Sounding Scenes of Recollection: Duration, Voice, and the Forging of Silence
By Malin Wahlberg (email@example.com)
Department of Media Studies, Section for Cinema Studies, Stockholm University
Voices from Chernobyl (Alexievich, 1997) is at once a novel and a record of the 1986 Chernobyl tragedy, told through a patchwork of written accounts; re-arranged fragments of oral history. A poignant detail in Alexievich’s poetic re-enactment of collected life stories is her choice to keep the three dots for many of the interviewees pauses and moments of hesitation – this detail of her original transcripts, the penned trace of ethnographic fieldwork, of listening and taking down the spoken accounts of her encounters with life history and lived time. The author’s deliberate choice, editing and re-phrasings of the authentic testimonies collected includes this technical detail of the transcript, this documentary marker of a performative act of speaking and relational aspect of personal address and attentive listening. What in Alexievich’s prose signals authenticity, enhances the moment which in cinema tends to coincide with a compelling moment of speaking bodies, silence, and framed vulnerability. Three dots to invoke the sounding scene of restrained memory work.
The “complex set of relations between the visible and the invisible, the said, and the unsaid” are immanent to the testimonial act, but has always been key to the ethical and affective concerns of framed testimonies in documentary (Rancière, 2011; Renov, 2004). Shifting attention from the enactment of the (visual) trace, to the sounding of silence and time passing in filmed testimony, this paper proposes a reflection in the venue of documentary theory and film phenomenology. Departing from Alexievich’s orchestration of oral history (often referred to as “polyphonic writing”), and with references to experimental documentary and conceptual approaches to voice and listening, I aim at a conceptualization of duration, voice and the “aurality” of silence in documentary memory work.
Scholarly work on film sound (Weiss and Belton, 1985; Chion, 1999), sonic objects and audiovisuality in film and video (Birtwistle, 2010 and Honess Roe, 2013), and “voice” in first person documentary (Lebow ed., 2012) will meet in this reflection on documentary scenes of recollection, where telling moments of silence are key, and where memory work often seems to operate beyond narrative enclosure and static subject-object relations.
Alexievich, Svetlana (1997), Voices from Chernobyl. The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster. Translated by Gessen, Keith
Birtwistle, Andy, (2010), Cinesonica. Sounding film and video. Manchester: Manchester University Press.
Chion, Michel, (1999), The Voice in Cinema. New York: Columbia University Press.
Honess Roe, Annabelle (2013), Animated Documentary. London & NY: Palgrave.
Lebow, Alisa ed., (2012), The Cinema of Me. The Self and Subjectivity in First Person Documentary. London & New York: Wallflower Press.
Renov, Michael, The Subject of Documentary. Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 2004.
Malin Wahlberg is an Associate Professor in Cinema Studies at the Department for Media Studies, IMS, at Stockholm University. She is the author of Volume 21 Documentary Time. Film and Phenomenology in the Visible Evidence Series (Minneapolis och London: University of Minnesota Press, 2008), and of essays and book chapters on subjects including aesthetic theory, science cinema, video art, and TV documentary. Among her present projects is a monograph on Vietnam documentaries and solidarity programming in the context of early public broadcasting, and a theoretical project on sonic traces, voice and aurality in documentary memory work. Wahlberg organized Visible Evidence XX in August, 2013 in Stockholm, Sweden.