My framing of the question as a problem of access to the ‘past’ is a reflection of my personal preoccupations (as a historian by training and a documentary maker by profession); it is one facet of the broader epistemological question of how we gain knowledge of the world beyond us. I want to examine the question by looking at reconstructions of the past (the re-staging or performing of the past in the present) in documentary film.

In the 1980s, Fredrick Jameson proclaimed a “crisis of historicity”; a crisis which undermined belief in the old depth theories or meta-narratives that had explained our place in the world. Although naturally drawn to Jameson’s pessimism, I wish to challenge myself in this PhD to engage more deeply with the idea of affect as an alternative, non-representational route to meaning.

My rather grand hope is to find a middle way between Jameson’s despair and the more utopian claims of affect theory to establish meaningful direct and unmediated contact with the past or the ‘real’. If the insights of affect theory could be linked to representation within the vertical structure of a meta-narrative, we might achieve more lively understanding of the past. The meta-narrative I hope to co-opt is psychoanalytic, specifically that of André Green, who wrote: “Language without affect is dead language: and affect without language is incommunicable.”

Bruce’s first degree was in History at Cambridge followed by an MA in Intellectual History at Sussex. After a brief spell in publishing as assistant editor of The Fontana Dictionary of Modern Thought, he went into television making documentaries and running an independent production company. His films have been shown around the world and have been short-listed for the Amsterdam and San Francisco film festivals. He has also won several television awards including an EMMY for his 1997 film on the Nuremberg Trials. In 2011 he returned to formal academic work, taking a part-time MA in Museum Cultures at Birkbeck. In June 2014 he helped to organise the ‘East London on Film’ festival for Birkbeck’s The Derek Jarman Lab. He holds a School of Arts Anniversary Scholarship Award and is supervised by Silke Arnold-de Simine and Andrew Asibong.

Image credit: Still from La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc  (Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1928)