The Poetics and Politics of Polyphony: Towards a Research Method for Interactive Documentary
Judith Aston and Stefano Odorico
Abstract: This article stems from a panel we jointly convened at the i-Docs 2018 Symposium, where we presented a series of provocations with a view to generating a new theoretical framework for i-docs. These provocations were inspired by all aspects of Mikhail Bakthin’s concept of polyphony, from both a theoretical and a practical point of view. This article presents these provocations and reflects further on them. A number of key issues are documented, expanded and commented upon, as a potential framework for further research, including multiplicity, the chronotope, dialogism and interaction. We propose that these lead to new ways of approaching complexity. With the aim of using juxtaposition, nonlinearity and layering to break down binaries, the article demonstrates how complexity can be embraced and, crucially, how the simplicity within it can be revealed. In other words, a key proposition here is that we should accept and celebrate complexity as the natural order of things, without needing to deny simplicity. By investigating several theoretical aspects of Bakthin’s wider idea of polyphony, this article identifies some areas for potential development and offers input for further research, particularly in relation to the concepts of heteroglossia, carnival and aesthetics.