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Breath on the windowpane: Precarious aesthetics and diegetic noise in Nick Broomfield’s Ghosts

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This article explores the various ways in which noise acts as an aesthetic marker of precarity in Nick Broomfield’s Ghosts, a documentary account of the death of 23 undocumented Chinese nationals in the United Kingdom in 2004. Taking its cue from recent work on aesthetics and the temporalities of precarity, it considers the ways in which the different forms of noise ‐ medial and informational ‐ index the ways in which the figure of the undocumented migrant labourer disturbs dominant western accounts of the aesthetic predicated on a division between production and consumption. Noise, in the form of Michel Serres’ conceptual figure of the parasite, it argues, registers the ways in which precarious labour has revealed the dependence of aesthetic categories on models of production rendered incoherent by the representation of undocumented migrant labour.
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Keywords: Nick Broomfield; aesthetics; documentary; globalization; migrant labour; noise; precarity; undocumented labour

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 0000000084992262University of Amsterdam

Publication date: October 1, 2019

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  • The course of cultures at both local and global levels is crucially affected by migratory movements. In turn, culture itself is turned migrant. This journal will advance the study of the plethora of cultural texts on migration produced by an increasing number of cultural practitioners across the globe who tackle questions of culture in the context of migration. They do this in a variety of ways and through a variety of media. To name but a few relevant aspects of this juncture of migration and culture, questions of dislocation, travel, borders, diasporic identities, transnational contacts and cultures, cultural memory, the transmission of identity across generations, questions of hybridity and cultural difference, the material and oral histories of migration and the role of new technologies in bridging cultures and fostering cultural cross-pollination will all be relevant. Methodologies of research will include both the study of 'texts' and fieldwork.
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