An Analysis of "Before the Rain" by Keith S. Brown
This paper discusses Before the Rain, a feature film in which images that were displayed and understood as Macedonian were placed on view before a world-wide audience. It seeks to explore the ways in which studying such a site can contribute to understanding the relationship between representation and realism in the context of national culture. The particular focus of the paper is to try and theorize the different modes of interaction that were set up between different audiences and the cinematic images, at a time when the Republic with which the film was associated had yet to establish itself as a stable political entity.
Anthropology’s distinctive methodology and mission are perhaps summed up in the title of a recent introduction to the discipline, Small Places, Large Issues (Eriksen 1995). The discipline’s claim to a particular authority continues to rest on this combination of a empirical pointillism and theoretical broad-sweep, which separates its practitioners from travel-writers and local correspondents on the one hand, and armchair pundits of humanity on the other. The salience of the disciplinary self-perception can be glimpsed in the continuing salience of fieldwork and its paradoxical cornerstone, participant-observation.
Yet the curious location of anthropological knowledge, betwixt and between, is precarious in a world where information and images of the faraway seem to circulate far beyond their origins. Indeed, the very use of the notion of origin, where past borrowing and imposition are so thoroughly woven into the perceived present, is tantamount to declaring a commitment to an ever-receding ideal—the anthropologist as Tantalus craning after the fact. In recognition of the global interconnectedness of this modern world, the language of anthropology has stretched to try to do justice to the cultural forms implicated in these realities. From “culture contact” and “plural society,” through more recent forays into the World-System and Creolization, the technical language of anthropology now deals in terms that blur the edges of accessibility; diaspora and ethnoscape, transnation and hybridity. By such means, the sovereignty of the discipline is preserved, in a closed world of theoretical exchange.
Where anthropologists do still attend to local specificities, and seek to incorporate indigenous understandings of culture and society, they tend to employ terms that are part of ordinary language; identity, ethnicity, nation and home. In situations where tensions already exist they increasingly find that without the protective shading of language their work, intended to stand outside local disputes, can be recycled selectively as local knowledge. Thus, for example, a scholar’s careful account of the processes of nation-building in Northern Greece, in which existing loyalties are reconfigured as either neatly subordinate or potentially threatening to a state project, can be itself read as an ongoing part of the debate about a state’s legitimacy. In the adversarial politics of identity, the ethnographer finds her work put to work on one side or the other of questions whose validity she may not recognize (Karakasidou 1997).i
The division within anthropology between ethnology and ethnography is not, of course, a new one. But the demand now placed upon anthropologists, to write simultaneously for a hitherto unimagined range of audiences, cuts away at the space in which the two could coexist, however uneasily. And for those whose interest lies in the formation and maintenance of collectivities—in whatever form they are willed or imagined by their members—the problem is peculiarly acute.
One innovative response to the challenge is that set out by Arjun Appadurai and other scholars in what could be termed the Public Culture circle. They locate the terrain of anthropological study in what Appadurai terms the “historical present” and take seriously the notion of “-scapes” as sites of study.ii This paper seeks to engage with Appadurai’s assertion that what must characterize ethnography in the 1990s and beyond is not a preoccupation with “thickness” of description which could be argued to represent little but the re-inflection of locally discovered data. Instead, he argues,
... where lives are being imagined partly in and through “realisms” that must be in one way or another official or large scale in their inspiration, then the ethnographer need to find new ways to represent the links between the imagination and social life.
The paper examines the connection between a set of “realisms” and the representations that can be taken simultaneously to constitute them, arise from them and depict them. It seeks in particular to engage with the notion of “frames of belief” (cf. Wolff, this volume) as a heuristic to explicate different modes of viewing and interpreting cinematic images, and to demonstrate that such modes constitute the stuff of human cultural life.