cinema, Film Notes, History, Media Studies Notes


 from Certeau, Michel de (1988) The Writing of History New York: Columbia Univ. Press (pp. 56-113)

(These Film Studies Notes are my one-page notes on various articles or books on Film Studies / Media Studies which might interest students and teachers of Film or Media Studies.)

Michel de Certeau

According to French Jesuit and scholar Michel de Certeau, historical operation means “the combination of a social place, “scientific” practices and writing (p.56) By social place, the author was referring to a prescribed socio-cultural and political environment, including the profession, the institutions and the historians themselves. History is written by a select group of people belonging to select institutions, which have particular ideologies. “The historical book or article … is bound

to a complex of specific and collective fabrication more than it is the effect merely of a personal philosophy or a resurgence of a past ‘reality’. It is the product of a place.” (p.64)

“ ‘Making’ history is a practice.” Historians “transforms the raw material (primary source) into a standard product (secondary source),… from one region of culture (‘curiosities’, archives, collections, etc.) to another (history).” (p.71) Historians separate nature from culture.  They “metamorphose the environment which changes the boundaries and the internal topography of ‘culture’. They ‘civilize’ nature – which has always meant that they ‘colonize’ and change it.” (p.72)

writing of history 2

Writing (ecriture) transforms the praxis into text. “Historical writing-or historiography – has been controlled by the practices from which it results; even more, it is itself a social practice which establishes a well-determined place for readers by redistributing the space of symbolic references and by thus impressing a ‘lesson’ upon them.” (p.87)

In other words, history is nothing but a construction, or even a fabrication upheld by entrenched institutions. In the film “Looking for Richard”, the co-writer Frederic vehemently opposes Al Pacino’s idea of asking an academic expert about the motivations of Lady Anne. Frederic believes actors are the real inheritors of Shakespeare, not the academics or historians. Frederic belongs to a rare breed that does not subscribe to the historical / academic Mafia.

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