individuals, in contrast to classes, exist independent of our perceivi9ng them, although they must have discernible properties for us to recognize them.) Or is a species something else altogether, as I contend, neither class nor individual? Yet no answer is in sight that would indicate that biologists are approaching any sort of consensus.”
from Bioscience June 2006
DNA Barcoding: An instance of Technology-driven science? by Kirk Fitzhugh

Like McQueen, Fitzhugh is concerned with the actual i.e. organisms and the virtual i.e. species: “species names refer to neither individuals nor classes, but rather to scientist’s explanatory hypothesises”. Several aspects of Fithugh’s arguement are classic while species is a common term in biology it’s definition was never actually set down in stone in by scientific literature, and it’s usage since then has held multiple meanings, hence Fitzhugh feels that, “If a species is a hypothesis, a systematist who observes the properties of an organism enages in an inferential process that brings the effects of past reproductive events into an explanatory nexus. This must be based on all relevant evidence, not just sequence data.” Later Kirk notes, “the requirement of total evidence preents an insurmountable obstacle to the method.” Unfortunately, Mr. Kirk is unlikely to breed as many new biologists as McQueen is likely to make documentary film makers. The means of science and the paradigm that DNA barcoding is perhaps bringing into effect necessitates that such questions be submerged into negligence until the possibilities of the new field are satisfied. Who ever said science moves faster than art?

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