Speaking Difference

A cinema, either purpose built or improvised, doesn’t necessarily seem like the most conducive space for conversation. But, I like to consider the spaces that buffer the moving images in their discursive potential. The shared experience of watching transcends all the other things an audience does not have in common, and the many different backgrounds represented within any one group can furnish as many divergent readings of whatever is projected. The social aspect holds within it the potential for productive dialogue.

As The Permanent Longing for Elsewhere approaches, I am mulling over different possible architectures of the space and the event because I want to encourage the audience to stay on after the screening and contemplate the many questions the films raise without answer. There are the simple gestures of contextualizing the program through writing and welcoming introduction. There are concluding remarks and the invitation to pose questions to me as the curator. This quote of Noam Chomsky’s keeps coming to mind: “The responsibility of a writer as a moral agent is to try to bring the truth about matters of human significance to an audience that can do something about them.” Dialogue brings the ideas of the films into correspondence with the viewers’ experiences, so another maneuver is to pose questions to the audience. There are many things that I haven’t figured out, and collaborative analysis will surely offer new ways of understanding the questions the program poses. I wonder if it would be more fruitful to share my questions for the audience before the screening (verbally, or perhaps as part of the program notes), or to pose them afterward?

However, the diverse and unpredictable backgrounds of any audience means it is easy to get caught up in debate about the basic tenets of an idea. Often, there is no conclusive argument to be made and the decision to see things one way or another is simply a matter of taste. How can conversations progress beyond these fundamental disagreements to contemplating the effects of such belief systems? Could laying out a set of propositions to be taken for granted work to reign in conversation, or would this be stifling and dictatorial?

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3 thoughts on “

  1. i think that conversations can + will progress beyond fundamental disagreements if they are given the time + space to do so, as well if they are mediated with skill, lightheartedness, and an openness to go anywhere. laying out a set of propositions to be taken for granted in and of itself takes a lot for granted and makes a lot of assumptions about your imagined audience, and is possibly exclusionary, of both person and idea. as well it only creates a parameter to have the conversation that you have already decided upon, or to control the conversation as to your desired effect, and that is not necessarily interesting from an audience POV.
    in the first sentence of your last paragraph did you mean to say “basic tenets” ? otherwise i am confused about your use of the word “tenants”.

  2. i think in order to solve your problem you have to decide what kind of conversation you truly wish to have and then be extremely clear about it. if you want your viewers to tell you what they think and contemplate as a group the many different perspectives that arise, that is one type of conversation. if you want to tell the audience your perspective and tell them the questions it arose in you and have them help you answer those questions, that is another type of conversation, and you would have to frame it very clearly as such. otherwise you will be disappointed.
    perhaps you could have an open discussion and then after you could direct the audience to what it is you want to discuss. as long as this is made clear beforehand, neither you nor the audience will have false expectations about what sort of conversation is going to ensue and what level of participation one is interested in. i also think it is only fair to save your questions to share after the screening. remember you have seen the pieces already; your audience more than likely has not.

  3. Oh! You are right: it is a spelling mistake. I have corrected it.

    I also think you are right about mediation, that there are ways to influence a conversation and encourage productivity by the tone of your own participation in it.

    Since the public presentation of the film program does not have the luxury of time, I am grappling with how to best utilize the opportunity for discussion. My idea of sharing the questions beforehand could be presented as things to consider while watching, and in this way function to frame the conversation. But you raise an interesting point: do I want the audience to share their readings of the program, or do I want to engage them in my own process of making sense? I am certainly curious about different ways of interpreting the constellation of these films, and also interested to see if the way I’ve understood them will be communicated through the context of the screening. Specifically, and this is the most tempting framing to me now, I am eager to know if the viewers will feel themselves stirred by the content, if they will recognize themselves in the films. Or if, instead, the subject matter will fall dead or read as documentary disconnected from our sitting in the gallery theatre together.

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