Amelia G. Ellis

Documenting means recording, not presenting, but recording. Presenting requires an event or object to go through an analytical filter. Documenting, or documentation, should remain untouched by subjective bias as much as possible—this excludes the limitations of the form in which one is documenting. For example, not all can be seen with a camera lens, just as not all can be seen with eyes; not all can be captured through writing, but not all can be spoken by an individual. I think of surrealist automatic writing when I think of documenting. When documenting thoughts—through writing or typing—the filter should be down; when documenting work the Instagram filter should stay off. But what I see as documenting is not an activity of remembrance, but reminder.

As Thamus said to the Theuth in Plato’s Phaedrus, “If men learn [writing], it will implant forgetfulness in their souls; they will cease to exercise memory because they rely on that which is written…What you have discovered is a recipe not for memory, but for reminder” (264C-275B). Documentation is a reminder of what has been said and done so we do not forget. Instead of remembering the event and presenting it—as we may do in a memoir or when we pass down tales orally—we record and document so we may be reminded. This leaves our memory vulnerable to learning false memories. Documenting, then, is Thomas Mann’s solitary camera on a tripod without an operator; it is the B-roll, the outtakes, and the things that do not prove one’s argument. It should preserve reminders of reality, not bias, so we may return to them and create art that not just imitates, but comments on, life.