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Telling grief II

Author: joe

Tuesday, 27 March, 2012 - 22:34

From a lounge

Eventually it occurred to me that the problem lay in my attitude to representation. Somehow I was short-circuiting several thoughts: one, that an image of something represents the entire extent of its referent; a second, that an image of something is never an adequation of its referent; and a third thought, that, to the contrary, an image is just a slit in the fabric of reality, allowing the viewer in this world to prise their way into the world of the referent.

I think back and imagine myself looking at a sheet of A4, on which an aunt has printed some old family portraits. There is my father as a boy, amongst his siblings. There he is as a young man, long locks and an art-school waistcoat. Even with his boy-looks and tank-top short-trousers pulled-down socks, I can see the features and lines I know and love so well, the line of the jaw, the direct look, the eyebrows, the ears - the older face that hangs in my memory is all there somehow, unripe and waiting. I can imagine him before and after the still frame, though with an incongruously deep voice, turning to a sister and prodding the soft flesh of their upper arm, tongue grinning between teeth; or scrunching his shoulders up around his ears in a comic villain pose. He was frozen in just that pose in a photo from his wedding day, a jaunty, wry look on his face as though he were stealing a prize.

The images are openings into that world. I can see round the corners, watch movements play out: I can see how he walked on out of that freeze-frame, hear how he talked to the wedding guest with his head cocked on one side, scooped up a thrilled child in his arms; or as boy, see how he wriggled with impatience as the photographer prepared, or jumped up after the deed and ran out of the room chasing his brother. Of course the picture is an artificial and ephemeral fragment, just a flake of a sloughed off skin of time; but it is a metonymic record, connected to a real moment whose veracity I can taste, whose world I can sense, and whose bursting inexhaustibility is tangible. If only I could so fully inhabit the laws of physics, so attune to the workings of time and space, perhaps I could follow the path, molecule by molecule, causal link by causal link, back to that moment in the fullness of its presence.

So much for the photograph as a memento: an opening onto a world, into which I could leap. This is a photograph at which I look, as I can look at any - a snapshot of a stranger is also that much pregnant with a hidden, discoverable universe. I do not need to know the face or recognise the place: my imagination has already worked the details out before I'm even conscious of them, and start to dimly realise the scene out of frame, the events after shot, the state of mind, the ambiguous presence, the great swell of time. But against all this is the photograph I should be able to take. The image I should somehow produce must have the entirety of this world inside it, and placed there by me! It mist be adequate to the task of suggesting to the unknown, non-specific viewer, all the nuance and interconnected wholeness of the world from which it comes. What hope can there be of producing such an image?

I suddenly see that this unbearably heavy pressure is that of the author of the narrative, the one who must trust that the words written are just the right weaving together of threads, just the delicately correct choices of what to write in and what to leave unannounced but suggested by the lacunae, the gaps which themselves are the very spaces into which the narratee is invited, and which provide the room in which the imaginary fleshing out and habitation of the storyworld occurs. Who would want to be that author, the one who must commemorate adequately the life of the one they have lost? Who would ever feel they can articulate the loss? What memorial image or line of words would ever be adequate? Who wouldn't feel that their efforts failed to do justice, and didn't diminish the dead? Nothing I can say will ever be enough - and so perhaps the only thing to say is ... nothing

Categories: memorial, bereavement, narrative, representation, grief, image,
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