By Lindsey Freeman

Simone Rapisarda in conversation with Denielle Elliott after viewing Rapisarda’s film The Creation of Meaning (2014). Sponsored by Centre for Imaginative Ethnography and the Institute for Performance Studies at Simon Fraser University. The conversation took place in downtown Vancouver on September 21, 2017.


The Film

We are tossed in the Apuan Alps in Italy. Our guide through this world is a shepherd called Pacifico. We follow him in his color block shorts, which look like a kite on the taut strings of his legs. He is Ariadne’s thread in human form. We follow him through memories, radio reports of political and economic decline under Berlusconi, past ghosts and goats, and the Gothic line. We eavesdrop as he talks to a German. We take a shower with him. We save the donkey’s share with him.

We are tossed in the Apuan Alps, or is it the Aleph that we know from Borges’ story? In the story the Aleph is kind of like Foucault’s concept of heterotopia, but amplified—not multiple spaces opening in a space, but all spaces opening all at once—a hyper-heterotopia. In The Creation of Meaning, we are in a more localized Aleph-like place; we are in situ, in the mountains, and also the realm of memory—majestic memory, the memory of everything in that place. In the film, the Tuscan Alps open up and and time unfolds, coughing up fossils from World War II, the bones of suicides, the traces of European hikers, and the increasing presence of wealthy Germans hungry for land. Our guide through this world is called Pacifico.

The Conversation

We step onto an elliptical or into ellipses, everything already in motion. Our guide is an experimental ethnographer called Elliott. The spirit of Lauren Berlant is there too on a thought-machine nearby; we can feel her, even if we cannot see her. Avery Gordon is conjured briefly, and we think of her lifting heavy things, lightly, in a corner of the conversation—making the ghostly matter. I mention Susan Lepselter’s The Resonance of Unseen Things, because it seems to rhyme with the ways in which those of us in the room are thinking separately, together.

As the conversation continues I begin to think more about ellipses, but I come to the conclusion that for thinking about mountain places, they are too flat, just in a little line like this …

Rapisarda and Elliott make me want for new punctuation, to write and to think with, maybe something like this ^^^^^. Maybe these marks can represent the continuation of the mountains (Pacifico’s Alps, my Appalachians, Banff where I began this review, and Burnaby where I finish it). Maybe a new punctuation, along with new ways of writing and making film, like Elliott and Culhane’s A Different Kind of Ethnography and Rapisarda’s The Creation of Meaning can get us to experiences of synesthesia, a more sensuous way of storytelling. This is why conversations like this are so important to remind us of the pleasures of thinking, feeling, and talking with, about, and around places saturated with meaning.


Berlant, Lauren. In Artforum, 30 January 2014,

Borges, Jorge Louis. “The Aleph.” The Aleph and Other Stories. New York: Penguin, 2004.

Elliott, Denielle and Dara Culhane. A Different Kind of Ethnography. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2016.

Foucault, Michel. “Of Other Spaces: Utopias and Heterotopias” Architecture /Mouvement/ Continuité October, 1984.

Gordon, Avery. Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997

Lepselter, Susan. The Resonance of Unseen Things. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2016.