Academic journal article Journal of Film and Video

Autobiography, Corporeality, Seriality: Nanni Moretti's Dear Diary as a Narrative Archipelago

Academic journal article Journal of Film and Video

Autobiography, Corporeality, Seriality: Nanni Moretti's Dear Diary as a Narrative Archipelago

Article excerpt

"I have never understood islands, with all that water around them, poor things. "

-Patrizia, gazing out at Lisca Bianca from a luxurious yacht, in Michelangelo Antonioni's L'Avventura (1960)

THE PRECEDING LINE OF DIALOGUE, Spoken by a character named Patrizia only a few minutes before one of the imposing, white-cliff Aeolian Islands gobbles up another woman, Nana, and sets Michelangelo Antonioni's missing-person anti-mystery in motion, resonates with most people's generally held presumptions concerning islands: that they are poor inscrutable things cut off from continents, from communities, from civilizations. Indeed, as small bodies of land surrounded on all sides by water, as places of exile for dissidents and political prisoners, as the semantic bedrock for the Western literary tradition of shipwreck and beach narratives (from Robinson Crusoe to Lord of the Flies), and more recently, as settings for reality TV series where intentionally marooned contestants test their survival skills, desert islands and their iconography are typically exploited in popular discourse and media representations as exotic and paradisiacal yet ruggedly unforgiving sites marked by isolation and peril.

One perennial cliché in particular- "no man is an island"- speaks to the secluded nature of islands while suggesting that, despite attempts to the contrary, a person can never fully escape his or her social context or interpersonal network of friends and family, business associates and coworkers, distant acquaintances, and random passersby. As any vacationer to the increasingly overrun Galapagos or Nantucket can confirm, island life and the archipelagean imagination, although predicated on remoteness and isolation, also signify community and togetherness.

Few film genres mine this complex island dialectic of community and isolation more deeply than autobiography, an artistic mode or venture that hinges on the self-introspection and need to "get away from it all" intrinsic to cinematic life-writing, while opening up the epistemologica! coordinates of this hermetic endeavor to encompass an externalized delegation of subjectivity and authorial collaboration. Autobiographical filmmakers may very well be solitude-seekers enjoying little contact or communication with others. But they likewise lean on the industrial exigencies of a cinematic praxis that calls for a clandestine participation in their work. Insofar as it traces a course that is both introverted and outwardly directed and, indeed, collective, autobiographical inscription can be likened to an "islandiary," a term coined by Cuban-Mexican author Julieta Campos in her 1993 book The Fear of Losing Eurydice. The pages of Campos's novel, which revolves around an imaginary travel diary, are flanked by spacious margins containing floating "islands of quotations" about archipelagos. As Monsieur N., the protagonist of the novel, states, "Every text is an island." Similarly, every autobiographical text and its author seem to function metaphorically as an archipelago of self, as an island-chain of personal reflection and discursively constructed identity, situated at a remove from the larger body of humanity yet necessarily dependent on the existence of others in defining the boundaries or setting the horizons of one's subjectivity. How such an identity might be conveyed cinematically has been the subject of several important studies over the past two decades, dating back to the path-clearing efforts of Jim Lane, Paula Rabinowitz, Michael Renov, and other scholars who have examined the personal, political, and poetic dimensions of contemporary documentary filmmaking.

Although various literary terms falling under the umbrella expression "personal cinema" continue to be used interchangeably- for example, journal, diary, autobiography, and essay are often conflated in ways that deny their individual specificity- an inter-generic slippage is actually helpful in cataloging their similarities, particularly their shared focus on the seemingly solitary yet collaborative act of authorial inscription. …

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