“But how do you show that in a film?” Absence, Cartographic Anxiety, and Geographic Realism through the Landscapes of Akira Kurosawa’s Dersu Uzala

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In the last decade, postphenomenological landscape studies and cultural geographies of absence have brushed sides long enough for us to consider the roles of presence and absence in our understanding of landscape and our relation to it. This article

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  Full Terms & Conditions of access and use can be found athttp://www.tandfonline.com/action/journalInformation?journalCode=rgeo20 GeoHumanities ISSN: 2373-566X (Print) 2373-5678 (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/rgeo20 “But how do you show that in a film?” Absence,Cartographic Anxiety, and Geographic Realismthrough the Landscapes of Akira Kurosawa’s DersuUzala Laura Sharp To cite this article:  Laura Sharp (2018): “But how do you show that in a film?” Absence,Cartographic Anxiety, and Geographic Realism through the Landscapes of Akira Kurosawa’s DersuUzala, GeoHumanities, DOI: 10.1080/2373566X.2018.1447313 To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/2373566X.2018.1447313 Published online: 27 Apr 2018.Submit your article to this journal Article views: 4View related articles View Crossmark data  “ But how do you show that in a film? ”  Absence,Cartographic Anxiety, and Geographic Realism through theLandscapes of Akira Kurosawa ’ s  Dersu Uzala Laura Sharp University of Arizona In the last decade, postphenomenological landscape studies and cultural geographies of absence have brushed sides long enough for us to consider the roles of presence and absence in our understandingof landscape and our relation to it. This article extends these insights to the landscapes of cinema,drawing parallels between absence and the cartographic anxiety innate to both cinema and thegeographic tradition. In so doing, this article shows how absence and the anxiety of loss inform our understanding of and emotional desire for geographic realism. To illustrate this point, the articleanalyzes the 1975 Academy Award  –  winning film,  Dersu Uzala , directed by Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa, as well as the conditions of the film ’ s production. Through the film ’ s diegesis andformal construction, we see that the performative act of conjuring the absent other through techno-logical representations is an act that iteratively constitutes anew the self   –  other relation that is lost. Key Words: absence, cartographic anxiety, film, geographic realism, landscape. Standing in a dusty road amidst the construction of the new town of Korfovskaia in Russia ’ s Far East, Captain Arseniev looks for the site where, two years prior, he had buried his good friendDersu. The location, he tells a passerby, was just near the edge of the forest, next to two large trees. “ Could it be those? ”  asks the man, gesturing to a pile of lumber. The trees are gone, probably usedfor the recently built houses dotting the new landscape, and with them have disappeared the graveand Arseniev ’ s friend Dersu, erased by the new town ’ s rapid construction. As Arseniev stands,taking in this loss, we notice for the first time the train tracks running in the near distance behindthe captain as he calls the name of his friend in anguish,  “ Dersu! ”  Perhaps paradoxically,  DersuUzala  is not about the titular character, Dersu. Indeed, although we know through historicalaccounts that a man named Dersu Uzala once roamed the hills of the Ussuri wilderness andalthough there is an actor on screen playing the part of a man named Dersu Uzala, diegeticallyspeaking, Dersu is never fully present in the film. Rather, from the film ’ s beginning, Dersu ismarked conspicuously as an absence, a construction of Arseniev that was prompted by his grief and loss and brought into being by the supplementary practices of technology.Grief and loss are experiences that we all face at some point in our lives. Only recently,however, have geographers begun attending to the issue around which these concerns revolve  —  absence  —  as an intrinsically geographic concern. Callon and Law (2004) raised similar questionsin their guest-edited issue of   Society and Space . Here, they challenged conventional truisms of  GeoHumanities, 00(00) 2018, 1  –  17 © Copyright 2018 by American Association of Geographers.Initial submission, May 2016; revised submissions, March and December 2017; final acceptance, January 2018.Published by Taylor & Francis Group, LLC.  apparent distinctions between conceptual pairings in geography such as global  –  local and pre-sence  –  absence, asking geographers to think about the processes by which the local is madeglobal, absences are made present, and vice versa. Maddern and Adey (2008) put together aspecial collection in  Cultural Geographies  calling for input on the absence-related field of spectro-geographies. There, they described  “  pasts and futures ”  as being in  “ a supplementaryrelation to the present  ”  (Maddern and Adey 2008, 292). In such relations,  “ Spaces and times arefolded, allowing distant presences, events, people and things to become rather more intimate ” (Maddern and Adey 2008, 292). Five years later, a second absence-focused special issueappeared in  Cultural Geographies , this time calling on geographers to consider the ways that absence operates as more than mere recollections of past events, but also in the material, processual, and emotional dimensions that comprise our everyday lives (Meier, Frers, andSigvardsdotter  2013). Citing Meyer  ’ s (2012) article  “ Placing and Tracing Absence, ”  Meier,Frers, and Sigvardsdotter (2013, 424) suggested that absence is a relational occurrence  “  pro-duced in the back and forth between absence and presence, materiality and immateriality, thesocial and the natural:  ‘ Essentially, this means to see absence not as an existing  “ thing ”  in itself  but as something that is made to exist through relations that give absence matter  ’”  (Meyer  2012,107). To this point, the authors added that absence is inextricably a lived experience. In his soloessay in the collection, Frers (2013) went on to elaborate on the ways that absence is corporeal,and a force that   “  brings forth a host of practices  —  of utterances, gestures, and engagements withsomething or somebody. It is these corporeal engagements that bring the traces of the missingother in one ’ s own body into play ”  (440).Frers ’ s idea that absence of a loved one is a corporeal performance of absent traces withinoneself is consistent with Butler  ’ s (2003) understanding of grief and what we undergo with the loss of a loved one, community, or place. For Butler, the experience of loss is not merely for an “ other, ”  but also for a part of oneself and the mutually constituting relationship between the self and other that is neither self nor other, but its own entity. She wrote: It is not as if an  “ I ”  exists independently over here and then simply loses a  “ you ”  over there,especially if the attachment to  “ you ”  is part of what composes who  “ I ”  am. If I lose you, under theseconditions, then I not only mourn the loss, but I become inscrutable to myself. Who  “ am ”  I, without you? When we lose some of these ties by which we are constituted, we do not know who we are or what to do. On one level, I think I have lost   “ you ”  only to discover that   “ I ”  have gone missing aswell. At another level, perhaps what I have lost   “ in ”  you, that for which I have no ready vocabulary,is a relationality that is neither merely myself nor you, but the tie by which those terms aredifferentiated and related. (Butler  2003, 12) If we agree that what is lost is a relational  “ tie ”  between the self and other, then, returning toFrers (2013), it is the imbalance of this tie that urges the  “ I ”  to action, ameliorating theimbalance by giving  “ absence matter  ”  (Meyer  2012, 107).This desire to give presence to what is lost within oneself becomes pertinent when weconsider how landscape scholars have approached absence. Wylie (2009), for one, took up theidea, finding it to be one way of opening up new dimensions of the landscape concept. Wylie ’ scontribution to the topic is best understood in the context of the last decade of developments inUK-based landscape studies, which have been inspired by Deleuzian, vitalist, and nonrepresen-tational philosophies of becoming (M. Rose 2002, 2006; Cresswell 2003; M. Rose and Wylie 2006; Wylie 2006, 2009; Dewsbury 2014; see also Ingold 1993, although from a different  2  SHARP  tradition). Key to this turn is an emphasis on presence of self and landscape, which Wylie (2009)critiqued, arguing that by focusing exclusively on the bodily and affective experiences of landscape, those writing in this vein have made  “ co-presence of self and landscape [ … ] either a lost srcin or a final goal ”  (287). Here, Wylie singled out M. Rose ’ s (2006) conceptualization of the landscape, and culture generally, as  “ dreams of presence, ”  or the  “ impossible possibility ” of coherent wholeness, an asymptotic summit to which landscapes and culture strive but never reach. For Rose, the importance of these dreams is not whether they are reached or obtained, but that they offer a point of resonance to those who encounter them and in so doing provide amoment around which their identities and worldview can congeal. For Wylie, however, suchdesire for presence limits our ability to understand the constitutive role that absence plays in “ self-landscape relations ”  (Wylie 2009, 278). He explored this proposition through the memorial benches at Mullion Cove, showing how absence is made knowable through the distancing of love and the lack of coincidence of lover and loved (i.e., loss).As these studies show, absence and presence, past and future, material and nonmaterial, andself and other are key to understanding how individuals experience and navigate the worldaround them, as well as how we as geographers understand these experiences and navigations.Although Wylie ’ s (2009) account of Mullion Cove destabilizes phenomenological landscape studies ’  focus on presence of self-in-world, his autobiographical account leaves many questionsabout how these insights might inform geographic inquiries more broadly, such as how theabsence-constituted landscape is produced or differentially encountered. Like landscape andculture, cinema is also a dream of presence, a hollow signifier that allows its producers andconsumers to become otherwise, to become in ways that they might not if given alternatetrajectories. Yet, despite cinema geography ’ s similar trajectory from representational to more-than-representational approaches (Sharp and Lukinbeal 2015) and its attention to landscape as ageographic object of interest (Escher and Zimmermann 2001; Lukinbeal 2005, 2012; Aitken and Dixon 2006; Lefebvre 2006, 2011; Harper and Rayner  2010; Melbye 2010; Lukinbeal and Sharp 2014), there has yet to be a consideration of whether or how the recent insights into the role of absence illuminate our thinking about the landscapes of cinema. In taking up this task, I find that absence is necessary to understanding the full range of functions that cinematic landscapes havein the world, which I do through a case study of Akira Kurosawa ’ s (1975)  Dersu Uzala , a filmadaptation of the memoirs of Russian military explorer V. K. Arseniev ([1941] 1996). In thisarticle, I address how the cinematic landscapes of the film ’ s diegesis and form are visual-materialartifacts (Della Dora 2009; G. Rose and Tolia-Kelly 2012) produced to fill the gap generated by the grief over lost ties between self (Arseniev, Kurosawa) and other (Dersu, Japan). By lookingto the constitutive absence of landscape in Kurosawa ’ s  Dersu Uzala , I argue that, althoughlandscapes might be constituted by absence, and although it is important to recognize a tendencytoward foreclosure that idealized srcins and endings might bring about (cf. Wylie 2009), whenconfronted with absence, love, and loss, there is nevertheless a tendency toward dreams of  presence, a desire for and movement toward coherent wholeness in which individuals find the promise of a foothold for their own becoming.The absence that is found in the case of   Dersu Uzala  can be traced in two ways. The first wayis as an absence derived in a diegetic narrative about love, loss, and the other. The second isthrough the film ’ s formal construction. In the film ’ s diegesis, to maintain an ongoing connectionto what is missing (Dersu), Arseniev must continually invoke Dersu ’ s presence in the form of hisvoice-over narration, journal entries, photographs, audio recordings, and the map. Formally, the “ BUT HOW DO YOU SHOW THAT IN A FILM? ”  3  film itself, like Arseniev ’ s representational technologies, is part of the same system of invoca-tion. Through the film ’ s visualization of the landscape and its ability to manipulate space andtime, both Dersu and Arseniev  —  as well as the pristine wilderness and technological modernityto which they are each metonymically tied, respectively  —  are brought into existence. This formalconstruction is imbued with Kurosawa ’ s personal experiences of growing up at the end of theMeiji Restoration (1868  –  1912)  —  a period when Japan transitioned from the feudal TokugawaShogunate into its modern era  —  and his mourning for the landscape and way of life that thistransition forever altered. In tracing these absences, I suggest that the grief that derives fromthem are a type of cartographic anxiety, an overwhelming loss of one ’ s orientation to the worldaround them. Moreover, although  Dersu Uzala  is thick with the anxiety produced by the absenceat its core and the promise this absence holds, this is not unique to the film. Rather, this absenceand its inextricable anxiety underlie the function of and emotional desire for geographic realismin cinema. By presencing the missing other, geographic realism balances the asymmetry withinoneself and satisfies the desire to feel whole and  “ found. ” There are three substantive sections remaining in the body of this article. In the first, I discuss biographical details of Kurosawa and, to a lesser extent, Arseniev, as well as the context of thefilm ’ s production. As much as Kurosawa ’ s vision and artistry contribute to the film, however, “ an author  ’ s intentions and the meaning of a text often cease to coincide ”  (Barnes and Duncan1992, 6). We might think of this information as Kurosawa ’ s  “  biographical legend, ”  the dis-cursive construction of the director produced either by the film industry, critics, and fans or bythe director himself via interviews or self-published statements (Bordwell 1988, 5). According toBordwell (1988), this biographical legend functions in two ways:  “ to permit works to come into being, as fulfillments of the legend; and to orient perceivers to them, to favor certain construalsand to block others ”  (5). Second, I turn to analyzing the film ’ s diegesis and the absence calledforth therein, deconstructing the nature  –  society binary in  Dersu Uzala , using as my  “ lever  ” Derrida ’ s notion of the supplement, the object within the text that   “ threatens to collapse ”  (Spivak [1974] 1997, lxxv) the system or foundation on which the structure of the text is built. Iaccomplish this by showing how Dersu is never actually fully present in the film but is insteada construction of Arseniev, brought into being by the external or supplementary devices of technology. Following this, in the third section, I turn to the way these absences are supple-mented, or made present, by the visuality of the landscape and the use of geographic realism, afilmmaking device used to aid in the suspension of disbelief and make what is on the screen believable, or natural. In so doing, I address the call by Doel and Clarke (2007) to pay attentionto the geography of film form,  “ and the way in which it has come to act as our opticalunconscious ”  (894).  “ This neglect, ”  they wrote,  “ is significant not only because form structurescontent, but also because forms possess their own historical and geographical specificity ”  (894).In concluding, I suggest that the examples here of cinema and cinematic landscapes specificallyand technologies of representation generally provide one approach to how the relations of absence and grief are enacted and visually materialized. DERSU THE TRAPPER  AND KUROSAWA ’ S WESTERN PROBLEM I think that to learn what became of me after [the film]  Rashomon  the most reasonable procedurewould be to look for me in the characters in the films I made after   Rashomon . Although human 4  SHARP
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