Derrida

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The image hunter

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  1. We owe ourselves to death.
  2. Prendre une photographie, to take a photograph, prendre en photographie, to take a photograph but also to take in photography: is this translatable?
  3. At what moment does a photograph come to be taken?
  4. And taken by whom?
  5. I am perhaps in the process, with my words, of making off with his photographs, of taking from him the photographs that he once took.
  6. Can one appropriate another’s mourning?
  7. And if a photograph is taken as one takes on mourning [prend le deuil], that is, in separation, how would such a theft be possible?
  8. But then also, how could such a theft be avoided?
  9. I have always associated such delayed action [retardement] with the experience of the photographer.
  10. Not with photography but with the photographic experience of an “image hunter.”
  11. Before the snapshot or instamatic [instantané] that, from the lens or objective, freezes for near eternity what is naively called an image, there would thus be this delayed action.
  12. Everything is going to be in place in just a moment, at any moment now [incessamment], presently or at present, so that, later, a few moments from now, another present to come will be taken by surprise by the click and will be forever fixed, reproducible, archivable, saved or lost for this present time.
  13. One does not yet know what the image will give or show, but the interval must be objectively calculable, a certain technology is required, and this is perhaps the origin or the essence of technology.
  14. Has he not set up in front of him, in front of you, an archaic figure of this delay mechanism?
  15. Did he not decide, after some reflection, to photograph photography and its photographer, in order to let everything that has to do with photography be seen, in order to bookmark everything in this book?
  16. He would have set the animal-machine on a Delphic tripod.
  17. As in an antique store, make an inventory of everything you can count up around this photographer.
  18. Configured on the scene or stage of a single image, accumulated in the studied disorder of a prearranged taxonomy, there’s an example, a representative, a sample of all visible aspects, of all the species, idols, or simulacra of possible things, of “ideas,” if you will, of all those shown in this book.
  19. The living human, the photographer himself or his model, the one as the other, the one producing or re-producing the other, the one as the generator or the progenitor of the other.
  20. An archeology of photography.
  21. And then so many abyssal or reflecting screens.
  22. These representations, these photographs of photographs (these phantasmata, as Plato would have hastened to say, and that is why one can no longer count here, no longer count on this process of reflection, for as soon as you count on it you can no longer count, you lose your head or you lose the logos), these copies of copies that you can see in two places, at once in front of the photographer, on the body of the camera set on the tripod, and behind, behind the back of the photographer, under the parasol—these are perhaps some of the photographs of the book.
  23. The book announces itself in this way.
  24. When, exactly, does a shot [prise de due] take place?
  25. When, exactly, is it taken?
  26. And thus where?
  27. Given the workings of a delay mechanism, given the “time lag” or “time difference,” if I can put it this way, is the photograph taken when the photographer takes the thing in view and focuses on it, when he adjusts the diaphragm and sets the timing mechanism, or else when the click signals the capture and the impression?
  28. Or later still, at the moment of development?
  29. And should we give in to the vertigo of this metonymy and this infinite mirroring when they draw us into the folds of an endless reflexivity?
  30. Imagine him, yes him, through the images he has “taken.”
  31. Walking along the edge, as I said just a moment ago, of the abyss of his images, I am retracing the footsteps of the photographer.
  32. He bears in advance the mourning for a city owed to death, a city due for death, and two or three times rather than one, according to different temporalities: mourning for an ancient, archeological, or mythological city, to be sure, mourning for a city that is gone and that shows the body of its ruins; but also mourning for a city that he knows, as he is photographing it, in the present of his snapshots, will be gone or will disappear tomorrow, a city that is already condemned to pass away and whose witnesses have, indeed, disappeared since the “shot” was taken; and finally, the third anticipated mourning, he knows that other photographs have captured sights that, though still visible today, at the present time, at the time this book appears, will have to be destroyed tomorrow.
  33. They are threatened with death or promised to death.
  34. Three deaths, three instances, three temporalities of death in the eyes of photography—or if you prefer, since photography makes appear in the light of the phainesthai, three “presences” of disappearance, three phenomena of the being that has “disappeared” or is”gone”: the first before the shot, the second since the shot was taken, and the last later still, for another day, though it is imminent, after the appearance of the print.
  35. But if the imminence of what is thus due for death suspends the coming due, as the epoch of every photograph does, it signs at the same time the verdict.
  36. It confirms and seals its ineluctable authority: this will have to die, the mise en demure is underway, notification has been given, the countdown has already started, there is only a delay, the time to photograph, though when it comes to death no one even dreams of escaping it—or dreams that anything will be spared.
  37. I am thinking of the death of Socrates, of the Phaedo and the Crito. Of the incredible reprieve that delayed the date of execution for so many days after the judgment.
  38. They awaited the sails, their appearance off in the distance, in the light, at a precise, unique, and inevitable moment—fatal like a click.

Thirty-eight selections from Athens, Still Remains, Jacques Derrida.

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Notes upon the mystic writing pad.

I’m starting to imagine that I’m putting together a kind of archive (the plural Weymouths suggesting a collection, a repetition, multiples), but it’s also reasonable to think that I may be taking one (or several) archives apart. Every history or collection or body of knowledge I come across in relation to Weymouth seems like fair game for re-thinking, re-framing or deconstruction. In Archive Fever, Derrida writes of typographic traces and the surface (substrate) upon which one writes (keeping records), the externalization of memory (hypomnesis) — ideas I’ve been trying to wrap my mind around since Rome. And the archiviolithic (a force that leaves no trace of itself behind — destruction of the archive).

And then —

“Archivable meaning is also and in advance codetermined by the structure that archives. It begins with the printer.”

Derrida writes of the “mystic pad” — an exterior, archival model of the psyche’s recording and memorization apparatus. He’s referring to the short essay “A Note Upon the Mystic Writing Pad” (PDF) (1925), where Freud outlines his theory: the erasable wax tablet as a perfect illustration of the tenuous link between perception and memory — a form of note-taking that is both unlimited and yet retains a permanent trace:

“None the less, I do not think it is too far-fetched to compare the celluloid and waxed paper cover with the system Pcpt.-Cs. (perception consciousness) and its protective shield, the wax slab with the unconscious behind them, and the appearance and disappearance of the writing with the flickering-up and passing-away of consciousness in the process of perception.”

A beautiful idea in its simplicity and the richness that comes along with the metaphor (drawing, writing, erasure, forgetfulness, impressions on a skin). And I can’t help but try to conjure up Freud’s premonition, 85 years later, in the form of today’s pads:

“It is true, too, that, once the writing has been erased, the Mystic Pad cannot ‘reproduce’ it from within; it would be a mystic pad indeed if, like our memory, it could accomplish that.”

A Note Upon the Mystic Writing Pad

What if a book could be a mystic pad, just as Freud describes? Not a Kindle book (flickering-up and passing away), but a book printed on paper, or a series of 12 books on paper. Somehow, in the construction of the material at hand, in the design of the book(s), perception stays on the surface (the stimuli), but opens up (gives up space) for memory to come and go, associations and impressions. An unfixed, indefinite presentation of history…an archive of indeterminacy. I’m not sure what this looks like yet.

So much material, everywhere I look. From a map of Native American trails to the original 1642 deed between the Wampanoag and the English settlers to Frank Lloyd Wright’s recollection of Weymouth from the three years he spent there as a child, to the River Wey to the Weymouth curb to the Osmington White Horse of 1808. And Hal. Each hub implies an entire archive of memory — separate memoirs, histories, collections. Data to be grabbed (tweets, weather records, google images), photos to be taken (the Portland stone buildings of London and NYC).

I’m starting to see one goal forming, sooner rather than later: the creation of a score.