Waterdrops on a gerbera

I feel so weary, and hid away in the evening. Reading Albert Camus.

Man cannot do without beauty, and this is what our era pretends to want to disregard. It steels itself to attain the absolute and authority; it wants to transfigure the world before having exhausted it, to set it to rights before having understood it. Whatever it may say, our era is deserting this world.

I had been waiting for Camera Lucida by Barthes for ages. I am captured by the thought that it was one of his last works. It is a treat, to say the least.

A paradox: the same century invented History and Photography. But History is a memory fabricated according to positive formulas, a pure intellectual discourse which abolishes mythic Time; and a Photograph is a certain but fugitive testimony; so that everything, today, prepares our race for this impotence: to be no longer able to conceive duration, affectively or symbolically: the age of the Photograph is also the age of revolutions, contestations, assassinations, explosions, in short, of impatiences, of everything which denies ripening.–And no doubt, the astonishment of “that-has-been” will also disappear. It has already disappeared: I am, I don’t know why, one of its last witnesses (a witness of the Inactual), and this book is its archaic trace.

What is it that will be done away with, along with this photograph which yellows, fades, and will someday be thrown out, if not by me–too superstitious for that–at least when I die? Not only “life” (this was alive, this posed live in front of the lens), but also, sometimes–how to put it?–love. In front of the only photograph which I find of my father and mother together, this couple who I know loved each other, I realize: it is love-as-treasure which is going to disappear forever; for once I am gone, no one will any longer be able to testify to this: nothing will remain but an indifferent Nature. This is a laceration so intense, so intolerable, that alone against his century, Michelet conceived of History as love’s Protest: to perpetuate not only life but also what he called, in his vocabulary so outdated today, the Good, Justice, Unity, etc. .

Interestingly, I had only learnt about the book in the course of reading Susan Sontag, when I learnt that both books had often been picked up for criticism. But I didn’t mind the fact that both books are polemical and more literary than factual, I don’t mind being a tourist if Sontag and Barthes are my tour guides, of sorts. But I never really believed Sontag. I wonder if you might know what I mean.

In the book, Sontag expresses her views on the history and present-day role of photography in capitalist societies as of the 1970s. Sontag discusses many examples of modern photography. Among these, she contrasts Diane Arbus’s work with that of Depression-era documentary photography commissioned by the Farm Security Administration.

She also explores the history of American photography in relation to the idealistic notions of America put forth by Walt Whitman and traces these ideas through to the increasingly cynical aesthetic notions of the 1970s, particularly in relation to Arbus and Andy Warhol.

Sontag argues that the proliferation of photographic images had begun to establish within people a “chronic voyeuristic relation”[1] to the world around them. Among the consequences of photography is that the meaning of all events is leveled and made equal. This idea did not originate with Sontag, who often synthesized European cultural thinkers with her particular eye toward America.

As she argues, perhaps originally with regard to photography, the medium fostered an attitude of anti-intervention. Sontag says that the individual who seeks to record cannot intervene, and that the person who intervenes cannot then faithfully record, for the two aims contradict each other. In this context, she discusses in some depth, the relationship of photography to politics.

I don’t know how to shake off the loneliness. I feel unfulfilled. Terrified. There is a yawning emptiness which seeps in the moment I return to solitude. And yet the irony is that I crave for that solitude, I need those moments to stay alive and work. There are so many points left in the comments sheets, so much things left undone, I want to cry out to my boss and apologize that there is a thousand things that I wish I could have done better. I wish I could arise, that a voice could speak those words I long to say in the light, I wish I could have that confidence which my team-members exude, I miss hiding in legal issues and having a simple meal of chap jae and tofu chigae in the oldschool korean restaurant near my old hostel, under the dim lights, the warmth of words shared over the dishes.

I don’t know when I will be happy again.


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