Truth and Direction

I am never at a loss for what to read next. I receive suggestions for what to read from friends, supervisors, colleagues, bibliographies, works cited, and by seeing what is next to specific sources in the library.

Who is placed beside Griselda Pollock? Amelia Jones? Judith Butler? Who occupies the same space as Audre Lourde? Sarah Pink? Susan Sontag?

I diligently write down in a notebook every name that is of interest to me, and the names other people think may be of use. However, the lists are too long to consider everyone without cross-referencing. If I have heard a specific name from one person, and I see it in a book or an article written by another, then that name moves up the list.

Trinh Minh-ha‘ is one of the names I recently excavated from my notebook, and I am ashamed that I have not read her works before. She is a filmmaker and theorist who discusses gender, culture, postcoloniality, visual arts, Third World cinema, and autobiography. When the Moon Waxes Red was published in 1991, and discusses feminism, colonialism, and Third World art and culture. I am currently reading this book to provide context to my PhD research, yet in the midst of postcolonial and visual art theory, I found a hidden treasure.

“Contrary to what many writers on documentary films have said, the striving for verisimilitude and for that ‘authentic’ contact with ‘lived’ reality is precisely that which links ‘factual’ (‘direct’ and ‘concrete’ according to another classification) films to studio-made films and blurs the line of distinction. Both types perpetuate the myth of cinematic ‘naturalness,’ even though one tries its best to imitate life while the other claims to duplicate it. THIS IS HOW IT IS. Or was. The unfolding scene is captured, not only by an individual, but also by a mechanical device. The mechanical bears testimony to its true existence and is a guarantee of objectivity” (Minh-ha, 1991: 54).

The desire to portray ‘truth,’ and ‘authenticity’ is the link between factual and fiction. This is not only true in cinema, but in prose, and in photography. People trust the mechanical eye of a camera to portray the truth of a scene, or a subject matter. People trust the camera because it has no agenda, it captures the moment exactly as it happens.

But someone is directing that mechanical eye. Someone is pointing it in a specific direction. That person is telling a story, and that story may be fact or fiction, valid or invalid.

People do not usually question the validity of a work claiming to be fictional. There may be some truth in it, but there is an understanding that it is not 100% truthful. In academia, the validity of someone’s argument is usually found in their sources.

Griselda Pollock. Amelia Jones. Judith Butler. Trinh Minh-Ha.

Academics used to avoid the personal pronouns to demonstrate objectivity, that they were not influenced by personal opinion or interest. Academia has been moving away from this absence of the personal, because research is personal. This does not mean that it is fictional, rather that it is directed. Researchers direct where the research goes, as much as a photographer directs the angle of a camera. This blog acknowledges the “I/eye” in this project, and we should remember that it exists regardless of being human or mechanical.

© Tanya Nielsen (,  2016

Minh-Ha, Trinh. When the Moon Waxes Red: Representation, Gender and Cultural Politics. New York: Routledge, 1991.


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