Annotation: MacDougall, David. 2006. The Corporeal Image

MacDougall, David. 2006. The Corporeal Image: Film, Ethnography, and the Senses. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

MacDougall writes that meaning is created by the whole body, and contests the idea that thought contains only words. He proposes to “reexamine the relation between seeing, thinking, and knowing, and the complex nature of thought itself” (2). Film is “always a discourse of risk and indeterminacy” (6). Unlike in written anthropology, thoughts can only be implied through the film’s imprecise or open-ended “composite vision” (38). It is because of film being in the “realm of interpersonal relations” that it contributes to the theoretical development of social research (50). The corporeal images in film include a triangulation of: the body in the film (subject); the body of the spectator (audience); and the body of the filmmaker. As MacDougall writes, the corporeality of film includes not only the images visible on-screen, but also the body behind the camera, and how this body relates to the world (3). Following Alfred Gell’s ideas about the agency of art, MacDougall suggests that corporeality also includes the film’s materiality – “the body of the film.” Films as objects are made “to exist in their own right” (30). They are autonomous objects that demand more power outside of what its filmmaker, critics and audience have given it. Films, like other forms of art, acquire its own physical force (30). Using his films shot at an elite boys’ school in Uttaranchal, India as an example, MacDougall explains the new concept of filming what he calls the social aesthetic – the particular, “constructed” aesthetic design that can be observed in the everyday life of communities (97). The social aesthetic field, following Bourdieu’s concept of habitus, is composed of objects and actions that are a physical manifestation of a community’s “internalized and invisible ’embodied history’” (98). It is his filming of the school (actual shooting, interaction with the subjects, film screenings with the subjects, his own reflections) that prompts him to suggest that film is a trace of “a range of culturally patterned sensory experience(s)” of the bodies in a constructed community (98).

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