Session 6 : To be Inside, to be Outside : Self-narrative & Document

  •  The document effect: a contemporary realism

Marie-Jeanne Zenetti

Contemporary literature insists on documents differently from 19th century realism, which used them as sources of information or documentation. Amongst a growing number of writers, the document is rather regarded as a form, which can both be imitated and questioned, raising a series of questions concerning its overwhelming presence in some representations. In a famous paper published in 1968, « The reality effect », Roland Barthes interpreted small and apparently meaningless details picked out of  realistic novels as signs supposed to denote the real as a “category”. In order to describe some aspects of contemporary literary production, one could adjust this hypothesis and assume that photographs, the data and records that are brought out in so many recent books are meant not only to inform the reader, but also to denote the document as a category of objects.
According to D. Viart, most current writers show a kind of hunger for reality or “transitivity”; contemporary literature must therefore take into account that in the current system of discourse, approaches to reality rely deeply on documents and that writing about real facts requires questioning this belief in documents as a privileged form of representation. As a result, a new kind of realism seems to have arisen, based on information rather than referenciation, as exemplified in the works of P. Vasset, E. Pireyre, and H. M. Enzensberger.

Marie-Jeanne Zenetti holds a PhD in comparative literature and teaches French contemporary literature as an assistant professor at Université Lumière Lyon 2. She recently published a book on factographies, contemporary forms of literary recording (Factographies, l’enregistrement littéraire à l’époque contemporaine, Classiques Garnier, 2014) and co-edited the issue of Litterature entitled « Usages du document en littérature » (2012)


  • The artistic light of the witness: an acting topography

Emmanuel Reymond

Like in the other volumes of his cycle published in Editions du Seuil’s series « Fiction et Cie » Jean-Marie Gleize creates in Tarnac, a preparatory act a montage of heterogeneous elements drawn from various sources, but always intertwining two main discursive trends: autobiographical and factual, that keep justifying each other, with a political dimension more embraced than before. This “post-poetic” exploration of place, both personal and public (as Tarnac is now the symbol of some political excesses), offers indeed through its multilinear narrative a complex reference to phenomenological reality, as much as a critical dialogue, tending towards the invisible forces that are at work under the screen of images that functions as grammar of our contemporary Western world. The book itself becomes an installation site, where the confrontation of data and infra-ordinary notations interact so that the meaning is never given but always to construct. In that respect the book is not conceived as an aesthetic closed object, but as the setting for a discursive process where the author, in some kind of documentary art, is more of a witness “passing the baton” to the reader. But, the book obviously generates its own form, that stops the process to give it a completion. And as such it generates its own ambiguous reception, between aesthetic and political act, inevitable subjectivity and aim for objectivity, artistic text and documentary work.

Emmanuel Reymond is a PhD student in comparative literature at Université Paris 8 under the direction of Lionel Ruffel. His thesis centers on the discursive and institutional ways of
writing the place in contemporary French and Norwegian poetic spaces, focusing particularly on the texts of Jean-Marie Gleize and Tomas Espedal. It follows a master on the writing of vitalism in narrative literature during the Modernist period. He also works on literary autographic discourse through their relationship with sincerity and shame.


  • See me, Hear me, Touch me: Heal me.Dealing with (traumatic) Memory through Documentary  in Metamodern time

Annelies van Noortwijk

Contemporary documentary practice will be discussed as a vital genre for mediation on what  is considered one of the most important themes in contemporary art, that of memory. A shift of  focus towards the ‘real’ and the subject are, I argue, currently the main strategies in the arts to address topics of collective or individual (often traumatic) experiences. Drawing upon the ideas of Merlin Donald and Barend van Heusden on the evolution of human culture my thesis is set within the context of a paradigm shift in contemporary culture from postmodernism towards what I propose to be referred to as ‘metamodernism.’ The re-evaluation of the subject as an embodied and emotional individual is fundamental to such a shift.
In this context, a wide range of academic and artistic disciplines have placed memory at the heart of their interrogations of realism, subjectivity, narrative, time and imagination. Significantly practically all texts focus on the micro-story , the individualized perspective is dominant. At the same time this development has turned documentary screen culture from a somewhat marginal practice
into a vital field for innovation. We can see a variety of new forms and formats developing in our
contemporary media culture that reject traditional ideas of documentary film. I will therefore focus on the representations of memory in documentary film. Drawing upon the recent work of independent filmmakers as diverse as Heddy Honigmann, Leonard Retel Helmrich,  Sarah Polley or Albertina Carri and it will be argued that, although these authors reflect upon very different experiences and differ greatly in their aesthetic forms,  they can all be considered as emblematic of the previously mentioned paradigm shift.

Main references

-Bordwell, David.  2008. Poetics of Cinema. New York.
-Damasio, Antonio. 2010. Self comes to Mind. Constructing the Conscious Brain.
-Donald, Merlin. 1991. Origins of the Modern Mind. Three Stages in the evolution of Human Cognition.
-Dovey, Jon. 1996. « The Revelation of Unguessed Worlds » in Lawrence and Wishart (ed.) Fractal-Dreams: New Media in Social Context.
-Erll, Astrid  and Nünning Ansgar (eds.). 2008. Cultural Memory studies an international and interdisciplinary handbook.
-Heusden, Barend van. 2011. ‘Semiotic cognition and the logic of culture’, in: Cowley, Stepen J. (ed.) Distributed Language.
-Plantinga, Carl. 2009. Moving Viewers, American Film and the Spectator’s Experience.
-Timmer, Nicole, 2010. Do You Feel It Too?: The Post-Postmodern Syndrome in American Fiction at the Turn of the Millennium.
-Turner, Mark. ed. 2005. The Artful Mind: Cognitive Science and the Riddle of Human Creativity.
-Winston, Brian. ed. 2013. The Documentary Film handbook.

Annelies van Noortwijk works as a senior lecturer for the department of Arts, Culture and Media studies at the University of Groningen (the Netherlands). She teaches film studies, literature and art history & theory. Her research concentrates on contemporary documentary and journalism with a specific interest in questions of engagement, resistance and ethics and the penetration of the artistic discourse into nontraditional forms of art. She is currently working on a project on life-representation  in contemporary documentary (


  • « Documenting » and « bringing the self into play »: the enunciation processes of a « docu-liar » art

Judith Michalet

In order to avoid falling either into a kind of realism imprisoned in a naive conception of objectivity or into a fictive re-enactment tending towards aestheticization, some artists adopt an approach combining testimony and fantisizing, « documenting » and « bringing the self into play » (« involving the I »). Agnes Varda’s films illustrates such an approach in an  exemplary way, mixing documentary inquiry and the staging of self intricately. As a teller of legends (« légendeuse »), Varda Varda supplements the cinematographic image with her extradiegetic voice and, sometimes, with her own presence as a passerby, an investigator or an author. Then the distance between the experienced exchanges, the comments given and what is shown gives her the possibility of constructing a specific way of looking at things and apprehending reality. Her acting as an intermediary entails a reflexion on the portrait and self-portrait which becomes more and more visible in her work and ensures an exact and accurate vision of reality. After all isn’t the practice of self-portrait the best means to come to In the continuity of some of the reflexions on the relation of the cinema with alterity, such as Pasolini’s « free indirect speech », Rouch’s « distorting presence » or Deleuze’s « double becoming », my paper aims at clarifying the nature of the enunciation processes which today take into account a tendency to idealize the other (Foster) and the difficulty to make the « subalterns » speak (Spivak). To reach this aim, what kind of self-staging is necessary on the part of the artist, whether film-maker, photograph, visual artist or writer ? Following Varda’s example, should we look into the mirror stratagems and the consequent reflection of a double
evolution, the interplay between the author and his/her interlecutor or between the artist and his/her model designed to achieve a regime of truth characteristic of a « docu-liar »?

Judith Michalet is asssociate lecturer in Centre Saint Charles – Université Paris 1. After a Ph.D in philosophy of University Paris 1, her current research focuses on Deleuzian and Deleuzian-Guattarian philosophy and on the aesthetic issues of their ontological, ethical and clinical positions. She has written several articles confronting the Deleuzian conception of the body, the difference and the stylization of existence with other philosophical approaches: « The Flesh as the Folding of the Outside. Deleuze’s Reading of the last Merleau-Ponty » (2011); « Transductive or Intensive ? The Difference between Simondon and Deleuze (2013) »; « Life as a work of art. Shapes of Existence in Foucault and Deleuze Philosophy » (2013).  She also works on the relations between the subject and power, the psychic and the social fields, such as they are expressed in plastic forms and in the critical approaches of contemporary artists, and such as they are problematized by certain present genealogist and emancipatory thinkers.



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