November 30, 2010 / Theology
This essay is neither for nor against Glenn Beck. The philosopher Michel Foucault warns us …
November 20, 2009
Is anything more sacred to democracy than freedom of speech?1 And in our late modern world, is anything more sacred than democracy? Indeed, despite all the laments about the erosion of absolutes and a proliferation of perspectives, isn’t freedom the last absolute standing—the one prized universal that launches not only a thousand ships, but ten thousand missiles, a hundred thousand marketing campaigns, and a myriad of global protests? Freedom is that byword that unites the strangest conglomeration of devotees. It rolls off the tongue of both George W. Bush and Barack Obama; it is a rallying cry for both Thomas Friedman and Naomi Klein; it is the banner under which the American military and Hardt and Negri’s “multitude” both march.2 Freedom is the minaret of global democracy calling us to pray—well, whatever we damn well want because, after all, it secures our freedom of expression.
Freedom is both a stern and lenient god, demanding to be worshiped, but letting us decide what that will look like. Freedom demands that everyone play its game, but playing the freedom game permits us to make up our own game. So freedom is like a strange circus master, a smiling but demanding ringleader who shows up in town and demands that everyone make room for the big top. But within his big tent, there’s room for an infinite numbers of games and performances.
And nothing affects us more viscerally than the refusal of freedom. We might not know exactly what freedom is, but we certainly know when it is being quashed and denied. Indeed, our most powerful iconic images of martyrs have been images of repression: that lone figure standing in front of the tanks in Tiananmen Square; the anonymous faces in South Africa; the haunting images of the last moments of Neda Agha-Soltan on that street in Tehran. It’s as if the body knows what freedom is, and the body marks the limits of repression. Our bodies recoil at images of repression that make their mark on the body of others, stirring our imaginations to both protest and imagine things otherwise. What tyranny does to bodies elicits a gasped whisper of “No. . .” from us, which then wells into a fist-raised shout, “No!” And that tiny monosyllabic “no” is the compression of a longer claim: “That’s not the way it’s supposed to be.”
Burma VJ—a documentary that gives us a behind-the-scenes look at underground, democratic journalism in Burma—adds to this gallery of martyrs for freedom, and in particular, those martyrs who are denied freedom of expression but nonetheless “speak” the truth—or better, “show” the truth by “picturing” repression.3 There are layers of documentation at work here: the subject of the film is the Democratic Voice of Burma, a team of video reporters armed with camcorders who documented the Saffron Revolution in Burma in September 2007—the uprising of monks and students protesting the repression of the military junta that has ruled Burma for forty years. But Burma VJ is itself a documentary, documenting the documenters, giving us the backstory, showing us the struggles of these video journalists who played a crucial role in the global dissemination of images from this closed country. While the video journalists are documenting the repression of Burmese citizens, Anders Østergaard is documenting the repression of these journalists. If, as the Bill of Rights intuits, a free press is endemic to democratic freedom of expression, then Burma VJ is documenting at least two layers of repression and violation of human rights.
The images in Burma VJ don’t need me to speak for them. Indeed, the animating impetus and aesthetic commitment of the film is that these images speak for themselves—that they constitute a kind of universal language that can be understood with minimal framing. So my goal here is not to explain or set up the movie. Rather, I would like to offer a critical lens through which we might view the film. That is, I’d like to put some questions and themes on the table, not as a filter for your viewing, but as a set of questions and concerns to bring to the film.
I would like to raise three related themes: first, I will suggest that Michel Foucault’s account of parrhesía (free speech or, as he translates it, “fearless speech”) provides an illuminating framework to consider the dynamics at work in this film. Second, I will raise some hermeneutical questions about the aesthetic commitment of the film, in particular its adoption of cinema verité as a documentary paradigm. Finally, I will return to questions of freedom more broadly, particularly within a theological framework.
Fearless Speech and Truth-telling
Burma VJ follows “Joshua” and his colleagues who make up the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), an on-the-ground group of video journalists who capture images of the junta’s violence and repression and, via links in Thailand and Europe, manage to get these images out of Burma and onto the screens of the BBC, CNN, and other international news organizations—who otherwise have no access inside this closed country. The DVB operate with a memory of 1988, when a democratic uprising led by Aung San Suu Kyi gave hope that things could be otherwise, only to later be quashed by the junta’s thugs, leaving 3,000 people dead in the streets of Rangoon and their leader under house arrest to this day. Aung San is now their patron saint, watching over their work (as seen in the picture Joshua hangs in the remote office in Thailand).
So DVB’s video reporting is animated by memory and principle. Their journalistic mission is sacred to democracy—without freedom of expression there can be no truth-telling. Contrast, for instance, the controlled expressions of Oceania in Orwell’s 1984.5 Indeed, contemporary Burma is “Orwellian” (i.e., 1984ish) in several respects. The military, in newspeak fashion, is dubbed “the State Peace and Development Council”; society is suffused with anonymous informers; and the threat of torture and disappearance hangs over any act of resistance or nonconformity. The DVB aims to counter these lies and injustices simply by showing what’s happening—by filming acts of resistance and their ensuing violent repression and then circulating those images in the international community, but also within Burma where “official” news is a charade.6 By controlling what’s said and shown, the military leaders control the imagination—and also control the international face of Burma.
In this country of violent repression, fear hangs over everything (“Fear is so deep in everybody,” Joshua observes). But DVB is fearless: they are willing to risk imprisonment, violence, even death in order to tell the truth, to show what’s happening, to unveil the tyranny of the junta. In this context of suppression, video journalism is not just an expression of free speech; it is an expression of fearless speech and courageous eyes.
This invites analysis in conversation with Michel Foucault who, in a series of lectures in Berkeley in 1983, examined the Greek notion of parrhesía—often rendered as “free speech.”7 In his characteristic close attention to use, context, and social dynamics, Foucault notes several features or conditions of parrhesia. While the “free speaker” (parrhesiastes) is frank and direct, speaking sincerely about what he thinks and where he stands (13),8 the free speaker is above all a truth-teller: “the parrhesiastes says what is true because he knows that it is true; and he knows that it is true because it is really true. The parrhesiastes is not only sincere and says what is his opinion, but his opinion is also the truth. He says what he knows to be true” (14). The free speaker is compelled to speak because he knows the truth.9
But what gives the free speaker such epistemic confidence? What’s the proof or evidence? Whence the speaker’s authority? In the “parrhesiastic game,” in contrast to our post-Cartesian games, the “evidence” inheres in the speaker. “When someone has certain moral qualities,” Foucault observes, “then that is the proof that he has access to truth.” So the parrhesiastic game presupposes that the free speaker “is someone who has the moral qualities which are required, first, to know the truth, and secondly, to convey such truth to others” (15). The authorization for his parrhesia, then, is his own person. And it is for this reason that courage is one of the strongest “proofs” of truth-telling. “The fact that a speaker says something dangerous—different from what the majority believes—is a strong indication that he is a parrhesiastes” (15). Why else would someone take such risks?
This is related to a third condition of free speech: “Someone is said to use parrhesia and merits consideration as a parrhesiastes only if there is a risk or danger for him in telling the truth” (15-16). Risk or danger has a focusing effect; it raises the stakes and confirms that we’re not playing around. If there is genuine risk or danger involved, and one continues to speak freely, against the majority or the powers-that-be, at risk to oneself, then such courage is taken as an indication that one is telling the truth. One might risk all sorts of “losses”: friendship, influence, popularity, wealth, even one’s life. “If, in a political debate, an orator risks losing his popularity because his opinions are contrary to the majority’s opinion, or his opinions may usher in a political scandal, he uses parrhesia. Parrhesia, then, is linked to courage in the face of danger: it demands the courage to speak the truth in spite of some danger. And in its extreme form, telling the truth takes place in the ‘game’ of life or death” (16). This is why free speech is better understood as fearless speech. Truth-telling that traffics in trivialities does not deserve the title parrhesia. Demanding the freedom to photograph Paris Hilton’s dog is a long way from fearless speech. What does Glenn Beck risk? What does Bill O’Reilly stand to lose? Not a damn thing.
Such risks and danger, requiring courageous truth-telling, contribute to the fourth condition of parrhesia: an asymmetry in the game. Parrhesia is a mode of criticism in which the free speaker is in a position of vulnerability or inferiority. “The parrhesiastes is always less powerful than the one with whom he speaks. The parrhesia comes from ‘below,’ as it were, and is directed towards ‘above’” (18). So a father correcting his child is not a parrhesiastes; not all critique is parrhesiastic (or perhaps we should say not all correction is critique), “but when a philosopher criticizes a tyrant, when a citizen criticizes a majority, when a pupil criticizes his teacher, then such speakers may be using parrhesia” (18). Free speech is always speaking the truth to power in its different forms.
I think it would be easy enough to demonstrate that DVB’s video journalism fulfills these four conditions of frankness, truth-telling, danger, and criticism. I won’t connect the dots here. Instead, I’d like to focus on one particular aspect of fearless speech, what Foucault would describe as part of the “problematics” of fearless speech.10 Let’s call it the question of authorization. The question it poses is: Who can speak? Who has the “right,” as it were, to tell the truth? Who is authorized to make such claims? In the context of ancient Greek democracy, we noted that this authorization inhered in the speaker, in his moral authority or in his social status (15). So not just “anyone can use parrhesia” (18). Rather, “most of the time the use of parrhesia requires that the parrhesiastes know his own genealogy, his own status; i.e., usually one must first be a male citizen to speak the truth as a parrhesiastes. […] In ‘democratic parrhesia’—where one speaks to the assembly, the ekklesia—one must be a citizen; in fact, one must be one of the best among the citizens, possessing those specific personal, moral, and social qualities which grant one the privilege to speak” (18).
Foucault notes that this issue introduces the first “crisis” of parrhesia in the polis:
Who is entitled to use parhessia? Is it enough simply to accept parrhesia as a civil right such that any and every citizen can speak in the assembly if and when he wishes? Or should parrhesia be exclusively granted to some citizens only, according to their social status or personal virtues? There is a discrepancy between an egalitarian system which enables everyone to use parrhesia, and the necessity of choosing among the citizenry those who are able (because of their social or personal qualities) to use parrhesia in such a way that it truly benefits the city. And this discrepancy generates the emergence of parrhesia as a problematic issue. (72)
What, then, authorizes Joshua and the DVB to speak? What authorizes their parrhesia? Do we ask about their moral status, their social standing? Granted, we can recognize their courage and their desire to tell the truth, and that in itself exhibits a moral quality. But that’s not quite the issue, as Foucault formulates it. Rather, the question is: why do we accept their expressions as true? Here it seems to me that we have to take seriously the invention and interposition of a technology that functions as its own authorization: What authorizes their parrhesia is not social location of moral authority; it is, instead, the veracity of the technology, the cool observation of the lens, the “objectivity” (and hence “truthfulness”) of the camera’s gaze which just passively records “the way things are.” This is why it is crucial that DVB is a team of video journalists. We have been trained to not believe it unless we see it—and more importantly, we can’t not believe it if we do see it. And only the camera can authorize in this way; only images and pictures are self-authorizing and can’t be argued with. A picture trumps a thousand words.
But whence that authorization of the image? How did we come to acquire this habit of unquestioning trust in images? Is that a habit and reflex that we might subject to critique? And do so in the name of truth? Can a camera ever lie? And why is it so hard for us to imagine that this is possible? Does a video recording ipso facto qualify as fearless speech?
The Hermeneutic Naïveté of Cinema Verité
These questions, and the role of the camera’s authorization, cut to the heart of the aesthetic decisions driving Burma VJ. In the spirit of cinema verité, both DVB and Østergaard take themselves to be impartial, unobtrusive “recorders” of the world.11 On this account, the camera is simply a mirror of nature and culture.12 As Joshua’s opening voiceover claims, “I have nothing in my mind; I have only my subject”—as if the filmmaker has no perspective or interest, no agenda or interpretation. The tiny technology of the handheld camera amplifies this sense of transparency and immediacy: that the lens simply delivers what is there, the “facts of the matter.”
Of course, on one level this is indisputable. If we can trust that there’s no fabrication or enhancement involved,13 then of course in one sense the camera is just capturing what it sees. But the documentary (and the documenting of DVB) go beyond this. The aesthetic ideology of cinema verité also refuses to frame these images, refuses to script a story, and thus takes the documentary film to be simply a report on events. We have simply the testimony of Joshua (a participant in the unfolding drama), the images, and a calendar that doesn’t so much organize time as simply count one day after another. There is no auteurish artistic vision, no overarching narrative, no moral of the story—simply the litany of images in layers: DVB’s images of the repression and Østergaard’s recording of DVB’s labors. The filmmaker is not the parrhesiastes here; it is the camera.
The documentary is a genre that comes loaded with temptations. And we might wonder whether the film’s own method both falls prey to these temptations and tries to deflect our own questions in this regard. The conceit of cinema verité is a kind of hermeneutics of immediacy, the sense that it offers no take, no interpretation, just the facts of images—that this is not driven by an agenda or a story. But, of course, this is impossible. For on the one hand, the selectivity of the frame, the directedness of the director/cinematographer, the selective attention of the lens, is always already a take, a focus, a highlighting—in short, an interpretation framed by the interests of the videographer. The frame of the camera—and the one pointing the camera—decides what counts, what matters, what deserves to be seen, and hence what gets authorized as true by the camera. Second, and more significantly in this case, the relative absence of a back story or overarching narrative frame does not secure objectivity and neutrality—instead, we fill in a story. That is, such a decontextualization does not guarantee that we just see what is in front of us, protecting the objectivity of the subject. To the contrary, it actually opens the subject up to our manipulation and construal on our terms. The relative abstraction of these de-narrated images can be easily co-opted to whatever story that we want to tell ourselves.
Consider, for instance, how Buddhist monks play a central role in the protest against repression. With nearly 400,000 monks in Burma, Joshua comments that the monks are the only force in Burma who can scare the military—and these are not monks you want to mess with! Their presence, protest, and fearless speech is at the heart of the film’s story. We immediately identify with their protest. But one wonders whether Østergaard is absorbing them into a story that is not their own. Clearly what motivates Østergaard is a concern for human rights, especially freedom of speech and freedom of expression, but the minimalism of his method keeps this concern off-screen as it were. And so Østergaard’s camera captures the DVB cameras capturing the monks’ protest. But what is happening to the monks’ protest? Do they articulate their resistance in terms of rights-talk? Or against the backdrop of some universal democratic principles? Or are they protesting from the specificity of their Buddhist faith? Isn’t their indictment that the military leaders are failing to uphold the very particular faith of the nation? And do we do an injustice to their protest when we simply translate it into our discourse about human rights and the right to free speech? Is something lost in translation? Rights-talk is not the only way to protest injustice. And it might not even be the best way.
Freedom for What?
I have suggested that there is a kind of hermeneutic naïveté about the film’s methodological assumptions, both because it assumes that the camera is a neutral recorder of the truth, but also because, in its refusal to articulate a narrative frame, the film leaves the subject open to being co-opted and circumscribed by our own stories that we bring to the film.
In this respect, let me raise one final matter for reflection. I have suggested that, on the one hand, both DVB and Østergaard refuse to narrate a wider story (they’re just letting the pictures speak for themselves); at the same time, I’m suggesting that they can’t not be telling a story—all our observations, recordings, and attention are inescapably shaped by some story. Even if we don’t articulate that story, our practices and actions are shaped by fundamental, even subterranean, stories that guide our action and labor. Even “we moderns,” Christian Smith emphasizes, “not only continue to be animals who make stories but also animals who are made by our stories.”14 So my closing question is: What is the end of this story? What is DVB’s hope? What is the telos of Østergaard’s tacit story?
And here I take us back to my opening concerns about freedom. Burma VJ registers our visceral reaction to the repression of freedom. And it shows us how freedom of expression might counter such repression.15 We know, with a bodily, gut-level knowledge, that this repression and violence is wrong. And the language we are given to protest this is the language of freedom. So if we ask just what’s wrong with the military junta’s regime, we will name their denial of basic human rights. And the specific problem noted in Burma VJ is their denial of the right to freedom of speech. But if we can name what’s wrong, can we also describe what things would look like if they were right? What would flourishing look like for DVB? What is Joshua hoping for? What do they want to be free for? What does freedom look like? Does it look like the supposed flourishing we enjoy here in “the West”—a freedom that gives us Las Vegas, the Mall of America, and gargantuan disparities in access to good education, healthy food, and adequate healthcare?
Does “freedom”-language really help us articulate a rich account of human flourishing? Does rights-talk really help us sketch a constructive vision for an alternative? My point is simply this: freedom is not the panacea it promises to be.16
To get at this otherwise, we should frame a different sort of question: Not whether it’s good to be free, but which freedom is good? What really counts as freedom? We have almost universally absorbed what has been described as a “negative” view of freedom—a view that understands freedom primarily as the absence of constraint. This is a fundamentally libertarian view of freedom, though it is shared by both the Right and the Left. On this account, to be free is to be left to do what I want, to pursue my own vision of the good life. To be free is to be not-interfered-with. This is a hands-off understanding of freedom that is pretty much synonymous with how we understand the term. In short, libertarian freedom has won the day, and it has certainly won as the dominant view of freedom shared by democratic rights-talk.17
This libertarian model of freedom so dominates our imaginations that we can’t imagine an alternative. But a long theological tradition—including both Christian and Muslim voices18—has articulated a radically different understanding of freedom, not as a negative freedom from, but as a positive freedom for the Good. On this account, we are “bound to be free;”19 that is, if there is a normative telos for human flourishing, a way that we ought to be, then being supposedly free to just make up our own way of life is not conducive to flourishing. Rather, such a way of life would run against the grain of the universe, leading to all sorts of frustrated modes of life that might be modes of non-interference but are not properly ways of flourishing. Instead, true freedom would be found in being rightly directed to the Good, in being bound and formed and habituated to a telos that is conducive to the flourishing of human community. Freedom, on this account, is not license nor the removal of all constraint.
On this account, not all “free” speech is properly free; that is, if freedom is only properly freedom when it is in accord with norms for human flourishing, then “free” speech will be speech which contributes to that freedom—or, as Foucault put it, speech that “truly benefits the city” (72). Indeed, Foucault notes that the Greeks already ran up against this issue. Part of the “crisis” of parrhesia concerns the limits of democracy: “the problem,” Foucault comments, “is one of recognizing who is capable of speaking the truth within the limits of an institutional system where everyone is equally entitled to give his own opinion. Democracy by itself is not able to determine who has the specific qualities which enable him to speak the truth (and thus should possess the right to tell the truth)” (73). In fact, the need for fearless speech can deconstruct democracy from within:
The problem, very roughly put, was the following. Democracy is founded by a politeia, a constitution, where the demos, the people, exercise power, and where everyone is equal in front of the law. Such a constitution, however, is condemned to give equal place to all forms of parrhesia, even the worst. Because parrhesia is given even to the worst citizens, the overwhelming influence of bad, immoral, or ignorant speakers may lead the citizenry into tyranny, or may otherwise endanger the city. Hence parrhesia may be dangerous for democracy itself. (77)
Now, a vision of positive freedom (freedom for) obviously presupposes a thick understanding of that telos, a particular understanding of what constitutes the good life—and it is just such a thick telos that is precluded by democratic universalism. But does that undercut the possibility of protest and critique?
In fact, I wonder whether the protest and critique in Burma VJ isn’t more motivated by a particular, “thick” vision of the good than a universal, “thin” democratic vision of (negative) freedom. What, at the end of the day, motivates the monks to turn their alms bowls upside down and protest the military regime? Against what criteria do they see the junta’s policies as unjust? And whence those criteria? Are they not rooted in the Buddha’s admonitions about just ruling?
I expect you will be as moved as I was when listening to a song chanted by the monks and the civilians marching with them. Even in the wooden translation of the subtitles it has a moving force about it when sung by a 100,000 souls:
May all beings living to the East,
All beings of the universe,
Free from fear,
free from all distress,
free from poverty.
May they have peace in their hearts.20
But the word “free” here is equivocal. Are we imposing something on this story when we read this freedom as the “negative” freedom of liberalism? Indeed, will we not have thereby missed the fact that this song is a prayer? Would we not then be co-opting the monks’ prayer into our own discourse? And might we not fail to recognize that their protest of injustice is informed by a particular, “thick” vision of human flourishing?
It’s not only liberal democrats who can protest injustice. Indeed, do we have anything more eloquent than that ancient song of Mary, who knew nothing of rights-talk, who nonetheless praised a Redeemer who was also a liberator?
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy. (Luke 1:51-54)
Such a “thick” understanding of justice is the criterion for a particular protest against injustice, not resorting to the generic language of rights and freedoms but rather the specific language of shalom.
Indeed, fearless speech doesn’t need the “right” of “freedom of speech”—it speaks the truth nonetheless, even in the face of martyrdom. (Was Jesus denied his human rights? I suppose. Did he expect any different?) This scandalous suggestion is articulated by Reinhard Hütter in his book, Bound to be Free. Commenting on the idolization of (negative) freedom at the conclusion of the film Braveheart—a “faith” for which this William Wallace is beheaded—Hütter notes our tendency to prize freedom over beheading, then makes this striking claim: “strangely enough, there are worse things that can happen to us than being beheaded. So when we ask what is so great about freedom, we should recognize that this is a dangerous topic. If we get freedom wrong, our mistake will ultimately kill us. Yet if we get freedom right, we will live, often painfully and sometimes dangerously, but always truthfully in an ever expanding horizon that will lead us deeper and deeper into the Giver of true freedom.”21
1. This paper has been adapted from a talk of the same title given at The Other Journal’s Faith, Film, and Justice Conference, Seattle, WA, October 16, 2009.
2. I consider this last couplet in more detail in James K.A. Smith, “The Gospel of Freedom, or Another Gospel? Theology, Empire, and American Foreign Policy,” in Evangelicals and Empire: Christian Alternatives to the Political Status Quo, eds. Bruce Ellis Benson and Peter Heltzel (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2008), 79-92.
3. Burma VJ: Reporting from a Closed Country, directed by Anders Østergaard (Denmark: Magic Hour Films ApS, 2009).
4. I hasten to note that, while I may be critical, this in no way translates into some kind of sympathy or apology for repression. Our binary habits sometimes assume that if one is critical of one party, one must be a sympathizer with the other. This is fallacious and, in this case, clearly untrue. The question isn’t whether to be concerned with justice; the question is how. My concern here is whether rights-talk and freedom-talk are the best—or even an adequate—way of framing and naming the injustices we see in Burma.
5. Interestingly, Orwell spent an important period of his life in Burma as an officer of the Imperial Indian Police. It is from this period that we get his classic essays, “A Hanging” and “Shooting an Elephant.” It also occasioned one of his earlier novels, Burmese Days (published in 1934 and set in the colonial era). But as Emma Larkin notes in her book, Finding George Orwell in Burma (New York City, NY: Penguin, 2005), “In Burma, there is a joke that Orwell wrote not just one novel about the country, but three: a trilogy comprised of Burmese Days, Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four” (3). Burmese Days paints colonial Burma, Animal Farm depicts Burma’s experiment with socialism, and 1984 provides insight into the sort of regime Burma experiences under the military rulers. In that case, 1984 tells us more about Burma today than Burmese Days.
6. One might compare the importance of V capturing the state-run television station in V for Vendetta, written by Larry and Andy Wachowski, directed by James McTeigue (London, UK: Silver Pictures, 2006).
7. Michel Foucault, Fearless Speech, ed. Joseph Pearson [originally delivered in English] (New York City, NY: Semiotext[e], 2001), henceforth cited in parentheses in the text. All italics in original unless indicated otherwise.
8. I am following Foucault’s use of the male pronoun in this context since, as he notes, in this historic context only men could have spoken freely. In this respect, note the significant role of women as “fearless speakers” in Burma VJ.
9. It is not so much a matter of “expertise.” In this respect, it’s interesting to note that it is Peter and John’s parrhesia that leads listeners to “recognize them as having been with Jesus,” despite being “uneducated and untrained” (Acts 4:13).
10. See Foucault’s methodological ruminations on “problematization” in Fearless Speech, 171-173.
11. See the Canadian documentary Cinema Vérité: Defining the Moment, directed by Peter Wintonick (National Film Board of Canada, 1999) for a documentary (sic!) history of the movement.
12. Cf. Richard Rorty, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1979). One could fruitfully contrast cinema verité with the “New Journalism” of Tom Wolfe, Norman Mailer, et. al.
13. The opening proviso is of some interest in this regard. It indicates that there was probably some retrospective staging and filming. It seems to me that the scene with Kuang, an older dissident from the 1988 uprisings, is probably the result of some later aesthetic flourish, including the camera angle and candled lighting. We could also consider the role of a soundtrack in the film, which seems to violate the rules, so to speak, precisely by priming us for a certain interpretation of key scenes and episodes.
14. Christian Smith, Moral, Believing Animals (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2003), 64.
15. I say “might” since, as the film will show, it doesn’t seem DVB was really successful in this regard.
16. Perhaps one could contest that such a claim is a luxury that I, as a white, Canadian, male can make precisely because I enjoy such freedoms. Perhaps. But I think the point still stands: freedom is chameleon and much injustice can traffic under its banner.
17. Cf. Charles Taylor’s account of how democracy precludes a telos, and hence precludes any articulation of the good, and hence virtue in Modern Social Imaginaries (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2004), 79-80.
18. See David Burrell, Faith and Freedom: An Interfaith Perspective (Oxford: Blackwell, 2004) for masterful analyses of the shared commitments of both Christians and Muslims on this point.
19. See the provocative account in Reinhard Hütter, Bound to Be Free: Evangelical–Catholic Engagements in Ecclesiology, Ethics, and Ecumenism (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004).
20. See Burma VJ, directed by Østergaard.
21. Ibid., 7.
James K. A. Smith
James K. A. Smith is an associate professor of philosophy and an adjunct professor of congregational and ministry studies at Calvin College. He is also the executive director of the Society of Christain Philosophers and and a notable figure working at the intersection of Christian faith and postmodernism. He also is editor of the Church and Postmodern Culture book series published by Baker Academic. Smith is the author of Desiring the Kingdom, The Devil Reads Derrida, and several other books.