The Fiction in Nonfiction: 'Recording Reality' Deconstructs Documentary Storytelling

By Mary Moylan
Documentary Magazine

Cowie_recording coverElizabeth Cowie's Recording Reality, Desiring the Real is a sharply focused theoretical resource organized as a series of previously published articles  spanning a period from 1997 to 2007. As part of the notable Visible Evidence series of texts on documentary theory, Cowie's book emphasizes documentary storytelling as nonfiction, exploring and distinguishing this from fictional cinema, while noting its specific emergence as a discursive effect, as opposed to an epistemological or philosophical distinction. This topic of the discursive nature inherent within documentary is theoretically engaged through sustained arguments among critical thinkers such as Slovoj Zizek, Jacques Lacan, Charles Pierce and Michel Foucault throughout the whole.

Not an avid fan of critical theorists? A willingness for an introductory and at times deeply abstract journey to documentary, and a curiosity for the question "What is the nature of actuality?" after documentary, may suffice. One helpful concept is offered up by Pierce, in an explanation of the indexical relationship between the photograph and reality. Illuminating the reflexive and diegetic nature of film, a tripartite model of icon, index and symbol points the way to understanding that film both indicates reality, and is caused by that same reality.


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