I'm continuing to work on a project about filmed confessions. Yesterday, I had a very helpful conversation with several of my colleagues about my theory that all custodial confessions are kinds of performances that enact an identity that may not have existed prior to the confession. Filmed confessions are a subgenre of these performances that have peculiar interpretive problems associated with their filmic nature.
One of my colleagues pointed me to the History of the Peloponnesian Wars by Thucydides where, among other things, Thucydides attempts to set himself apart from other chroniclers. Considered the first "historian," he claims to be telling a story about the Peloponnesian Wars that are empirically verifiable. With this claim, it is said, he is the first to draw the line between myth or stories and history. What is interesting about Thucydides for the purpose of my concerns about confessions as a form of performance (narrative storytelling that enact identities, bring them to life) is that Thucydides' history -- despite its reliance on empirical data -- is recounted in dramatic form, much in the style of Homer's Odyssey or Sophocles' Oedipus. The History of the Peloponnesian War, considered one of the first "modern" histories (not only because of its emphasis on verifiable fact but also because of its emphasis on human causality as opposed to divine intervention), is structured around orations and speeches, all in the Latin hortatory subjunctive case. In this way, much of the "history" told is recounted in a first person dialogue among statesmen that is clearly performative in nature -- presenting an argument or declaration to a crowd of citizens. (The Latin hortatory case, I am learning, is a form of the subjunctive that delineates or signals a speech, a kind of presentation or claim to an audience. Like generic markers "Once upon a time..." or "It was a dark and stormy night...", the Latin subjunctive signals to the audience that a particular kind of speech is about to take place.) A wonderfully ironic detail of this history is that Thycidides admits that he is recalling the speeches and many were told to him second hand. The "hearsay" quality of the speeches throws their veracity into doubt and their inclusion, nontheless, suggests Thycidides is very concerned with helping bring the history alive, to an audience -- to reconstitute it for the present.
So I began doing what my friends in comparative literature do, wondering aloud how much Thucydides' form and purpose have in common with filmed confessions. What are the markers of the filmed confession that are like the Latin hortatory case? (There are many, many commonalities among filmed confessions that signal the fact of film, the larger audience the film engenders, the self-conscious nature of filmed speech.) And how are the purposes of the filmed confession and the uses to which the confessions are put similar to the motivations behind Thucydides' new theory of storytelling, that is "history"? (Confessions are filmed, for the most part, to "record what actually happened" in the precinct house.)