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Transcultural Montage

Transcultural Montage

Christian Suhr
Rane Willerslev
Copyright Date: 2013
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 300
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  • Book Info
    Transcultural Montage
    Book Description:

    The disruptive power of montage has often been regarded as a threat to scholarly representations of the social world. This volume asserts the opposite: that the destabilization of commonsense perception is the very precondition for transcending social and cultural categories. The contributors-anthropologists, filmmakers, photographers, and curators-explore the use of montage as a heuristic tool for comparative analysis in anthropological writing, film, and exhibition making. Exploring phenomena such as human perception, memory, visuality, ritual, time, and globalization, they apply montage to restructure our basic understanding of social reality. Furthermore, as George E. Marcus suggests in the afterword, the power of montage that this volume exposes lies in its ability to open the very "combustion chamber" of social theory by juxtaposing one's claims to knowledge with the path undertaken to arrive at those claims.

    eISBN: 978-0-85745-965-7
    Subjects: Anthropology, Film Studies, Art & Art History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. INTRODUCTION. Montage as an Amplifier of Invisibility
    (pp. 1-16)
    Rane Willerslev and Christian Suhr

    Montage, in its broadest sense, simply implies the joining together of different elements in a variety of combinations, repetitions, and overlaps. It is customarily associated with cinematic editing, but the basic principles of montage play a crucial role in a broad range of artistic, cultural, and academic practices. This volume presents experiments with ethnographic prose, film studies, photo essays, and theoretical arguments by anthropologists, filmmakers, photographers, and exhibition designers—all of whom employ montage and theorize its significance in their works.

    But why the need for a book on montage? Cinematic montage has been around for more than a hundred...

  6. Part I. Montage as an Analytic

    • [PART I Introduction]
      (pp. 17-19)
      Christian Suhr and Rane Willerslev

      Considering the fragmented and fragmentary qualities of montage, it comes as no surprise that its audacious principle of juxtaposition has been adopted as a sort of “talisman” of modernity itself (Teitelbaum 1992: 7). Indeed, for filmmakers of a futuristic bend, such as Dziga Vertov and Sergei Eisenstein, montage was not just a technique but the key signifier of an old world shattered and a new industrial age in construction (Phillips 1992: 31). To their minds, the aim of cinematic montage was to “shock” viewers into embracing the new industrial age. However, while there is little doubt that new technological practices...

    • CHAPTER 1 Montage and Time: Deleuze, Cinema, and a Buddhist Sorcery Rite
      (pp. 20-39)
      Bruce Kapferer

      My broad aim in this chapter is to join cinema to ritual, to make the artistic explorations of a science/technology of the present-future, as Gilles Deleuze might have said, reflect on practices that are past or primordially oriented in an originary sense. What I will argue is that a cinematically informed analytical approach (in which, for example, concepts such as montage and its relation to time consciousness are found) enables new descriptive possibilities for grasping the significance of ritual practice. While not obviating symbolic and performance perspectives—usually developing from dramatic and theater metaphors—another and possibly more powerful approach...

    • CHAPTER 2 Temporal Aesthetics: On Deleuzian Montage in Anthropology
      (pp. 40-57)
      Morten Nielsen

      My aim in this chapter is to consider the analytical mileage of applying a Deleuzian approach to cinematic montage when examining social identities and positions that derive their qualities by being what they arenot. Among informal house builders on the outskirts of Maputo, Mozambique, it is crucial not to be completely identified as either “newcomer” nor “buyer,” as this might potentially disrupt any aspiration of improving one’s housing conditions by revealing the illicit nature of an ongoing transaction in land (“buyer”) or by exposing one’s lacking relational powers (“newcomer”). Paradoxically, it is equally important tonotbe associated with...

    • CHAPTER 3 All the Difference in the World: Liminality, Montage, and the Reinvention of Comparative Anthropology
      (pp. 58-75)
      Stuart McLean

      I want to begin with a photograph taken in July 2009 in the course of a holiday in Iceland. The photograph was taken in Thingvellir National Park, lying 23 km east of Reykjavik. Iceland’s first national park and, since 2004, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is known both on account of its spectacular physical geography—lakes, lava fields, hot springs, waterfalls—and because it served as the setting for the world’s first democratic Parliament, theAlthing,convened by Iceland’s Norse settlers in 930 and continuing to meet annually as a legislative body until 1271, when governance was surrendered to...

    • CHAPTER 4 Into the Gloaming: A Montage of the Senses
      (pp. 76-96)
      Andrew Irving

      This chapter explores the phenomenology of vision and the senses, as well as their combination and disintegration, in relation to such things as truth, imagination, viruses, illness, and artistic practice, and as determined by the physiological possibilities and constraints of the human eye and body. By documenting certain sensory and corporeal transformations that take place in response to different qualities of light or during episodes of illness and crisis, the chapter discusses how visual and sensory information is assembled, experienced, and interpreted. It then uses this to offer an understanding ofmontage, not as a property of cinema but as...

  7. Part II. Montage in Writing

    • [PART II Introduction]
      (pp. 97-99)
      Rane Willerslev and Christian Suhr

      Taking their lead from the “writing culture” debate (Clifford and Marcus 1986), four contributors in this volume apply montage as a key principle in anthropological writing. Their ambition is to challenge the classical realist principle of correspondence in which a text “is to be judged according to how faithfully it corresponds to things and events in the real world” (Morris 2003: 5). Instead they aim at opening up new constellations in which figures of thought clash against lived experience. Anthropological fieldwork itself, as George Marcus points out in the afterword of this volume, may often be experienced as a montage...

    • CHAPTER 5 Being a Montage
      (pp. 100-105)
      Anne Line Dalsgaard

      Silence. Just the sound of a slightly defective fan and a dripping tap. No movement at all, except for the sweat running down my body. Sweat. No movement. Sweat. No movement. Sweat. Just the constant returning to the room I am in. My presence called forth by the sounds and sensations it produces. Breathing. Restless.

      The next moment I hear Kelly’s voice. Shouting from the street, she leans against the low wall between the street and the house, in which I am staying. Some houses just have fences made of branches, cardboard, and plastic. But a wall is important; it...

    • CHAPTER 6 Smith’s Tour Favela
      (pp. 106-130)
      Paul Antick

      Ms. Y, Z and Smith were joined by two Swiss gentlemen, Mr. E and Mr. F. They had recently returned from a pleasure trip to Costa Rica.

      Smith writes:

      Mr. E (to Smith): “Are you a journalist?”

      Smith: “No.”¹ (Figure 6.1.)

      Smith believes that, despite being charmed by him and others like him, Tour Guide D despised him. Not because he is a gringo, but because his footprints are deformed.²

      Smith wonders if she really thinks that, by showing the favela in a favorable light, if only to foreigners like himself, the middle class will cease to disapprove and that...

    • CHAPTER 7 Labor Days: A Non-Linear Narrative of Development
      (pp. 131-144)
      Nina Holm Vohnsen

      On the last day of May, when the sun beats down on a central street in the city and burns my hand that, as it reaches for my lukewarm iced coffee, is still semi-sedated by sleep (it could, for instance, easily have knocked something over had the table not been empty except for the sticky substance—perhaps dried-up beer—that reflects the sun back from the rough wooden table), on such a day, the air is stagnant, and the street has a distinctive smell. I noticed it as soon as I stepped out of my front door in the middle...

    • CHAPTER 8 Mind the Gap
      (pp. 145-158)
      Karen Lisa Salamon

      This chapter engages with the lack of continuity existing between different people’s experiences, and how it may be acknowledged in ethnographic forms of representation involving montage. My discussion was triggered by a concern, which author Daniel Mendelsohn has encapsulated thus: “It has become a cliché in modern culture that you can recreate other people’s experience. I’m very suspicious of that kind of simulacra” (Tetzlaff 2012: 8).¹ Mendelsohn’s suspicion resonates with historian James Clifford’s discussions about “ethnographic authority,” in which he noted that “it becomes necessary to conceive of ethnography not as the experience and interpretation of a circumscribed ‘other’ reality,...

  8. Part III. Montage in Film

    • [PART III Introduction]
      (pp. 159-162)
      Christian Suhr and Rane Willerslev

      In his article from 1994, George Marcus addresses the paradox that whereas ethnographic writers since the 1980s have been experimenting with various forms of montage (see especially Taussig 1986), ethnographic filmmakers seem mainly to regard montage techniques as something to be avoided or at least kept at a minimum. The consequence of this is, in Marcus’s view, that most ethnographic films simply end up as case studies “messier and truer than writing,” which at their best can “confirm an insight, argument, or ethnographic commonsense that has been established through writing” (1994: 38).

      As Catherine Russell (chapter 10) shows, the caution...

    • CHAPTER 9 Women in Cities: Comparative Modernities and Cinematic Space in the 1930s
      (pp. 163-182)
      Catherine Russell

      The role of montage in cinema is in many ways inseparable from the role of the archive. The assembly of shots in a film—or in any audio-visual work—is the result of a selection of shots, rushes, found footage, photography, and sounds by the filmmaker who works from their own collection of “rushes” or digital files, and also from the vast history of cinema that digital media is rendering more and more accessible and available for reproduction. My work in film history is cued by Walter Benjamin’s invitation to “carry over the principle of montage into history” (1999: 461)...

    • CHAPTER 10 Radioglaz and the Global City: Possibilities and Constraints of Experimental Montage
      (pp. 183-197)
      Julia T. S. Binter

      This chapter is about the tightrope between sociocritical commitment and the authority of authorship that has been walked in a controversial way by Austrian filmmaker Michael Glawogger and video artist Timo Novotny. Glawogger’s documentary essayMegacities(1998) and its subsequent remix,Life in Loops(Novotny 2006), tried to audiovisually translate subaltern living and working experiences in global cities to the silver screen and thereby tested the limits of prevalent notions of documentary film by means of an exigent use of montage.

      In the era of globalization,¹ questions about traditional generic patterns of documentary blend with ethical problems and creative opportunities...

    • CHAPTER 11 Filming in the Light of Memory
      (pp. 198-212)
      Alyssa Grossman

      Visual anthropologists have traditionally used film to document physical spaces, artifacts, and images, analyzing representational processes linked to visible, tangible aspects of culture (see Morphy and Banks 1999; Rollwagen 1988; Ruby 2000). But what happens when the object of study is an immaterial, cognitive phenomenon not perceptible through vision alone? Making an ethnographic film about memory raises practical, methodological, and theoretical questions. How could a subject such as memory be addressed through images, when its very existence implies an absence of the object of recollection? In what ways do practices of remembrance work differ from or resemble practices of visual...

    • CHAPTER 12 Montage as Analysis in Ethnographic and Documentary Filmmaking: From Hunting for Plots Toward Weaving Baskets of Data
      (pp. 213-225)
      Jakob Kirstein Høgel

      The suppressed narrative dimension of anthropological writing was exhumed in the debates about Writing Culture (Clifford and Marcus 1986). There was a sense of entering forbidden territory, describing ethnography as stories with characters and climaxes ordered in terms of genres and rhetorical strategies. The classic monograph was criticized, perhaps most incisively by Robert Thornton (1988). He showed how the detailed use of classification in ethnographic writing often created an artificial sense of a whole culture or society and omitted the dynamics and complexities that are essential in cultural analysis. Ironically, Thornton argues that a neat classificatory system has the same...

    • CHAPTER 13 In Defense of Observational Cinema: The Significance of the Bazinian Turn for Ethnographic Filmmaking
      (pp. 226-240)
      Anna Grimshaw

      Debates in the field of ethnographic filmmaking have been profoundly shaped by two interventions.Observational Cinema, Colin Young’s 1975 article, is emblematic of the first; George Marcus’sThe Modernist Sensibility in Recent Ethnographic Writing and the Cinematic Metaphor of Montageof the second. If the latter is frequently hailed as the manifesto of a progressive ethnographic project, the former has come to be viewed as its negative counterpart. In this chapter, I call into question such a simple opposition. In particular, I challenge reductive, rhetorically driven interpretations of the observational impulse in ethnographic filmmaking. Drawing on selected examples, I argue...

  9. Part IV. Montage in Museum Exhibitions

    • [PART IV Introduction]
      (pp. 241-242)
      Rane Willerslev and Christian Suhr

      In his influential bookArt and Agency(1998), Alfred Gell makes the apparently odd suggestion that agency is not limited to human beings, but that inanimate objects can have agency too. Peter Bjerregaard (in chapter 14), Rebecca Empson (chapter 15), and Alexandra Schüssler and Willem Mes (chapter 16) all elaborate on this insight in their descriptions of montage in the ethnographic museum. Displayed objects are not just things to be seen. Rather, they have a certain force, a certain way of resisting or accepting our look and returning that look to us. On this ground, Bjerregaard, Empson, Schüssler, and Mes...

    • CHAPTER 14 Assembling Potentials, Mounting Effects: Ethnographic Exhibitions Beyond Correspondence
      (pp. 243-261)
      Peter Bjerregaard

      Ethnographic museums have always been obsessed with information. Hours, days, and years have been spent tracing the original location of objects, their function, their culture of origin, and describing the materials they have been made of, their shape, color, traits of use, etc. As such, this obsession with cataloging valid information has worked to authorize the institution and authenticate the objects presented to the public. The museum was the place to see “the real thing.”

      This system of collecting, preserving, and cataloging material entities has been based on a particular object epistemology, based in tracing correspondences. The museum object is...

    • CHAPTER 15 Assembling Bodies: Cuts, Clusters, and Juxtapositions
      (pp. 262-277)
      Rebecca Empson

      This chapter contrasts two distinct ways of seeing in museum exhibits and relates these to ideas in cubism and montage. While cubism makes multiple perspectives of a single object visible at once, montage juxtaposes partial “cuts” or “fragments” in a sequence, so as to reveal a new perspective. Each technique exposes different kinds of insight, but they are both concerned with challenging realism to reveal the “hidden” and “true” nature of things.¹ In relation to these ideas, I suggest that ethnographic objects in museum exhibits may be understood, not so much as something to be consumed by the gaze of...

    • CHAPTER 16 Project Villa Sovietica: Clashing Images, Expectations, and Receptions
      (pp. 278-301)
      Alexandra Schüssler and Willem Mes

      Villa Sovieticais an exhibition of about a thousand Soviet objects for everyday use, hundreds of objects from the European department of the ethnographic museum in Geneva, as well as countless items from the waste containers from Emmaüs (an organization comparable to the Salvation Army selling second-hand textiles, furniture, and objects). In this chapter, the exhibition is presented in form of a montage of various text sources and photographs.

      “The Geneva countryside takes on a Siberian touch. In the Datcha occupied by the ethnographic museum (MEG), resides the exhibitionVilla Sovietica.From the basement to the attic, a thousand consumer...

  10. AFTERWORD. The Traffic In Montage, Then and Now
    (pp. 302-307)
    George E. Marcus

    The variety and creativity of the contributions to this volume are a testament to the sustained fecundity of montage as a trope of inspiration, a mode of representation, and a method of thinking visually across media, genres, and disciplines: here ethnography, film studies, documentary filmmaking, cultural criticism and analysis, museum curation, and applied anthropology. I am honored to have an essay that I wrote more than twenty years ago considered in a number of these chapters. That essay was produced in the thick of debates about ethnographic writing, specifically for a conference at Australian National University. This conference was concerned...

  11. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. 308-311)
  12. Index
    (pp. 312-326)