DIS MOI (Tell Me), 1980 and LÀ-BAS (Down There), 2006
June 24, 2016


A fiction writer living in Portland. Her first novel, "Dryland," was published by Tin House Books in September 2015. Her short fiction and criticism have appeared in publications including "Fence,"" BOMB," "NOON," "Paul Revere’s Horse," "matchbook" and "The Los Angeles Review of Books."

Jaffe co-edited “The Art of Touring” (Yeti, 2009), an anthology of writing and visual art by musicians drawing on her experience as guitartist for post-punk band ERASE ERRATA.

She is the co-founding editor of New Herring Press, a publisher of prose chapbooks. As of Fall 2016, she will be Visiting Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Oregon.


Chantal Akerman’s "Dis-Moi" opens with a shot of the filmmaker exiting a Metro station. She looks right, left, right, then turns to the left and begins walking. At least for the moment, this is her search, her journey. The first audio we hear, a conversation between Akerman and her mother, reinforces Akerman’s centrality in the film to come, suggests that we might be entering a work of autobiography.

But something shifts. Akerman ascends flights of stairs to sit in the dining rooms of older women, none of whom she seems to know, or know well. Though she is often in the frame, she rarely speaks. She has imprinted herself but ceded her centrality. The self is the jumping-off point, not the ultimate object of investigation. I’m implicated, the film tells us, but this is not my story. The self mobilizes the narrative without laying claim to it.

The other film being shown tonight, "Là-Bas," bears more markers of conventional autobiography—the text is diaristic, overtly personal—yet the camera is always looking outward. Much of the film is shot out the window, through the narrow channel between the shades. Her perspective both saturates the frame and limits its scope—as any subjective viewpoint—any viewpoint—must do.

These films thus produce the self as both an absence and a presence, which manifests a compelling tension. This is not the manipulative tension of a talking-head documentary, where there’s a smugness or coyness to the author’s removal. It’s the implicit tension of being a person in the world.

In an interview in the "Los Angeles Review of Books," Maggie Nelson was asked about the term “autotheory,” which she used to describe her book "The Argonauts." Nelson says, ““I’m always looking for terms that are not ‘memoir’ to describe autobiographical writing that exceeds the boundaries of the ‘personal.’” There are certainly great divergences between Nelson’s project—which uses the personal as the starting point for broader critical and theoretical investigations—and Akerman’s, which “exceeds the personal” through a kind of self-effacement. Still, I think both share in a recognition that in any artistic or scholarly endeavor we begin, necessarily, with our own individual experiences, our own bodies. The act of communication, or art, or love is moving from that point ever outward.