Missing: On the Politics of Re/Presentation1
ZOEY ELOUARD MICHELE
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Since 1993 the people of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, have lost more than 300 women to murder. The details of the case are appalling but, sadly, not unique: Canadians, for example, need only think of the as-yet unsolved case of sixty – three women who have gone missing from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside over the last twenty years2 (see Margot Leigh Butler’s chapter in this volume). Given the interest that this sensitive story has elicited from foreign—including US and European—journalists, the Juarez case raises serious theoretical and methodological questions about the politics of representation. These questions are further complicated by certain developments in poststructuralist social theory—developments that have gone a long way towards challenging conventional assumptions about representation and interpretation.
The topic of representation has been examined in depth by authors from disciplines like film theory, feminist theory, and philosophy. My interest lies somewhere in between, therefore this chapter marks an encounter between feminism, philosophy, and film.3 Further, after bell hooks’s (1989) challenge, in “Feminist Theory: A Radical Agenda,” that feminists take responsibility for the promotion of critical thinking among the public at large, my intent is to provide an issues-based discussion that will be of practical use both to academics and to the average, non-academic reader.
My profile of the Juarez case serves to ground an exchange between three disparate thinkers on the theme of representation. I wish to employ the philosopher Jacques Derrida’s (1996) influential work on the metaphysics of presence to introduce and extend film theorist Laura Marks’s (1999) use of the metaphors of fetish and fossil with reference to documentary film. In my discussion of Derrida and Marks, my intention is to spark the reader’s imagination on the topic of representation. Then, through the use of another selection by feminist theorist bell hooks (1990)—in which she insists that those who write about oppression and domination acknowledge the painful nature of these conditions—I mean to emphasize that theories of representation must also be guided by a deep-felt respect for the personal/political context within which the topic is situated. Specifically, I examine what it means to think critically about the political issues raised by documentary representation. I do so motivated by the firm belief that, with an open and reflective awareness of the issues and emotions involved in the telling of stories marked by violence, investigators and audiences can minimize the extent to which these complex human stories are oversimplified, mystified, and exoticized in academic and popular modes of representation.