Experience – Information – Image: A Historiography of Unfolding. Arab Cinema as Example

Laura U. Marks


Why do certain images of history reach us, while others remain seemingly forgotten, in the infinite breadth of the past? Why do only certain events seem to matter? I suggest those experiences are not forgotten but enfolded. The contemporary politics of historiography can be conceptualized according to the relationship between Experience, Information, and Image; a triadic relationship I have proposed to understand the nature of the image in the information age. While Experience is infinite, the vast majority of experience lies latent. Few Images ever arise from it. In our age, those that do tend to be selected, or unfolded, by political and economic interests that deem them to be useful as Information. Nevertheless, anyone can unfold any aspect of Experience to become a public image, and artists (and others) do so in order to allow other aspects of Experience to circulate, before they enfold, back into the matrix of history. I will show an animated diagram that illustrates this concept of history as a flow of unfolding and enfolding, influenced by concepts from Charles Sanders Peirce and Gilles Deleuze.


Many artworks can be illuminated by this process. My examples will be drawn from contemporary Arab cinema. In the heavily politicized Arab milieu, the Image world is constructed as a selective unfolding of only those aspects of Experience that are deemed to be useful or profitable. Some Arab filmmakers, rather than deconstruct the resulting ideological images, prefer to carry out their own unfoldings:  explicating hitherto latent events, knowledges, and sensations. Thus what official history deems merely personal, absurd, micro-events, or no events at all, becomes the stuff of a rich alternative historiography. This process characterizes the work of, among others, Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige, Nisrine Khodr, Mohammed Soueid, and Akram Zaatari (Lebanon), Azza El-Hassan, Elia Suleiman, and Sobhi Al-Zobaidi (Palestine), and Mohamad Khan (Egypt).


Historical images; Arab cinema; historiography; unfolding

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5130/csr.v14i1.2100