Narcissus Taking a Selfie

I posted on academia.edu my short playful writing on selfies. it is currently under consideration in one new anthropological internet venue; I have not heard from them for a while. I first presented my selfie project at John Hartigan’s class last year as a talk, and here is finally a writing:

Selfie in the Interior: Narcissism and Its Cultural Critique

“Persistency of mirrors is known to everyone as a quality of re-demonstrating a looker, always, to the looker. Narcissism, “destined to oneself” (Merleau-Ponty, The Visible and the Invisible, 1968, 249, quoted by Derrida, Memoirs of the Blind, University of Chicago Press, 1993), is the plague of the modern times, critics fear. Self-portrait in the time of proliferation and ubiquity of technology emerges on a verge of narcissism and cultural critique of narcissism, as [that] what appears to be a result of the collaborative struggle between two discourses, disproving and supporting each other. The cultural critique of narcissism is a Narcissus itself: it is undetachable from the object at which it looks. Whenever Narcissus turns, it is always Narcissus that he sees. Whenever the conversation about selfies starts, inevitably someone points out or implies that it’s a morally questionable enterprise. (“Self portrait of NN knows it,” Derrida would have said.) Yet… What is there to be painted except for self-portrait? What is there to be taken if not selfie?”

Selfie is an ideal ruin. For tomorrow self is dead.

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Poems by Famous Anthropologists They Were Unaware They Wrote

Bronislav Malinowski, I Watched Them

I watched them a long time
through binoculars
and waved my handkerchief–
I felt
I was taking leave of civilization.
I was fairly depressed, afraid
I might not feel equal to the task before me.
After lunch
I went out on deck.

 

Franz Boas, If I Undertake

If I undertake
to describe
some of my arctic experiences,
I cannot entertain you
with exciting adventures,
such as shipwrecks and narrow escapes,
for such were not my share.

 

Clifford Geertz. He decides

He decides,
For reasons I have never been quite able to fathom,
That you are real,
And then he becomes a warm,
Gay, sensitive, sympathetic,
Though, being Balinese,
Always precisely controlled
Person.
You have crossed,
Somehow,
Some moral or metaphysical
Shadow
Line.

Photographer and Ethnographer: Experience of the Collaborative Work

Preliminary Notes

The photographer’s view, reconstructed (based on the photographer’s insight)

Photographer: presses the button of the camera (to use Cartier-Bresson’s expression, a finger of the photographer is a “great masturbator”)
enjoys gazing (colorful ethnic objects, people)
photographer is a soloist
offers new approaches that surprise the ethnographer
teaches the ethnographer how to be laconic, to speak about important, to think differently
insists on the non-academism of the project

Ethnographer: consults
thinks about the possible routes and trajectories of the travel
does the preparation, preliminary work
gives directions but within these directions the photographer discovers his own paths
offers the theme
helps the photographer
is the photographer’s assistant, his additional eyes and ears (“этнограф – ассистент фотографа, его подсказчик, его дополнительные глаза и уши”)
advises on the new angles
should be photographically educated
studies from the photographer

Together:
planning and preparation of the travel
field work
selection of the photographs
developing of the stories for the blog and multimedia

The ethnographer and the photographer grow into each other (“прорастание этнографа в фотографе и наоборот”). A decisively symbiotic image.

The similarities between the photographer and the ethnographer:

both look
both look in depth

The results:
Synthetic product
“Cinematic truth” (“киноправда”)

Genre: unknown
Visual essay, scientific poetry, photo-prose, ethno-photo-fairy tales? (“визуальная эссеистика, научная лирика, фото-литература, этно-фото-притчи?”)
Absolute document (“документ-абсолют”).

_________

I expected the photographer would be a submissive figure in regard to the ethnographer/anthropologist in the field. However, the photographer perceives himself as the leading figure of the tandem.