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Sites of Research, or ‘No Layers of the Onion’: Phantom Europe

Mischa Twitchin

To cite this contribution:

Twitchin, Mischa. ‘Sites of Research, or “No Layers of the Onion”: Phantom Europe.OAR: The Oxford Artistic and Practice Based Research Platform Issue 1 (2017),

Ghosts: the concept of the other in the same, the punctum in the studium.1

 – Jacques Derrida, 1981

Even this article is metaphorical.2

 – Michel Leiris, 1929

Last year, after visiting an exhibition in Ostend entitled European Ghosts: The Representation of Art from Africa in the Twentieth Century,3 my curiosity about the gallery show led me to try to review it. My text was initially accepted by a journal. However, having read the final version, the journal decided that they could not publish it without a change in its basic premise. While this initial incident attests to the mistaking of an editorial agenda on my part, it also raises questions concerning differences in the understanding of research – between the empirical and the speculative, or between the positivistic and the phantomatic. As notes to an essay-film that I subsequently made with photographs taken in Ostend, my reflections here, revisiting the exhibition’s ‘representation’ of appearances between art and anthropology, offer a thoughts on the spectral nature of the site of research.4

It turned out that what had been expected was a discussion of the things shown in the exhibition without the apparitions testifying to the contingency of the reviewer’s encounter with them. The conditions of representation, through the apparatus of making things visible in museums and galleries (in this case, of ‘art from Africa’ in twentieth century Europe), could not themselves be the object of reflection in a testimony about museum ethnography. However, by exploring the relations between the visual and the verbal, should we actually blur calls for a transparent viewpoint in research? Addressing the very subject of this question as itself a site of research, might opacity be registered by a limited and partial refraction of questions? This investigation addresses the ‘permanent finitude of engaged interpretation’, which Donna Haraway evokes with the figure of ‘layers of the onion’.5

View of the exhibition European Ghosts: The Representation of Art from Africa in the Twentieth Century, ‘Introduction’, 29 December 2016, photograph taken by the author, (image of exhibition wall text).

Beginning this discussion with the story of an exhibition review – apocryphal, allegorical, actual? – attests that reporting ethnographic experience is never direct, but always mediated. Presenting this text in the context of another one highlights its relativity (as a ‘construction site’, perhaps); indeed, ‘suggesting that its source is not social reality but scholarly artifice’.6 This article offers, like the layers of the onion, my site of research as a palimpsest. I sensed, in the rejection of my original review, the echo of a question in my attempt at writing. It reminded me of the obsidian mirror once owned by the astrologer John Dee. This strange piece of ethnographica (now on display at the British Museum)7 suggests the space of reflection itself might be artifice. Indeed, as Franco Berardi observes:

The current evolution of digital technology is transforming the human environment in such a way that the very relation between the Ego – as actor – and the Self – as mirror – is being reformatted. The reflective function of the Self investigates the Ego and the contexts, meaning, ethics, and implications of its actions. Yet what if that space of action is technically fabricated, simulated?8

In my review I had wanted to engage with the exhibition’s conjuring of spirits (in a reflexive catoptrics between anticipation and actuality). However, for the journal it was as if the medium of the exhibition would – or, rather, should – become intelligible in terms of its material, as if this already offered answers to the questions that it might raise, as if to exorcise the phantoms of its endeavour in anticipation of the gallery’s visitors.9

My curiosity was particularly prompted by the function of the introductory chronology, covering an entire wall. Despite the promise of the exhibition’s title, this wall instantiated the phantomachia typically associated with historical research. I asked myself the following: Did this textual version of the exhibition work as a synecdoche or a parergon? Or was it itself one of the exhibits? As a model or guide for the visitor, was this introduction meant to de-exoticise the ethnographic and/or the aesthetic? The exhibition itself offered ethnographic artefacts juxtaposed with newly commissioned art works (including works by Manfred Pernice and Patrick Wokemi), but these were variously placed in both outer galleries and the central rooms. This spatialised distinction of time, maybe to be thought about as an historical core and a contemporary rim, appeared to reproduce the colonial mapping of centre and periphery, metropole and margin. Was this deliberate or contingent; haunted or historical?


Critical reflexivity, or strong objectivity, does not dodge the world-making practices of forging knowledges with different chances of life and death built into them. All that critical reflexivity, diffraction, situated knowledges, modest interventions, or strong objectivity ‘dodge’ is the double-faced, self-identical god of transcendent cultures of no culture, on the one hand, and of subjects and objects exempt from the permanent finitude of engaged interpretation, on the other. No layer of the onion of practice that is technoscience is outside the reach of technologies of critical interpretation and critical inquiry about positioning and location; that is the condition of articulation, embodiment, and mortality.10

 – Donna Haraway, 1997

While writing my review, I had found myself wondering how, or even whether, I could say (with Michael Taussig),11 ‘I swear I saw this’; as if, in the claim of ethnographic ‘fieldwork’, going to visit the exhibition and engaging with what it presented as significant for itself, allowed me to say that I had indeed seen it. This question of how the possibility of seeing might be evidenced subsequently became the subject of an essay-film, my virtual research in place of the review.12 In both the essay-film and the review there is the same question of how a project might ‘enact a specific strategy of authority’.13 Of course, the very distinction between self and other is part of what is in question concerning the subject of ethnography. To cite but one ‘authority’, affirming the sense that ‘in ethnographic experience the observer apprehends himself as his own instrument of observation’, Claude Lévi-Strauss proposes that: ‘Clearly, [the observer] must learn to know himself, to obtain, from a self who reveals himself as another to the I who uses him, an evaluation which will become an integral part of the observation of other selves’.14

Concerning phantoms, what would convey critical ‘credibility’ for museum ethnography in a review, distinct from ‘simply’ a piece of travel writing or, in an essay-film, distinct from simply a tourist slide-show on Facebook or Instagram?15 For all their differences – between, for example, the professional and amateur in coding the visit as ‘work’ and not ‘leisure’16 – these engagements in semiotic practices overlap (like the layers of the onion), even as they are supposed to be separated out into distinct sites of research. Paradoxically though, it is marking that distinction through the citation of ‘reflexive statements’ as a counter-point to abstraction that standardly characterises the desired ‘checks on reality and fiction’17 within such narratives from the ‘field’. When, for example, Francis Huxley18 raises the question of the travelogue, he proposes that it is the anecdote that allows for the voices of his informants to be heard, locating the research in colloquial situations when written-up, rather than in synoptic ‘objectivity’. It is the directly cited observations, distinct from indirect summaries, which invite credence, albeit perhaps not always as intended. For the anecdotal evidence also exhibits Huxley’s own preconceptions, ‘marking’ a temporality in the authorial conditions of knowledge that is not particular to him.19

By the 1970s, narrating the conditions of and for ethnographic knowledge as fieldwork had been recognised by some as a subject – or site – of such research itself, especially through reference to ‘reflection(s)’. If the disciplinary resistance to this at the time seems dated today,20 we might conclude that this is only in its institutional understanding of knowledge rather than in its practice of power (reproducing a discipline through appropriate qualifications and the recognition of research through funding decisions and acknowledged publications). These enduring traces of power in knowledge are not the least of the reflexive interests in, for example, George Stocking’s review of the history (or the self mythologisation) of fieldwork within the ‘magical’ overtones of anthropology’s disciplinary formation of its student-initiates;21 and they are also the underlying concern with ‘the challenge of practice’ in dialogues between art and anthropology discussed, for example, by Arnd Schneider and Chris Wright.22

View of the exhibition European Ghosts: The Representation of Art from Africa in the Twentieth Century, ‘Poster’ 29 December 2016, photograph taken by the author, (image of the exhibition poster).

Concepts or modes of reflexivity are manifold and, as Michael Lynch cautions, the ‘attempt to ‘do’ reflexivity or to ‘be’ reflexive does not control its communal horizons and eventual fate’.23 This is true also for my refraction of questions addressing the representation of African art. What is it that interests the visitor in wanting to see the phantoms? My essay-film is voiced by one of the exhibition’s ‘subjects’, taking one of the many books on display and citing its argument concerning the spectre of colonialism. Distinct from an ethnographic documentary, the film offers no interviews – it does not intercut various voices to camera – and rather features one ‘participant’ voice as its ostensibly authorial subject. Interviews seem to function as the equivalent in terms of footage to the former requirement of citing fieldwork within ethnographic monographs.

The question remains as to what kind of ‘informants’ the artefacts in this European ethnographic séance might have been, re-constituted as a site in the film’s phantomatic conditions of time and place. The standard expectation (in a review, for instance) would be that the presentation of artefacts already supposed an answer to the question as to why one would be interested in visiting the exhibition. Here, however, the interest is in discovering how such artefacts (or, indeed, the apparatus of their exhibition) might prompt that very question, addressing something not already known but waiting to be discovered.


The exhibition was one of a series of ‘pop up’ shows associated with the temporary closure of the Belgian Royal Museum of Central Africa and the site of the Ostend gallery was not itself neutral.24 The exhibition barely touched on the fact that this city was also a major beneficiary of Leopold II’s legacy, with just one reference to an incident in 2004 when a commemorative sculpture of a group of Congolese, looking up at an equestrian statue of the Belgian monarch, supposedly in gratitude for his ‘saving them from Arab slavery’, had their hands cut off by unknown activists in the city. The haunting power of this gesture, migrating through both official and unofficial knowledge of the former ‘Belgian-Congo’, transforms an understanding of the historical agency in such a site of public commemoration to one of (post-)colonial complicity.25 The ‘arch of severed hands’, invoked as Leopold’s lasting memorial by Emile Vanderwelle in the Belgian parliament in 1905,26 was not part of the exhibition’s representation of ‘European ghosts’ attending the collection of ‘African art’.

Rather than providing answers to a reflexive question concerning the claims of ‘being there’, my review tried to explore how the time and place of research might be the consequence, as much as the cause, of this research itself. Here the question of visibility touches upon how techniques of both exhibition and testimony – in the historical imbrication of modernity and colonialism – engage with their own ambiguity concerning autonomy (or art) and representation (or contextualisation). Another question: where the presence of ghosts attends that of ‘African art’ in its European representation, what might be their point of view concerning such an exhibition, being simultaneously included and excluded, as both participants and observers? This question returns in the composition of the essay-film in its fracture between a point of view within and without – no longer ‘there’ but not yet ‘here’ – evoking the presence of ghosts, which is always that of a return or a revisiting.

Questions of perception are always troubled when invoking the spectral and what it might mean to see ghosts, let alone to be seen by them. How does the phantom of visibility itself become a question, or a site, of research with respect to objects identified, historically (or, indeed, phantomatically), as ‘African art’? How might something specific to ‘being there’, to visiting the exhibition in Ostend, be realised in either a review or a film? As with most ethnographic scenarios, my questions are also haunted by issues of translation – to take only the exhibition’s title as itself another ‘informant’. The Anglophone version was ghosted by its French alternative, L’Europe fantôme, which echoes Michel Leiris’ evoking of phantoms (in his record of the Dakar-Djibouti expedition in the early 1930s), L’Afrique fantôme.27 The ghost of the English speaks of something that is, indeed, phantomatic, since Leiris’ book does not (yet) exist in this language. Its citation here, then, adds another layer of reflexive opacity, especially as his text makes of its own writing a site of research – an example of what James Clifford (suggesting an ethnographic alternative to the travelogue) famously called ‘oneirography’.28

Between object and phantom, or between document and dream, the ethnographic research cited by the exhibition’s curators invited the visitor to question claims of and for ‘seeing’; not least, for seeing what is European in ‘the representation of art from Africa’. In this context, Leiris offers a particular testimony to the double condition of observer and observed. For, as Joseph Mwantuali notes, in another of the many books (or ‘informants’) on display at Ostend, ‘the capacity to see the Other without objectifying him or her makes Leiris a precursor of what the Americans call ‘reflexive anthropology’ and also, as Michel Beaujour found in him, of ethnopoetics’.29 Here the translation of claims for ‘seeing for oneself’ into those for a reflexive envisioning exposes the sense of what is discovered afterwards with respect to the phantom of ‘being there’.

Image3_MischaView of the exhibition European Ghosts: The Representation of Art from Africa in the Twentieth Century, 29 December 2016, photograph taken by the author.


The technical and the political are like the abstract and the concrete, the foreground and the background, the text and the context, the subject and the object…shifting sedimentations of the one fundamental thing about the world – relationality. Oddly, embedded relationality is the prophylaxis for both relativism and transcendence. Nothing comes without its world, so trying to know those worlds is crucial. From the point of view of the culture of no culture, where the wall between the political and the technical is maintained at all costs, and interpretation is assigned to one side and facts to the other, such worlds can never be investigated. Strong objectivity insists that both the objects and the subjects of knowledge-making practices must be located. Location is not a listing of adjectives or assigning of labels such as race, sex, and class. Location is not the concrete to the abstract of decontextualisation. Location is the always partial, always finite, always fraught play of foreground and background, text and context, that constitutes critical inquiry. Above all, location is not self-evident or transparent.30

 – Donna Haraway, 1997

Questions of ‘location’ are taken up by T.J. Demos in his Return to the Postcolony, another of the many books chosen by the curators to participate in their séance. For Demos, the concern with ghosts and ‘knowledge-making practices’ is evoked by citing Jacques Derrida’s transposition of ontology into hauntology, addressing the task of ‘learning to live with ghosts… more justly’.31 The question of justice is fundamental here, instantiating the powers of separation (and of translation) that construct the borders of disciplinary knowledge with regard to the spectral. Quoted in Phantom Europe, the following observation by Demos addresses the issue of not simply looking at the objects in the exhibition, but attending to what they themselves have to say. Demos notes:

If such a hauntological study necessarily proceeds by rejecting – along with Stengers, Latour, and Gordon – the clear separations between modern science and pre-modern animism, objective positivism and subjective belief, the real and the imaginary, then it corresponds…to an approach to aesthetics that joins the factual and the fictional…As such, it is entirely appropriate that this investigation is conducted in the medium of…photography.32

How might photography itself admit an (‘appropriate’) unsettling of institutionalised document-dream, or fact-fiction distinctions of disciplinary knowledge? Taken out of the vitrine, Demos’ book (seen fleetingly in the photographs of the exhibition) offers a paratactic narration to the film’s images. The time of seeing is split through a juxtaposition of what is seen with what is heard, each image being itself a still photograph without deictic sound. Unlike in Dee’s mirror, there is no hierarchy of interpretation, even if it might seem that the montage follows that vector ‘from ear to eye’ which belongs to the early definition of the essay-film, as offered by Bazin (1958) in his advocacy of Chris Marker’s Siberian Letter.33 For Bazin, it is this ‘lateral relation of word to image’ (distinct from the visual relations within and between, preceding and succeeding, images) that makes Marker’s film watchable in terms distinct from those of documentary or dramatic film montage (or more simply, in terms of the movement-image of ‘cinema’).

In Phantom Europe, however, Bazin’s vector for making sense is only apparent as the lure of actuality in anticipation. The fiction-creating montage of two factual elements occurs not in a unidirectional encounter, but in an oscillation between them, also evoking what is not seen in what is heard. This is nothing new. In 1960, for instance, André Labarthe had proposed that ‘the transition to the relative is the sign of a reconciliation between pure fiction and pure documentary’,34 although in Phantom Europe such a ‘reconciliation’ is but the appearance of an underlying reflexive asymmetry.

The factual fiction of ‘being there’ becames the very subject of my film-essay; or, in Haraway’s terms, the layers of its onion. Indeed, as distinct from a review, the question of the essay – that which ‘makes a ruin out of its own conflicting desires for aesthetics and adventure’35 – is precisely evoked in this figure of the onion, whose layers simultaneously offer something and nothing. Rather than being exegetical, the essay narrative suggests its own displacement. It no more ‘speaks for itself’ than for the images it accompanies. The sense of the text would be different if read in terms of what has been edited out in constructing a continuity that is both a quotation of Demos’ book and a variation of it. Here montage, the modernist principle of composition (and comparison), which cuts across romantic metaphor (and the identity of difference), displaces the familiar sense of reflexivity, of an identification between voice and subject. In my film’s non-synchronisation of word and image, instances of reflection are mediated by fragmentary citation rather than the silhouette of a transcendental ego. Exploring the dynamic of a simultaneous de-contextualisation and re-contextualisation of images, my film’s site of research is constituted by the appearance of continuity between past and present, here and there, sight and sound, in conjuring the possibility of return. The medium of photography offers a phantomatic ethnography of modernity, as it addresses what might still prove visible in the European representation of art from Africa. As with the example of Leiris, whatever I could swear to have seen in Ostend becomes a site that is dreamt in translation. Here oneirography touches on a reflexive concept of consciousness evoked by Aby Warburg in the image of a griffon: ‘Beneath that dark flutter of the griffon’s wings we dream – between gripping and being gripped – the concept of consciousness’.36 Active and passive are not opposed in this instance, but translated in an asymmetric reflection between word and image, in a site where, as Warburg already understood (long before Latour’s famous declaration), ‘we have never been modern’.37


The important practice of credible witnessing is still at stake.38

 – Donna Haraway, 1997

How should we proceed so that the documents (observations, objects, photographs), whose value is tied to the fact that they are things taken from life, may retain some freshness once confined within books or locked up in display windows? 39

 – Michel Leiris, 1938

Unlocking ‘display windows’, as in Malraux’s ‘museum without walls’ (as a possible mode of understanding art history),40 photography offers an endlessly repeatable instance of (and not simply in) the history of images. Besides this modernist ambivalence concerning contextualisation, photography offers another dynamic site of research for reflection concerning dis-enchantment and re-enchantment, touching upon the powers of the ‘fetish’. The framing of the photograph (and its ambivalent work of decontextualisation) offers its own testimony to the (re-)sacralisation of artefacts by the magic of vitrines. This mode of isolation in exhibitions is the corollary of the assumed ‘authenticity’ of handling and exchange – of the reverse investment in notions of use value concerning the fetish. However, what might be ethnographically particular about evoking ‘European phantoms’, in the representation of African art, through a montage of photographic images?

Image5_Mischa_Fetish 1
View of the exhibition European Ghosts: The Representation of Art from Africa in the Twentieth Century, ‘Fetish 1’ 29 December 2016, photograph taken by the author, (image of exhibition wall text).

The sense of the spectral in photography specifically – from Balzac (Le Cousin Pons) to Barthes (Camera Lucida) – is expressive of a superstition that is as characteristically European as it is commonly ascribed to a ‘primitive’ belief in the migration of souls. Another set of questions arise: Alongside the ghostly, what becomes manifest in the documentary testimony of an historical appeal to the fetish, when cited not only in the relation between scientific curation and popular imagination, but in the framing of an artefact as its simulacrum? Collected and conserved in European museums, what is the power, or the potential, of images of traditional African art, transmitted or transformed today through the almost universal medium of photography, including these museums’ own websites (or, indeed, their mobile apps) with their exhibition ‘trailers’ (as distinct from curatorial essay-films)? Here one might reflect on what of these art works’ (or assemblages’) own technologies of visibility is reproduced or repressed by their different conditions (or sites) of exhibition. With respect to the ‘fetish’, is there something specific to foregrounding the photographic by the use of stills rather than moving images, not least in an essayistic appeal to reflection?

Concerning the essay-film, such questions address the possible relations between words and images that might be realised by the viewer in the temporality of the image through its voiced narration, in an appeal to reflection after the film has ‘finished’. The question of what lasts – not least, in its repeatability – when it is ‘finished’ also offers an echo of the relation between documentation (a catalogue or a review) and the exhibition itself. One might wonder whether the site of the exhibition is sublated into the ethnographic present of its becoming writing, in whichever medium that occurs. Or whether it is, indeed, addressed as something past – that, nonetheless, returns to haunt the present in its continuing possibility.

Having made the film I can attempt questions that would not have been possible in simply writing up a review of the exhibition. Beyond the fundamental issue of what one could swear to have seen, one might wonder about the ‘credibility’ of the film’s version of passing through the exhibition as a communication with its ghosts. Perhaps the thought-figure of reflections, glimpsed on the surface of glass vitrines, fleetingly capturing the time and space of the visit, is no more than a play on words. But there remains the issue of how to register the sense that things might resist speaking for themselves, as much as their being spoken for. Some resultant questions: How might an essay engage with the resistance of objects to having theoretical perspectives ‘applied’ to them, as if they were already ‘examples’ of what they are not? With respect to the reflections already cited from Rabinow and Lévi-Strauss, and Leiris, what to make of an ethnographic (or art historical) site of an apparently impossible reflexivity, where the viewer does not otherwise see him or herself from the place of the viewed, other than in becoming the very subject of the research in question?41 Indeed, it is precisely this question of research that serves as a metaphor for the paradigm of the ethnographic project: to see oneself from another’s point of view (as the other’s anthropology)42 – translated by ‘modern’ technologies of dissemblance and resemblance, as here between the sites of exhibition and photographic testimony. With respect to what one might swear to have seen, Demos’ words offer the appearance of exteriorising a monologue internal to the film’s images, conjuring a relation to thought as that Other by which we are addressed when questioning ourselves as to the conditions of making sense of experience.

Image6_Mischa_Fetish 2
View of the exhibition European Ghosts: The Representation of Art from Africa in the Twentieth Century, ‘Fetish 1’ 29 December 2016, photograph taken by the author.

To return to reflecting on the mark of temporality in such research (both anthropological and artistic), Paul Rabinow writes:

The question is whether or not digital techniques, technology, and practice are transforming the concept of the image in essential ways… making the historicity of photographic technology more and more evident, more and more visible…The historical disassembling of technique, technology, and practice produces a marking of their historicity and opens a space for new concepts and practice to emerge.43

In this space of emergence, how might one address phantoms in ‘the European representation of African art’ – as a site of hauntological research? In contrast to the living, who need light to create the opacity (and the ambivalence) of their testimony to the visible, ghosts have no need to swear that they ‘saw this’. In the interplay between site and sight, both Berardi and Rabinow evoke the digital conditions of new concepts and practices, of luminences without bodies (reflections or shadows). But, between art and anthropology, what becomes of research if there is no question of the difference between here and there, now and then, self and Other? Might we then be condemned to offer, ‘in mimick sounds, and accounts not her own’ (Ovid),44 only the echo of Narcissus’ questions in scrying the art (or phantom) of reflection in anthropology?

1. Jacques Derrida, ‘The Deaths of Roland Barthes,’ [1981] trans. Pacale-Anne Brault and Michael Naas, in Psyche Volume 1, ed. Peggy Kamuf and Elizabeth Rottenbeg (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2007), 272.
2. Michel Leiris, Brisées, trans. Lydia Davies (San Francisco: North Point Press, 1989), 18.
3. ‘European Ghosts,’ accessed February 5, 2017,
4. Mischa Twitchin, Phantom Europe: 1. Return to the Postcolony,; and 2. Living with Ghosts
5. Donna Haraway, Modest_Witness@Second_Millennium (London: Routledge, 1997), 37.
6. Clifford Geertz, The Interpretation of Cultures (New York: Basic Books, 1973), 16.
7. In Roger Parry’s entry for Dee’s ‘scrying mirror’, or ‘shew-stone’, in the catalogue book for the exhibition Curiosity: Art and the Pleasures of Knowing curated by Brian Dillon for Hayward Touring, we read (amongst other things) that: ‘‘The black mirror…[was] reputedly used by [Dee] in his practice of ‘scrying’ – whereby he would predict the future by looking into the glass and reflective surface for symbols or the ‘‘ghosts’’ of people,’ see Roger Parry, ‘John Dee,’ in Curiosity: Art and the Pleasures of Knowing (London: Hayward Publishing, 2013), 102.
8. Franco Berardi, ‘Engineering Self,’ e-flux (2016), accessed February 5, 2017,
9. Phillip van den Bossche and Koenraad Dedobbeleer, European Ghosts: Visitor Guide (Ostend: Kunstmuseum aan zee, 2015).
10. Haraway, Modest_Witness@Second_Millennium, 37.
11. Michael Taussig, I Swear I Saw This (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011).
12. Mischa Twitchin, Phantom Europe: 1. Return to the Postcolony,; and 2. Living with Ghosts
13. James Clifford, The Predicament of Culture (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1988), 25.
14. Claude Lévi-Strauss, Structural Anthropology 2, trans. Monique Layton (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1987), 36.
15. For a summary of discussion of the historical construction of a ‘tourist gaze’ through the ‘photographic eye’ (as an object of research, rather than its subject), see (for example) Carol Crawshaw and John Urry, ‘Tourism and the Photographic Eye’, in Touring Cultures, ed. Chris Rojeck and John Urry (London: Routledge, 1997).
16. Needless to say, my film is ‘amateur’ in the particular sense of being made with no budget – in contrast to such epics as, for example, Alexander Sokurov’s recent Francofonia (2015).
17. Johannes Fabian, Anthropology with an Attitude (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2001), 157.
18. Francis Huxley, Affable Savages [1956] (London: Rupert Hart-Davis, 1963), 12.
19. Paul Rabinow, Marking Time (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008).
20. Paul Rabinow, Reflections on Fieldwork in Morocco [1997] (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007), xiv-xv.
21. George Stocking, The Ethnographer’s Magic [1983] (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1992), 12–16.
22. As Schneider and Wright observe in their introduction: ‘The role of experiment is still relegated to a historical pantheon of established ‘maverick’ anthropologists (such as Michel Leiris, Gregory Bateson, and Jean Rouch), rather than an actively encouraged and valued facet of anthropological training… Recent proposals have called for anthropologists to focus on the performative aspects of artefacts, and on the agency of images and artworks, but these have been applied to the cultures that anthropologists study, and not to anthropology’s own visual practices,’ see Arnd Schneider and Chris Wright, ‘Introduction,’ in Contemporary Art and Anthropology (Oxford: Berg, 2007), 4–5.
23. Michael Lynch, ‘Against Reflexivity as an Academic Virtue and Source of Privileged Knowledge,’ Theory, Culture & Society 17:3 (2000): 47.
24. RCAM website, accessed February 5, 2017 at
25. The portmanteau of the ‘Belgian-Congo’ (also part of the Tervuren museum’s name until Congo’s independence in 1960, when it was changed to ‘Central Africa’) condenses a truth that continually needs spelling out, as here by the Congolese historian Isidore Ndaywel è Nziem: ‘In a way, Belgium would be a creation of the Congo as [much as] this latter would become Belgium’s creation’ (cited in Allen Roberts, A Dance of Assassins: Performing Early Colonial Hegemony in the Congo [Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2013], 24). In another aspect of its twentieth century history, Ostend was heavily bombed during WWII. This leads Volker Weidermann to make the haunting observation that, with respect to the pre-war city: ‘Ostend no longer exists. There’s another city today, a new one with the same name,’ see Volker Weidermann, Summer Before the Dark, trans. Carol Janeway (London: Pushkin Press, 2016), 163.
26. Adam Hochschild, King Leopold’s Ghost [1998] (London: Pan Macmillan, 2006), 165.
27. Michel Leiris, Miroir de l’Afrique (Paris: Éditions Gallimard, 1996).
28. Clifford, The Predicament of Culture, 165.
29. Joseph Epoka Mwantuali, Michel Leiris et le Négro-Africain (Ivry-sur-Seine: Nouvelles du Sud, 1999), 210.
30. Haraway, Modest_Witness@Second_Millennium, 37.
31. T.J. Demos, Return to the Postcolony (Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2013), 18.
32. Idem, 17.
33. André Bazin, ‘On Chris Marker,’ (1958) trans. Dave Kehr, accessed February 5, 2017,
34. André Labarthe quoted in Christa Blümlinger, ‘Reading Between the Images,’ trans. John Rayner, in Documentary Across Disciplines, ed. Erika Balsom and Hila Peleg (Berlin: HKW, 2016), 175.
35. Brian Dillon, Objects in this Mirror (Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2014), 359.
36. Aby Warburg quoted in Ernst Gombrich, Aby Warburg: an Intellectual Biography (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986), 303. Gombrich glosses his translation of Warburg’s note in terms, precisely, of its resistance to translation: ‘[Warburg] tried to condense his philosophy of impulse and of the dual meaning of ‘‘grasping’’, as seizing an object and seizing a thought in a ‘‘concept’’, into a sentence that plays on the meaning of greifen (‘‘grasping’’) and the German word for the mythical griffon (Vogel Greif).’
37. Bruno Latour, We Have Never Been Modern, trans. Catherine Porter (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1993).
38. Haraway, Modest_Witness@Second_Millennium, 33.
39. Michel Leiris quoted in Denis Hollier, ‘The Use-Value of the Impossible,’ trans. Liesl Ollman, October 60 (1992): 10. Leiris’ concerns with ethnographic exhibition in the 1930s have come full circle in the example of the Musée du Quai Branly, to cite only James Clifford, ‘Quai Branly in Process,’ October 210 (2007) and Nélia Dias, ‘Double Erasures,’ Social Anthropology/ Anthropologie Sociale 16:3 (2008).
40. Georges Didi-Huberman, L’Album de l’art à l’époque du ‘Musée imaginaire’ (Paris: Hazan, 2013).
41. This is also explored in another essay-film, with narration by Foucault accompanying images from a temporary exhibition at the Quai Branly: [French]; [English].
42. Marc Augé, A Sense for the Other, trans. Amy Jacobs (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998).
43. Paul Rabinow, Marking Time (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008), 121.
44. Ovid, Metamorphoses (Book III), trans. Samuel Garth, John Dryden, et al., accessed February 5, 2017,

About the author:

Mischa Twitchin is a British Academy Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Drama Dept., Queen Mary, University of London. His book The Theatre of Death – the Uncanny in Mimesis is published by Palgrave Macmillan in their Performance Philosophy series; and examples of his performance- and essay-films are accessible on Vimeo.