“Blur” by David Shields
human kind / Cannot bear very much reality.
We all stretch the truth and tell lies by omission. Just getting along with people involves both. Humans are hardwired to deceive. We deceive when we’re competing with other members of the same sex; we deceive when we’re trying to attract the other sex. Deception is more the state of nature than not deceiving. In the animal kingdom, virtually every species deceives all the time. Why don’t we lie even more? It helps our reputation for people to know they can believe us.
There has always been something that bothered me a little bit about the invisible camera of classic cinéma vérité--not exactly a pretense of objectivity, but an attempt at some pure form of objectivity always seemed impossible and, at least in my attempts, dishonest, in some ways. In all of the hue and cry about objectivity and truth being captured by a camera at twenty-four frames per second, I’ve missed the idea of subjectivity. Somehow melding the two--the objective data of the world with a very subjective, very interior consciousness, as expressed through voice-over and on-camera appearances--seemed to give the clay from two different pits to work with in sculpting something that suited me better than pure cinéma vérité.
Cinéma vérité doesn’t make a clear enough distinction between fact and truth--as if facts constituted truth--but there’s quite a distinction. When you read a great poem, you instantly notice that there’s a deep truth in it, which passes into you and becomes part of your inner existence. In great moments of cinema, you’re hit and struck by a similar illumination. And that’s what I’m after, in documentaries and feature films. You can’t even call my documentaries “documentary,” though; I fabricate, I invent, I write dialogue. The border line between documentaries and feature films is blurred; in fact, it doesn’t exist.
Art is real.
I make it real by putting it into words.
Art is not truth; art is a lie that enables us to recognize truth.
I see every art as importantly documentary. Everything is already always invented; we merely articulate, arrange. The forms of art that make art’s status as document the most explicit give me real delight. I’m inclined to say that this preference in me has something to do, also, with my lesser inclination to sign than to design. One looks not with some predisposition as to meaning, selecting items according to some prior sense of importance, but rather with an eye that roves, catching only on the unforeseen patterns across a field. At least that’s what the pleasure of a documentary intelligence seems to me to be. It’s always, of course, a fiction: a description of the pattern-loving eye, the perceiver’s ways of moving, removing, seeing, revising. Revisiting a site three times, one revisits three sites. Also, threesomes start to matter. But things matter in documentary as embodiment, not argument--at least in the documentaries I like--the least narrated ones. In documentary, more than in any other kind of film, I’m aware of the camera. Nothing short of a shot of a camera (as at the end of Death in Venice, the empty-headed camera-apparatus on the beach) can so remind me of the missing cameraman. The missing cameraman, a presence that informs, a fierceness that’s effaced--that’s as close as I can get to being reminded of the strangeness of being in a body, oneself, in the world: always facing out.
If plot-based fiction seems suspect, straightforward memoir strikes me as equally problematic.
Inherently, documentary is going to have an edge in getting at truth that fiction doesn’t have, but of course if you’re intelligent about it, you have to admit that there’s no single truth, anyway.
Since to live is to make fiction, what need to disguise the world as another, alternate one? At the same time, strict reportage, with its prohibition against invention, has its own aesthetically intolerable demands.
As a preamble to their performances, traditional storytellers in Majorca would say, “It was and it was not so.”
The poles of fiction and nonfiction are constantly bouncing their force fields back and forth between each other.
--the indivisibility of the varieties of expression.
The books that most interest me sit on a frontier between genres. On one level, they confront the real world directly--real places, real people with real names and address. On another level, they mediate and shape the world, as novels do. The writer is there as a palpable presence on the page, brooding over his society, daydreaming it into being, working his own brand of linguistic magic on it. What I want is the real world, with all its hard edges, but the real world fully imagined and fully written, not merely reported.
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