On Literature, Reality, and Diegesis

(Seth Loftis)

I am a creative writing student. That is to say that I write (and read) literature keeping in mind that the concept of “reality” versus “fantasy” is inherently problematic and often takes away from the story being told. Very little is accomplished when stories, poems, etc. are grouped in specific nonstatic genres—that is, placing something in one specific category through which and from which it cannot flow only places limitations on the cap of knowledge or existence that the work aspires to achieve. This mode of thinking carries over to fields that aren’t literature—though, who is to say what is literature and what is not literature?


When watching ecology-based projects (especially cinematic—e.g. Food, Inc. and Fragments on Machines) I cannot help but apply my nonbinaried view of genre and category. Each film has its own world—its own cinematic moment, even—within which it exists. Food, Inc. is a documentary, obviously, but even that is limiting. Is everything factual in Food, Inc.? Does it represent one specific reality—that is, the supposed one in which we live? Does every facet of Food, Inc. have to be one-hundred percent factual for it to accomplish its mission, which I assume is to bring awareness to issues of food and sustainability? I do not think it has to be, and holding it to such standards such as “one-hundred percent correctness” is an immensely unrealistic standard upon which to measure anything, albeit a film. An analysis of method and style prove more helpful in dissecting elemental representation and affect.


Food, Inc. (2008) a documentary film by Robert Kenner explores corporate farming and food safety. In its opening sequence, the viewer is presented with credits in the setting of a food market. Labels and signs are manipulated to present us with the “facts” regarding who wrote, directed, and provided voice in the film. The sound consists of primarily nondiegetic music and  voiceover telling the viewer what exactly she is about to see over the course of the documentary. The most interesting noise is the shopping cart, whose diegetic (read: real, or supposedly real and locationally appropriate) noise creeps in and out of the frame. The voice over that occurs on top of the noise makes me question why the director chose to have nondiegetic music and voiceover occur in the setting of the supermarket which could have easily been complemented with actual supermarket sounds. For the director of Food, Inc., the placing of nontypical noise in the typical supermarket environment suggests a play on reality and perceived reality that is paralleled, as he argues, in the food industry. That is, we are not eating what we think we are eating.

On the diegetic note of analysis, GasLand (2010) directed by Josh Fox, differs in its opening. The audience is shown montage footage—some found, I assume—but no specific “scene” like Food, Inc.‘s opening sequence of the supermarket. We still hear voiceover, including the amazing line, “I’m not a pessimist. I’ve always had a great deal of faith in people,” from Fox himself. We are then introduced to the first main narrative: a group of old white men discussing fracking in a court or lawsuit setting. The narrative is accentuated with harrowing music that sounds similar to a grand church orchestra. There is no voiceover in this scene, but simply nondiegetic soundtrack music. Thus, I am less inclined to question credibility and otherwise accept the scene for what it is rather than how it makes me feel. This mode of directing used by Fox permits the use of scene-specific diegetic sound to suggest the story “is what it is.”

While exploring my own ecology project (that is, in queer spaces in and around the West and East Village of Manhattan), these modes of ecological direction inspire me to explore the connection between what is “scene specific” or what is actually included in my video capturing and what I hope to present as my ecology’s “reality.” I think that the two are mutually exclusive: that is, the presentation of something’s reality is not always what is actually its reality. For example, if I want to interview a drag queen on camera, is it ethical to manipulate voiceover on top of it to suggest things that I wish to present? Does my video and ecology project in general have to be “one-hundred percent factual” against which any research project is typically held against? My goals for my ecology are to explore and present versions of spaces that I think do them justice. And as a creator, I believe that the goal of creating what I want outweighs criticism or respectability politics which projects are normally standardized. I like to believe I am enabled to create whatever I wish.


my “TheoryMaking2” consisting of manipulated images of my ecology site (click to see more)


~ by sethloftis on October 24, 2016.

5 Responses to “On Literature, Reality, and Diegesis”

  1. Hi Seth,

    I want to nominate your blogpost as the best voice. It was inviting, engaging, and most of all, informative. It was easy to process and understand the points that you were trying to convey. i LOVED your idea of the short film, Fragments on Machines, having its own cinematic reality. I also liked the diversity in your focus on sound for Food, Inc. Overall, great read–and I love your collage!

    -Diana (Daeun) Park

  2. Hi Seth, I believe your post is the most thought provoking. Typically, we as viewers tend to take documentaries at face value and that all that is covered as true, but no matter how unbiased a documentary tries to be, it’s still biased. “the presentation of something’s reality is not always what is actually its reality” is a great example of this, and i really am looking forward to seeing what you create in an attempt to forgo this bias.

    – Dani

  3. Most informative post– It’s very clear that you’ve done your research and know what you’re talking about. The images you’ve included actually work to forward your message and analysis while I also learned new terminology for my own critical analysis.

  4. Nice Seth! You get ‘headiest theory,’ and I mean that in a good way (<3 theory). You do a great job of breaking down your theoretical perspective(s), situate them reflexively with personal notes, and then build off this foundation to illuminate your topics in a new and unexpected way. You also do it in a very readable and understandable manner, which is not always easy. Nice!

  5. best visuals- I liked your incorporation of your theory making 2 into your blog post. Instead of just pulling pictures from the web, you incorporated one that was your own.

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