Documentary film beyond intention and re-presentation – Trinh T. Minh-ha and the aesthetics of materiality

3/2008

Antony Fredriksson

Questions about documentary representations of the other are always also connected to questions about the self; about the portrayer’s or the viewer’s openness towards what lies beyond one’s own conceptions. In this article, I want to explore how the documentary is based on the tension between visual registration and our conceptions. I will base my discussion on the body of work of the filmmaker and theoretician Trinh T. Minh-ha, whose contributions consist of maintaining this tension. By refraining from giving an explanation to every single visual sign, Minh-ha strives to construct a cinematic language that lets otherness prevail.

Her theoretical work is comparable to the revision of mimesis in Theodor Adorno’s aesthetical theory. For Adorno, the mimetic consists of a moral understanding in which the viewer accepts the otherness of the other. With this discussion, I wish to bring out moral questions concerning the documentary. Due to the uprising of postcolonial theory during the past 30 years, these questions of otherness have established themselves as a counter pole to the predominantly epistemological theoretical discussion about documentary representations.