I began this book with the question: what does endangered life do for doc-
umentary? I would like to conclude the book by reflecting on this question
in another form that offers one final reframing of the humanitarian impulse
of “giving the camera to the other”: what is at stake in the gift of documentary?
What does documentary give the other, and what, if anything, does the other
give back to documentary?
My question, what is at stake in the gift of documentary?, is informed by
Thomas Keenan’s meditations on a logical contradiction in the discourse of
claiming human rights. In Fables of Responsibility, Keenan points out that the
idea of claiming a right would seem to suggest that the right in question be-
longs to the person who is claiming it and that the loss of this right is merely
accidental or contingent. But if this is the case, he asks, why claim what is
one’s own? He continues:
Why even open up the relation to the other that the linguistic act of
claiming implies, when my relation to my rights is essentially a relation to
myself without mediation through, or openness to, an other? This claim
could only be a statement, the constative declaration of a fact which had
fallen into temporary oblivion. Is this act of claiming necessary? For if
rights must be claimed, then (1) the relation to [the] other, and the sup-
posed “loss” of rights in the other, cannot be merely contingent, and
(2) the rights claimed cannot simply pre- exist the claim that is made for
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