Multimodal Research – Edward Said, The Amateur and The Exile
By Matthew Hawkins
I recall a conversation between an academic and an MA student. The two were discussing the ocularcentric approach to the analysis, and conceptualisation of cinema. The MA student was annoyed by the structure of his own utterances, and his continual, unconscious references to viewing, and to seeing the cinema. He was somewhat embarrassed by his inability to verbally engage with the rhetoric and discourse of audio, and to give full weight to the importance of sound in the conceptualisation of cinema. The academic responded by acknowledging the devious ability of language to colonise our ideas. Often, we do not speak language, rather language speaks us. The form in which we express our ideas not only informs said ideas, but rather shapes, constrains and constructs concepts on our behalf. What media practice can offer the academy is the creation of new forms of argumentation, new languages, and ways to construct and disseminate ideas. These new forms of course present their own problems, limitations, and devious discourse shaping techniques, but despite this they may present the opportunity for new forms of thinking. Gilles Deleuze notes, for example, that the invention of cinema opened up a possibility for the creation of new concepts, and new modes of thought (1986)[i]. Thinking, the creation of ideas, and the production of new knowledge is dependent upon technology, whether that be the technology of language, image making machines, networks, or others.
The discipline of media studies attracts academics from a wide range of fields. Lecturers, and researchers regularly move from their original areas of training and study, bringing with them BAs, MAs, and PhDs in literature, sociology, history, philosophy, etc. The study of media in this regard is an outsider sport. Intellectuals positioned in media departments are exiled from their original homes, and they bring with them a wide collection of methods, theories and concepts. Media studies is far from a unified field, and this is its strength. The language it speaks is diverse, and constantly in flux.
Media practitioners are equally exiled, stuck on a hinterland somewhere between industry, and what is regarded as serious scholarship. My practice doesn’t sit easily in either category. I’m a filmmaker, and this pursuit is not held in the same esteem as the writing of complex philosophical tomes, yet my work’s lack of obvious entertainment value positions it outside of the realm of ‘the movie’, or the entertainment industry. I am an outsider on all fronts, but this is not a de facto negative position. My writing, and my moving image work exist in dialogue with one another. They disrupt one another in a positive sense, not allowing for any of the two forms to remain too comfortable for too long. Edward Said comments in detail on the representation of the intellectual in this regard. For Said, the position of the outsider is the right role for the modern intellectual, as “[e]xile for the intellectual in this metaphysical sense is restlessness, movement, constantly being unsettled, and unsettling others” (1993a)[ii]. Said also calls for an amateurism in the image of the modern intellectual. The amateur works not out of obligation, but out of love, and this method, if we can call it that, allows one to make “connections across lines and barriers, in refusing to be tied down to a speciality, in caring for ideas and values despite the restrictions of a profession” (1993b)[iii]. A multimodal research praxis allows for an unsettling of discipline, an unsettling of technology and, most importantly, an unsettling of the researcher. Like the amateur and the exile, the practitioner/researcher hybrid creature looks for connections, and attempts to crack open the machine to see what’s inside. The connections made are not neat, and they are not always successful, but the method is open to the possibility of the new, of the unique, of the innovative.
This draws comparison with the inter-disciplinary research team. Inter-disciplinary research should not exclusively consist of harmonious, loving exchanges. Rather, this approach should result in the violent and destructive collision of ideas and methods, which scar, bend, crack and bastardise the respective disciplines. The researchers and their disciplines should be permanently changed after this meeting. This is where notions of professionalism constrain the production of knowledge. The professional, upstanding, Society indorsed researcher is so loyal to discipline, and their respective methodologies that they dare not step out of line for fear of being ostracised.
The multimodal academic exile is perfectly placed to produce challenging, vitalistic, forceful work capable of opening new vistas, and creating unique concepts. Adam Brown’s UniverCity offers the potential to appropriate a discourse of hypercapitalistic property development, as a ground for the critical investigation of the changing spaces of the university campus in a physical, digital and virtual sense[iv]. The use of the web forum[v] opens up a potential for a polyphony of voices, and a non-linear exploration of ideas. Sara Jones reflects on her first meeting with Claire Anterea from the ‘drowning island’ of Kiribati[vi]. Jones encounters Anterea through the camera lens, which mediates their relationship, and frames the subject (literally) and the response of the researcher (physically). The camera in this sense does not simply record an encounter, it facilitates a response which itself can be ‘data’ to be recovered and investigated. The physical relationship between the photographer and the camera creates liminal, emotional moments, which have value but are difficult to grasp. As Marta Rabikowska notes, “conflict, frustration, agony, uncertainty, and surprise brings about unexpected research findings and new research questions”[vii]. Anthony Luvera similarly explores the power relations between the object of the camera, and the wielder of this object in his project Assembly[viii], whereas Katherine Wimpenny, Peter Gouzouasis, and Karen Benthall bring together poetry, music, and images, as well as a multitude of voices[ix]. Wimpenny et al mobilise their own poetry as a reflective device and a graphological disruption. Many of the relationships in the projects presented (words/screen, light/lens, flesh/machine) have the potential to create and to reveal knowledge. The form in which this knowledge is expressed, the language in which we speak, can also have the potential to surprise and reveal if open to a certain amount of disruption.
[i] Deleuze, G. (1986) Cinema 1: The Movement-Image. Translated by Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam. 4th edn. Minneapolis: Continuum International Publishing Group – Athlone Press.
[ii] Said, E. (1993a) REITH LECTURES 1993: Representations of an Intellectual Edward Said Lecture 3: Intellectual Exiles. Available at: http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/rmhttp/radio4/transcripts/1993_reith3.pdf (Accessed: 7 October 2016).
[iii] Said, E. (1993b) REITH LECTURES 1993: Representations of an Intellectual Edward Said Lecture 4: Professionals and Amateurs. Available at: http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/rmhttp/radio4/transcripts/1993_reith4.pdf (Accessed: 7 October 2016).
[vii] Betwixt and between: Exploring the liminal through the social sciences, arts and humanities available at – https://www.academia.edu/9917241/Conference_paper_interdisciplinarity_and_visual_methods