Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Du im Voraus verlorene...

Du im Voraus
verlorne Geliebte, Nimmergekommene,
nicht weiß ich, welche Töne dir lieb sind.
Nicht mehr versuch ich, dich, wenn das Kommende wogt,
zu erkennen.


You, beloved, who were lost
before the beginning, who never came,
I do not know which sounds might be precious to you.
No longer do I try to recognize you, when, as a surging wave,
something is about to manifest.

How could a photograph show this Im-Voraus-Verlorensein, the loss before the beginning? the loss of what might or should have been? When it comes to the realms governed by the conditional, and above all by the past unreal conditional, photography is powerless. It moves inside the closed circle of Ça a été, in Barthes' words, "this has happened". The fascination with photography comes from our mourning of the loss in time. Irreparabile tempus. The evidence of reality which desintagrated. We suffer for each frozen moment that was ours, that belonged to life. But what about the tragedy of the time we might or should have had? We need words to inhabit these endless worlds, and to comfort ourselves when the possible dies in our hands. Photography cannot give us
that peacock-fan
The future was, in which temptingly spread
All that elaborative nature can.
or help us to grieve the loss of our infinite lives:
Matchless potential! but unlimited
Only so long as I elected nothing;
Simply to choose stopped all ways up but one,
And sent the tease-birds from the bushes flapping.
No future now.


At least, literature can give us the illusion. The fictional worlds. "Ich stelle mir vor:", "I imagine:", says Frisch's Gantenbein incessantly, and each time, after the colon, he offers us a new story, a new version of his life. "Mein Name sei Gantenbein", "Let my name be Gantenbein", not even this "be" can photography offer...

There is no past unreal conditional in Japanese. Not even present conditional. This came as a great shock to me when I first learned it. What would the universe, what would life itself look like in the eyes of people who cannot think the possible through their language?
Maybe this explains the japanese obsession with photography, a whole nation driven by an insane mania, to hunt down ephemerality, to expose it in the perfect picture. The arrested image, the clear wound of time: its perishability, the central trait of japanese aesthetics. Beauty defined primarily by its impermanence. If man were never to fade away like the dews of Adashino, never to vanish like the smoke over Toribeyama, but lingered on forever in this world, how things would lose their power to move us! The most precious thing in life is its uncertainty (Kenko, Essays in Idleness).

Still... what about the evanescence of the possible?


  1. Hi Roxana,
    Loved this post, and I agree that photography is loved for its magic, almost godlike power to freeze time - not simply to stop a moment, but to capture it for all time.
    But I wonder if that is why I love photography? I think I enjoy the way a photograph uncovers the unseen. It shows the world not how it is, or at least not how we usually perceive it.
    I wrote a story about the battle of the photographer. Maybe you'd enjoy it:
    Anyway, thanks for your comment on my blog, last week. As for The Story of O - no, haven't read it. It's not by Anais Nin is it?
    But, I have seen the film. How close that is to the book, I don't know. But it was an enjoyable romp. It has Udo Kier in, whom I strangely enjoy.
    If you have time, let me know what you think of my latest blog tale 'Moth'. I tried something different, wondered if it worked in any way??

  2. Great post, a.

    Hope all is well.

    Somewhere in the heaven
    Of lost futures
    The lives we might have led
    Have found their own fulfillment.
    ---D. Mahon



  3. oh yes, of course it is also about seeing the unseen, the mediated vision - the epiphany of the lens gaze - unraveling what we would never know otherwise, not even imagine possible. but here I just wanted to concentrate on the opposition in time, between fixed past and open possible futures.
    And I have not seen the film, so I cannot tell. It is by Pauline Reage, the pen-name of Anne Desclos. She wrote it to take up her lover's challenge, the philosopher Jean Paulhan, who was a big Sade-fan and thought no woman could possible write this kind of works. And it is celebrated as a masterpiece of style in French literature, that's why I asked if you knew it.
    I will come to read your stories as soon as I have some time. Thank you for your visit!

  4. I thought you might like it :-)
    oh such fabulous lines, thank you K. take care you too.

  5. to respond to this in a comment! lol
    i think barthes' comment comes from a certain point in time as regards to photography. i read camera lucida and sontag's on photography back to back recently and it's interesting to compare the two, especially in light of sontag's changing opinion later. certainly barthes position on photographic veracity seems antagonistic to his postion on the author

    liking the photo. like a forties movie. or perhaps not....!

  6. but then there was Eugène Atget - capturing all these deserted streets, like scenes captured before or after "the decisive moment". Deserted spaces full of potential - "all the things that might have happened there" - so the might have been would be possible in photography after all ?

  7. I love this photo.... Actually, I would say that it comes as close to expressing the past unreal (I first mis-typed unread; how suggestive) conditional as it is possible to come....

  8. swiss, ffflaneur, thank you for your comments, it's such a fascination subject, isn't it? I have to come back to it later, but these days I've been so busy that I couldn't think about it as much as I would have liked to...

  9. 'fascinating" subject, sorry

  10. anhaga, thank you for your visit, I'm happy you liked it! I had a real hard time choosing the picture, most of the time it works the other way round, from the picture to the words, but this time I just wanted to talk about this...

  11. another secret hiding place where (i)(we) can be sheltered from the world, and concomitantly revel in grammatical alley ways and the verdant terraces of photography.

    And what about the language of cinema, the syntax of cinema?

    Within your image, you already have a sequence - a series of images. The draw is irresistible, dearest.

  12. see, Prospero, back then when i made this post i hadn't the faintest idea i would start to think about video one day... how amazing...

    i think cinema can deliver that past unreal conditional, yes - but with this gift comes also a greater risk to which we are exposed, that of confusing what cinema has to offer (or can offer) as an art with a simple rendering of a story, or reducing cinema to its "trame narrative" as the French would say (i don't know this terminology in English).
    do you know this essay by Munier?

    i have to agree with him, not always, but still...

    and you are so right about the sequence here, my magician - i hadn't realized that until now...
    (and yes, our shelters from the world...)

  13. Thanks for the article. I got to thinking about photo-blogs, like ours, and offer these thoughts, not as critique of the article, but as an adjunct.

    Is it correct to speak of the syntax of dreams? Language has a syntax, a grammar: dreams, strictly
    speaking, do not.

    Then, one must ask, is cinema's sister the dream? Probably, but not wholly. For the sake of the
    metaphor, let's just say that they are half sisters.

    Who deviled these eggs?
    Photo-blog authors (photography and text) often fuse content with images in an open ended manner yet unhinged (free floating [bridge of dreams]) with respect to time. They present a banquet where you may choose only to eat the black olives, the poached salmon, or the deviled eggs - if you want. The author serves a Lucullan meal and it is up to the guests to choose which delicacies to feast on.

    Moreover, the blog author's pull towards audio-visual presentations, or to the cinema itself, is strong. But there are differences, as there are differences between male and female. When you read a novel, or look at a painting - you do so without a stop-watch. The film projector is the stop-watch, or more accurately, time's gatekeeper.

    Cinema is a time-based art. So is music. These are the true blood sisters.

    ...the dialog continues, dearest

  14. oh but yes, Prospero, there is a syntax of dreams, what else did Jung try to achieve? and Bachelard goes even further - he actually uses the same word, syntax, speaking of a syntax "de l'imaginaire" (a concept which translates very poorly in English because the théorie de l'imaginaire is a French thing, too speculative for the Anglo-saxon mind :-): not only our night dreams, but our entire "imaginaire" seems to be governed by certain patterns of which we are not really aware but their expression can be found in our art (giving it an underlying coherence).
    i know there are many ways to disagree with such conceptions but i do believe there is some truth to them. i am in the middle of watching the entire Tarkovski and thinking: what a fascinating study this would be, to investigate la syntaxe de l'imaginaire tarkovskien...

    and yes, i also think so, about the mysterious relationship between cinema and time. time and music. that is also the reason i have stubbornly thought i would ever do photography alone... i was (am) fascinated with the stillness, the negation of time - a refusal which, to my eyes, had much more power to symbolize exactly the opposite of eternity or frozen-ness: our frailty, our "down-going" in time (the wound - let's think of Barthes). a bit of paradox this, since one would expect the flow of time as it is present in cinema to speak more about transience than the still time of a photograph. such were my thoughts/feelings about it.
    (not to mention the fact that the Kantian apriori of time seems to have failed in my case, i have no sense for time, as if i lived outside of it :-) of space too, but that is a different discussion)

    but now i have started to see the other side as well, to enjoy diving into the flow, to want the ballet, as you said.

    i still have to ponder what you wrote here from the perspective of an aesthetics of reception, it's most interesting. but we will come to talk about this again, in one of our (rapidly multiplying) worlds.

    ps. mmm: black olives, poached salmon, deviled eggs! i didn't know the word, "deviled egg", though i love them. and now i love the sound: deviled egg, i keep repeating it :-)