Whose Story?

from You Saw Nothing: Sight, Digital Video, Post-3.11 Japan


Whose Story?


This corporeal self of the Japanese woman that signifies the two incongruent identifications of the nation creates an incongruency with the textual self of “I” which is tantamount to the voice-over narration by herself. We have already looked at how I Told Our Story embodied the plurality and irreducibility of “I”s through the use of invited footage in the production of the image in order not to perpetuate social inequality through representation, which has been regressively contracted by the artist-researcher’s use of the first-person aesthetics of the selfie, resulting in commensurability. We also discussed the frailty of the postmodernist and decentred “I” in Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil. The plural existence of “I”s has not yet identified who is the textual/narrative “I” of I Told Our Story. However, the semiotics of the female body provides an answer to this question, here signifying her body as a site of the national identification. That is to say, the text of I Told Our Story can be interpreted as the feminisation of the nation. There is a melodramatic mention of the lost lover in her disclosure, connoting the masculinity:

You protected me;
My shoulders remember you.

Reeking of melodrama, it now becomes obvious that the masculinity refers to the United States and the nationality of her lost lover is American as the semiotics of the female body embeds the foundational narrative within. She says:

I told our story we didn’t name.

Whose story? With I referring to Japan, our story that has been told refers to Japan and the United States. In this sense, our story is a reproduction of the foundational narratives. In the contemporary geopolitics, our story could refer to the allied partnership, a story of the centralist, a story of the beneficiary of national security. I Told Our Story manipulates the notion of an “I” of first-person narrative in auto-ethnographical, auto-biographical documentary and fiction, and presents I Told Our Story itself as a production of a hegemonic narrative that maintains the dominant power. The use of “I” in I Told Our Story manipulates the established notion of first-person practices as an idiosyncratic mode to narrate personal, marginalised, or unofficial histories and reverses the practice as a perpetuation of social inequality in Pacheco-Vega and Parizeau’s sense, a reassurance of hegemony as power in Gramsci’s sense, an operation of hypocrisy in Didi-Huberman’s sense, or a reproduction of, as Laura describes her act, “Okinawa mon amour”, a sacrilege. It is, borrowing Caruth’s words, a betrayal of the premise of another story to be told by telling another story from the grand narrative.

Russell states that “the testimonial, confessional character of autoethnography often assumes a site of authenticity and veracity, originating in the filmmaker’s experience”. From this perspective, the establishment of an “I” in I Told Our Story reflects such a testimonial, confessional character of autoethnography and denotes I Told Our Story as an authentic site of the reflection of the artist-researcher, that is the oxymoronic location of power, as the representing, an ex-coloniser and a beneficiary of national security.

This chapter ends with this unsettled feeling and questions, with a sense of intimacy and opacity, and of ambiguity. The readers of this thesis, as if they were the viewers of I Told Our Story, will be left to look at the mobile phone digital photographs of the invited footage after this last paragraph.

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