The Forbidden Potential: Echoes from a Somber Empire
Ada Biafore

This paper is based on the concepts of potency and power through the interpretation of the documentary Echoes From a Somber Empire (W. Herzog, 1990). The film is an investigation on, and a reconstruction of the figure of Jean-Bedel Bokassa. The opening and closing sequences of the film seem to be elicited by a dialectic, as well as a dissociation, between power and powerlessness within the film. If potency (the opening scene: the army of crabs) is a perennial reminder of the possibility of the reversal of power, powerlessness (the final scene: the monkey smoking a cigarette behind bars) is the residual dimension of the insane exercise of power. The residue is also dissociated. The relationship between biological and “cultural” is reversed: the innovative potency of the cultural dimension is reduced to mere repetition, while the potential (with its bet on novelty) is quite natural, given the animal’s biological ability to adapt.