Shai Biderman: Known, Unknown, and In-between

Reality and Fiction in the Documentary of Errol Morris


There is a century old tradition of defining documentary in philosophical terms. Yet, this tradition seems to miss the most intelligible (yet, conspicuously evasive) aspect of documentary praxis: its conceptual entanglement with philosophy itself. This entanglement is oddly mirrored in Plantinga’s characterization of the documentary as an “asserted veridical representation.” Such a characterization presupposes the conceptual and factual omnipotence of truth, and, accordingly, delineates documentary as a praxis of disclosure and exposure of a pre-existent reality, that serves as a sort of repository of truth for the documentarian to represent. Recognizing that a more authentic encounter with the dichotomy of the real and the virtual, the truthful and the fictional suggests otherwise, I will endorse a new view of documentary as a form of a philosophy that, quite literally, makes its own truth by blurring the border between reality and fiction in constructing, rather than representing, a truthful reality. I will do so by examining the role of the documentarian as a philosopher-through-film, by means of a critical analysis of film-segments from »The Unknown Known« (Errol Morris, 2013) and »The Fog of War« (Errol Morris, 2003).