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The eyes of death: the visual movement from witness to spectator

Dagli, Zeynep (2008) The eyes of death: the visual movement from witness to spectator. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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This doctoral study, composed of four films and an exegesis, configures a new conceptualisation of death in and through film, assembling an intricate theorisation of ‘the mediated I’ and ‘the unmediated I’ of the witness. This thesis focuses on the consciousness of the witness, through locating a position and expression in reflective, reflexive, experiential, critical and artistic practice. My research questions the witness’s attempt to ‘manage’ the experience and tracks the self reflective process of thought s/he undertakes in the face of death, dying, coma and suffering. In probing the subjective experiences of the witness, the knowledge of disaster and the absent Other gives way to a moment of distinction between the spectator and the witness. The actual movement being proposed between the two is through the ways in which they both are activated through the reality of death. Critical and creative practice encourages a recognition of - and identification with - the possible meditations and negotiations of the witness. It aims to infuse a configuration of the witness by way of reflection in consciousness and artistic formulation.

This thesis proposes a conceptual diagnosis as the original contribution to knowledge. I identify apathy as an anti-choice and unrecognised necessity of consciousness in the face of death, dying, coma and suffering. The research offers a new insight into the existential encounter of the witness. The aim of the practice component is to re-present and re-vision everyday encounters on television and in media alongside metaphors, possible meditations and negotiations to the subjective experience in and through filmic gaze. The visual propositions complement the written text by means of displaying the fear and anguish of the witness, and the attitude towards the Other, disaster and the irrecoverable death. The aim in turning this subject matter into an academic study has been to align two different perceptions: visual and theoretical practice. These two conceptual terms have offered distinct ways of handling the unsettling encounter from not only a witness’s point of view but also from the perspective of a researcher and the film-maker.

Together, the visual and theoretical strategy reveal the workings of consciousness and creative meditation of the witness to identify the struggles against internal and external terror in being a witness. The research is interdisciplinary, deploying philosophy, literary and artistic theory. Yet it is not a contribution to the specialised discipline of philosophy, sociology or psychoanalysis of death, dying and suffering, but offers a critical and creative matrix combining inventive and reflexive approaches. This practice-based doctoral study challenges the artist and practitioner to create and then raise awareness through a dynamic, reflexive and interpretative discourse. It fuses genres, including autobiography, literary studies and visual arts.

The relationship between the exegesis and films provide an innovative pathway through creative meditation and negotiation of the witness by integrating filmic presentations as an integral loop in the research. Every chapter frames a dialogue between already existing theories of death, dying and grief and filmic texts to transform experience into visuality through constructing a descriptive insight and artistic expression.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Media, Communication and Culture
Supervisor(s): Brabazon, Tara
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