Saturday, March 31, 2007


Edward Weston, Pepper, 1930, silver print, 9 1/2 x 7 9/16 inches, The Lane Collection, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

To the extent that photography can approximate the physical, the closest it comes to actual “touch” is in the contact print. Later in his life, Sudek abandoned the enlarger for this, if you will, more intimate form of printing. The depth of detail is unsurpassed in any other method, and the result is a one-to-one correspondence between the negative and the positive, a record, so to speak, of the entire conversation between light and the photosensitive medium.

During the archaeological expeditions in the basement of my grandparent’s house, I came across a home-made contact printer. My grandfather had fashioned it out of rudimentary materials, or so it seemed. I had no idea, at the time, what it was, and abandoned it along with other artifacts of indeterminate function.

To the extent that language can approximate the physical, the closest it comes to actual “touch,” the equivalent of the contact print, is poetry. Why does this make me think of love? Embodied, disembodied--all language flowing in and out of the tactile world. In Penetrable Air, I had written this scene as witnessed by a soon-to-be-conceived child:

This scene always appeared before her both as story and memory, Did she watch this from the ceiling or the sky? waiting for the right moment to pour herself into them? She had hovered above the room for so long, disembodied, not feeling or hearing or smelling, but yearning to experience the weight of flesh, the confinement of skin, the delirious sensation of taste and touch and sound. Watching the girl on that bed below her with her eyes pressed closed like petals, looking so peaceful, as they wrapped their wings around one another like pale bats, unaware that their spirits bled in and out of one another’s bodies. The last thing she clearly remembers is this: that the little pearls of him were held inside of her; and then she just slipped in between a gasp and a sigh, into those luminous drops of fluid, and it was done.

How many times had I written and rewritten that passage, trying to strike the exact chord, to recapture something I had, at least consciously, forgotten. My body had not. Perhaps twenty years passed before I realized that much too early in life I had crossed a threshold--not merely the one that most of us eventually cross in letting go of childhood through lovemaking, but the one of entering fully into another person’s spirit, like molecules passing through a permeable membrane. I went on from that place into an exile of sorts, carrying along the misconception that each encounter would open onto that same landscape. But I had no idea what country I had left behind, or that I might never find my way back. I am still searching for evidence of my own passage, trying to find the way.

Friday, March 30, 2007

the negative

“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 impatience, 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.” --Barthes, Camera Lucida

I am not unaware of the irony inherent in my own narrative, the pitting of time against presence and the adopting of two media, two conveyances (writing and photograph) as means of perpetual impediment, of the impossibility of true conveyance for the merely poetic --perpetual deferment, rather than actual deliverance, not ever “a bridge to the Real, a scaffolding to be discarded.”

Perhaps I can invoke the mythos of landscape in my defense, of coming of age in a place where, as Adrienne Rich writes, “drought is the epic.” Or in Sudek’s ineffable words, “What would I be looking for when I did not find what I wanted to find?” When my grandfather became a physical absence, he only intensified in presence, and this Derridian notion was arrived at intuitively, through, if you will, the “concrete” experience of desolation. I was an archaeologist before I ever knew I was engaged in a project of collecting, of redeeming through artifacts what had been lost psychically, but what remained in some physical embodiment, if only as vestige, as ruin.

But what am I hoping to piece together from the fragments--evidence of love? The angle of incidence, the moment captured in an image--can these ever be evidence of anything other than the limited information they literally contain? When I return to the Caprock to visit my mother and grandmother, they are intrigued by my project, and willingly offer what scraps of history they can to elucidate my narrative. Most recently by grandmother told me the story of her first “date” with my grandfather, accompanied, of course, by his father. The two men launched into a lengthy and highly speculative discussion of astronomy, while my grandmother sat nearby, alienated on the mere Earth. They shared a bedroom only briefly. I never, not once, saw them touch. My last memory of my grandfather was his furious refusal to go to the hospital when his body started the rapid descent toward death. I could not cry.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

the moment as redemption

“Your theoretical wish to come visit you over there [New York] won’t happen until my next life,” he wrote in 1970. “Now there’s not much time left to have new impressions--not in my visual repertory because I can’t even realize all that I’ve bit into here…” --Josef Sudek

If Sudek had arrived for his retrospective exhibition in New York in 1974, he would have been ten years early. She would still have been sleeping in her east-facing bedroom in the stark cold light of the plains, displaced by the predominant metaphor of sky. But I like to imagine them, still, he an old man of almost eighty years, and she a girl of almost eighteen, colliding on Broadway at dawn and knowing that this was no accident.

Alternatively I imagine that they meet over and over again, many times, punctuated by the poignancy of their respective vulnerabilities, which each could see in the other as clearly as the sun in the sky (missing arm, fractured heart). If they were to meet, over and again, in the startling clarity of wholeness, amidst the multiple collisions of ineptitude and defense, which would win out as the “overarching narrative”?

I don’t believe in overarching narratives any more, so I choose to believe in the arch-supremacy, the redemption of “the moment.” Let this, then, be the moment: A girl walks along a sidewalk paved with flagstones, unaware that as she walks her shoes strike a particular note, and that as this sound rings out it ruptures the very fabric of time, just as an old man in Prague presses the shutter to capture the image of the frozen apple blossoms. The tree will not bear fruit this year, but he will have the photo, the moment of the blossom entombed in crystal. He will remember.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

on the history of optics: angle of incidence

“Johannes Kepler presented an explanation of the principles involved in the convergent/divergent lens microscopes and telescopes. In the same treatise, he suggested that a telescope could be constructed using a converging objective and a converging eye lens and described a combination of lenses that would later become known as the telephoto lens. He discovered total internal reflection, but was unable to find a satisfactory relationship between the angle of incidence and the angle of refraction”

Prague, 1951

Behind the velvet curtain of the camera, he was able to obtain an oblique relation to objects before him. He saw differently, repositioned himself with regard to the object in such a way that he could see it purely, as form, as light and shadow. While it lost a certain elemental materiality, it gained an ineffable quality of spirit. All the world shifted slightly off the direct approach, into the poetic.

New York, 1987
She knew that when she translated the language of the Caprock into the unfamiliar tongue of a floating city, that she would not lose the fundamental orientation of hope, for what was hope but a romanticized notion of possibility, a place other than the here, the past and the future forever synthesized into a highest term? That is how it is possible that they connected at all, through the oblique. It is in the context of the everyday and quotidian that people meet and talk and make love and live lives; in the realm of the oblique, time does not exist, as neither do meeting or talking or making love.

As the mathematician said, “a language not for time, but for all time.”

Saturday, March 24, 2007

cloud chief gypsum

my grandmother, june c. 1939

“Mythic history has a critical advantage over professional history...It's landscape associative. Professional history seems to regard a fascination with place as antiquarian. But [my theology] mythology is all about place. Mythology makes ordinary places the scenes of great events, thus giving them extraordinary power."
--Dan Flores, Caprock Canyonlands

When you placed your ear against my great-grandmother’s chest, (borrowing Delia Falconer's image) you could hear waterfalls. It was thus that water became displaced by sky as the central metaphor for my existence. Not that water did not compete, or vie imperiously for its rightful place, it is just that sky became, overall, predominant.

She was a red-headed beauty and a dancer who gave lessons at the Crazy Water Hotel in Mineral Wells. He was a minor league baseball pitcher, Kid Callahan, and a notorious womanizer. After they married, my grandmother (who was maybe three or four at the time) recalls a fight over the aforementioned womanizing. Whether or not this played into the waterfall condition I don’t know, but they soon thereafter relocated to a more arid climate: thus, the sky.

The canyonlands are a mythical place, at least they once were. At one time there were no roads and to get to the canyon’s depths required a strenuous hike. My grandmother (pictured) was petite and fair, and once fainted from exhaustion on a summer walk down into the canyon and had to be carried out by her companions. When I was a child there were still a few remnants of the once-massive herds of buffalo.

We have begun again to cultivate the wild grasses that once shimmered across the plains. The little bluestem and grammas and buffalo grass. There are still coyotes, and (intermittently) the Sandhill Cranes. The cotton is still irrigated with water from the Red and Little Red rivers which carved the canyon over a million years ago and formed the Ogallala Aquifer.

Some sources seem too sacred to plunder. And yet, we do.

Friday, March 23, 2007

archaeology II: fragments collected to redeem the shattered world

(for Adam, who is also a collector)

“The Passagen-Werk was to be a “materialist philosophy of history,” constructed with “the utmost concreteness” out of historical material itself, the outdated remains of those nineteenth century buildings, technologies, and commodities…But it was precisely Benjamin’s point to bridge the gap between everyday experience and traditional academic concerns, actually to achieve the phenomenological hermeneutics of the profane world which Heidegger only pretended.” Susan Buck-Morss, The Dialectics of Seeing: Walter Benjamin and the Arcades Project

According to the mystic Isaac Luria, when God created the world, vessels were formed to hold the Divine Light. In the words of Rabbi Jeffrey Summit, “This light was meant to radiate out, fill the world and illuminate everything around us. But as God poured the Light into the vessels, the light was so powerful that the vessels couldn’t contain it and with a huge explosion, they shattered and sparks of this divine light became imbedded into the world of matter. These sparks of the divine were now trapped in the material world; God’s presence was hidden and was unable to shine forth. It then became our task to free these holy sparks.”

It is a myth of sorts, and I like to think of Benjamin’s project of assembling mundane objects and aphorisms, or Sudek’s arrangement of yesterday’s lunch, as an example of archaeology in this spirit. Is it the same as trying to redeem the past in a box full of negatives? I don’t know. I see us all as collectors of one kind or another, struggling for meaning, always lost in the “forgetting of being,” as the world hums along with its apple blossoms and unmemorable sandwiches and lovemaking and laughter and loss. The divine light trapped in the objects of the world, the patterns of light trapped in the negative, which is, after all, not ever the thing itself, but its absolute opposite, its absolute absence, made more poignant perhaps, by the evidence, more pristine than mere memory, that it once existed.

These are always the thoughts of the girl half-awake on the G-train plummeting headlong toward Flatbush Avenue. Even at eighteen she already mourns and will always mourn the sight of a couple half hidden beneath umbrellas reflecting the glow of streetlamps in a midnight rain in Ft. Green Park and the haunting sound of a saxophone somewhere beneath an open window on Washington Square; but she does not know that with time she will experience an intense anguish for the transience of such moments, that one day she will come to understand the work of the collector, the furious gathering of the inchoate assemblage toward redemption. When do we begin to search for what is lost, for Being? Perhaps only when we realize that have become separate from it.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007


Note: the collections are manifold: the equipment, the memories, the fascinations and obsessions, the collections of desires.

“The cult of remembrance of loved ones, absent or dead, offers a last refuge of the cult value of the picture. For the last time the aura emanates from the early photograph in the fleeting expression of a human face. This is what constitutes their melancholy, incomparable beauty.” --Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”

Prague 1976
He remembered her. He thought, one day, she might walk through the door of his studio, apple blossoms from the crooked tree in the garden falling from her hair onto the dusty linoleum. How would he know her? By the fissure that opened to reveal the most desolate landscape he had ever imagined, the one he dreamed of and longed to photograph.

He knew the contours of the terrain as surely as he knew her body, both living in his mind since his return from the war, since the flash of light that erased time, if only long enough for him to see into her soul.

At first he had searched the countryside for the place that only appeared in dreams--dry creek, red earth, twisted juniper. He lost the ability to distinguish between her voice and the sound of the wind. And there were words, unfamiliar shapes in his mouth. He listened with exquisite attention to the notes of music he would one day play for her, and he catalogued, with the precise care of the archaeologist salvaging some fragile artifact from the earth, every detail of the mundane objects of his world. Perhaps she would never walk through that door. Then it would be his duty to preserve the apple blossoms, the drop of rain on the glass, the paper from an unmemorable sandwich--someday she would see the evidence that he had existed, she would decipher from the decisive moment of light, the beauty he beheld. What would I be looking for when I did not find what I wanted to find?

Tuesday, March 20, 2007


At Deweys (Panorama with tripod and cut negatives) October 7, 1949

“What the Photograph reproduces to infinity has occurred only once: the Photograph mechanically repeats what could never be repeated existentially. In the Photograph, the event is never transcended for something else: the Photograph always leads the corpus I need back to the body I see; it is the absolute particular, the sovereign Contingency, matte and somehow stupid, the This…in short, what Lacan calls the Tuché, the Occasion, the Encounter, the Real, in its indefatigable expression.” --Barthes, Camera Lucida

Barthes, apparently, was not dealing with negatives, but with the final prints that the artists themselves sought to frame for public view. With the negative, there are no finite encounters. There is a unique existential experience for an infinity of effects, an exponential derivation from the fundamental source: the negative.

This image (At Dewey’s) is really a beautiful negative that would not scan well, but I took a liking to the vague ghostliness of it--perhaps only made possible by my knowledge of the extent of information that the negative itself contains--it’s the “tip of the iceburg” theory of writing, but we all are only ever the tips of iceburgs, no?--I will upload the “true” image in the future, and then you will know as much as I do, about this negative, the old juniper--about my grandfather.

We are in what we see, what we choose to privilege. My grandfather and his father loved the math of photography--each print inscribed with meticulous calculations of exposure to light and printing technique. I have great respect for this, but no patience for it. I have studied the processes of the photographers that I am in awe of, most singularly Ansel Adams and Weston and Stieglitz (the incomparable Sudek). The old techniques, the large, thick silver gelatin through which light would filter, leaving a path of image in its wake, seems sculptural almost, intimate and physical--and dangerous. What have we traded that for? Immediacy and transience and sterility.

There was an exhibit last year at the Ransom Center, “The Image Wrought” which featured contemporary photographers who were experimenting with “archaic" techniques: “Photographers are using 19th-century processes to reassert the hand of the artist to photography. Wrought from silver, gold, mercury and iron, the resulting images have a strong physicality and presence.”


Monday, March 19, 2007

november 14, 1942

"What were we in love with? That is an awkward question. If I were to reply that we loved each other it would be for the sake of expediency and politeness. But it is only a half-truth unsuited to this time in that Blue Mountains town when the clouds at the end of every street were filled with the grand dreams of elsewhere. It is more accurate to say that our lives were lived in the service of these clouds which took the forms of our desires. We loved them with a passion that expanded and filled the sky. It was our clouds, for example, which boys carried in photographs to the trenches. The sight comforted them for they knew that these were different from German clouds which were full of dead men's souls. It was among our clouds that consumptives learned to chew mist instead of words, to grasp love or be smothered by it. Their bodies mapped the symptoms of our strange yearnings: our thirst to hear voices in the air, to feel the liquid tremors of the earth. If you place your head on a consumptive's chest you can hear waterfalls. I know. I have done it."
--Delia Falconer, The Service of Clouds

Sunday, March 18, 2007


H.C. Pipkin, Winter Cedars, Palo Duro, 1947

“Even the most perfect reproduction of a work of art is lacking one element: its presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be…the authenticity of a thing is the essence of all that is transmissible from its beginning, ranging from its substantive duration to its testimony to the history which it has experienced.”
--Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”

I don’t remember when the idea occurred to me to reprint my grandfather’s negatives. I spent long hours down in the cellar up to my elbows in dust, reading letters he wrote to my grandmother in the war, trying to figure out the meaning of excised words. When had he stopped speaking to us? When we were much younger he taught us to play chess, told us stories, let us fashion animals out of his pipe cleaners. As I grew older he rarely left his room. My grandmother nailed a sign to his door that said, “Please don’t feed the animals.” We didn't. It stayed on the door long after he died.

His soul died, I think, long before his body did. Of what? Dreams unfulfilled? Some secret pain? Did my grandmother know the source of his longing? Did anyone? His life is like those war letters, all the critical words removed so that no one could ascertain what was truly important--his location in this world, his orientation, what he had truly meant to say.

Annie Dillard wrote, “We are here to witness.” Watching the emerging images of a sixty-year old negative I feel the responsibility of the witness, but have no idea what it is I am witnessing. Perhaps just the act of bearing the burden of these rotting boxes of fragile images--some “unique existence at the place where it happens to be” is all that is asked of me. Just to see.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

the longing road

H.C. Pipkin, Pictorial, October 7, 1947

for s.

I turn onto that highway again, the one that I drove in the dark and in the rain, though my eyes were unable to make out much more than the white stripes of the shoulder, beneath the black pressing sky. You were at the end of that road, and even now, when my tires touch that highway knots form in my stomach. I gasp.

There are other roads, hundreds of unmarked, unkept ones that wind away from my heart to remote places, the dead ends, where there is nothing, only the wind. Sometimes it feels like I am dying inside because that sound is so far away--here there are cars and sirens and music, but not the wide-sky deafening drone of a Norther. Where I was most empty, I was also most complete.

Rifling through my grandfather’s and great grandfather’s negatives I am struck by the resonance between us. I see what they saw as sublime--the twisted cedar by a dry creek in the canyon, an expanse of grassland top-heavy with an approaching storm.

I am struck, too, by the inadequacies we share--to love language and light and image more than understanding and compassion and hope. The reflection more than the reality.

I once went to Mexico to search for a friend. I carried a tear-stained post card in my hand with what remained of an address--after days of dead ends, I was finally pointed to a heavy wooden door. Where there would have been a handle there was only a hole, through which I peered to behold that the door was tied to what seemed an endless procession of empty tequila bottles that would all crash and shatter if I dared open the door.

These are the traps we lay for those that we love, those that most long to find us.

Thursday, March 15, 2007


In the spring semester of my program at NYU, I wrote and rewrote the story, “Redemption Shoes” and kept re-writing all the way back to Austin and for many years after I had abandoned writing for philosophy. It never unfolded any farther than the seven corners of Ft.Green--the blanket of snow that covered the streets below which had never before, as far as I know, been quiet--the girl with the magical shoes which she had procured on one of her many adventures through Greenwich Village, repeated herself perpetually, dreaming and being dreamed by the reclusive photographer, a century before, in Prague. The sky was always grey. She might notice, not a flock of birds, but a dim shadow of a flock of birds, just at the moment, repeated forever, that his shutter snapped in another fold of time’s cloth.

But maybe they changed just so slightly with each rendering? Perhaps if I had continued tirelessly to re-write them, with the passage of many, many years, they might have finally found their way to one another, resolved the minutiae of space-time mathematics through persistence, and finally resolved the cruel temporal dilemma that plagued both of them.

I have the impression that the world repeats…

“Chaos looks toward everything that repeats, reproduces, grows, decays, unfolds, flows, springs, vibrates, seethes..for the reader that is attuned to Chaos there will be an opening upon unexpected corridors allowing passage from one point to another in the labyrinth.”
--Antonio Benítez-Rojo, The Repeating Island

Wednesday, March 14, 2007


The wish to capture evanescent reflections is not only impossible…but the mere desire alone, the will to do so, is blasphemy. God created man in His Own image, and no man-made machine may fix the image of God.
Leipzig City Advertiser, 1839

Brooklyn, Winter 1987

By mid-fall she was very pregnant. I recall her on a Saturday, wandering the grounds of Pratt Institute, the leaves unimaginably vivid. She was writing a play* and the dialogue wafted in and out of her vision, and she was uncertain about many things, but none more than the future which she held at bay, perpetually, by a firm scrim composed of her own mental chatter.

He was not happy. They had driven up to the Bronx months ago, taken an elevator to a fifty-fourth-floor stuffy high-rise apartment filled with dozens of cats and dogs. It reeked of urine. They adopted two kittens and took them home to the Ft. Green apartment. But he should have known it would not be enough. She wandered in and out of various manifestations of herself. Sometimes she was like a child, petulant and irrational. Sometimes she was even wise, sometimes alluring and provocative. But he never knew who he was coming home to.

Her shoes no longer rang out that clear, arresting sound when she walked along the streets of Brooklyn. The world had settled back into its uninspired state, its cold, grey facades and sounds of traffic and barking dogs. What had happened?

*This was The Bishop of Brooklyn: A Tale of Breaking, Entering, and Cable Television

the forgetting of being -- 12 march 2007

“And today?” writes Heidegger in Quest for Being, “The age of phenomenological philosophy seems to be over. It is already taken as something past which is recorded historically along with other schools of philosophy. But in what is most its own phenomenology is not a school. It is the possibility of thinking, at times changing and only thus persisting, of corresponding to the claim of what is thought.”

“The rise of the sciences propelled man into the tunnels of specialized disciplines. The more he advanced in knowledge, the less clearly he could see either the world as a whole or his own self, and he plunged further into what Husserl’s pupil Heidegger called, in a beautiful almost magical phrase, ‘the forgetting of being.’
--Milan Kundera, The Art of the Novel

Theme: redemption
I can’t remember now why we had gone down there--some art project or other, and we needed miscellaneous junk. I had been there many years before, and was surprised to find that it was still in business across from the railroad tracks in the someday bustling metropolis of Buda, Texas. It had not changed. It had the feel of snooping around in your grandparents’ attic--accumulations of deeds and records and intimate family letters and photos, all strewn about in piles. I found it hard to balance the tension between the intimacy and the anonymity, as if you were being given the opportunity to look deeply into someone’s soul, and the only price of admission was a dime, a quarter, maybe a dollar if the woman with the bleached hair and bejeweled pince nez thought you were overly interested in your finds--but you had only to express the inconsequence of it, threaten to put it back, to drive the price back down.

Monday, March 12, 2007


anonymous negative, c. 1950

I wouldn't have known that I was searching for him through light. But for so many years I realize I have been trying to interpret the warm haze, the luminous mass reflecting off the leaves of trees and grass--breathing, glowing light.

This is a simple story, a quest for a grandfather, a man, a photographer. The man, the grandfather, is always in shadow, mysterious and subconscious. He pulls on a granddaughter's thoughts like a black hole. He orients her. She turns to look for him, not like a sunflower toward the sun, but like Persephone toward Hades, without resistance, resigned to her fate. Because of the light—because of the shared understanding of something taken for granted, something fabulous, fragile, and vulnerable, she is looking for him every moment she apprehends perfect light. He, too, was aware of it, (he may still be), hovering in that state of light-likeness, waiting, like a breath, to dissolve, but the light-likeness is so precious, so tentative, that he dare not think. He has found a state of still apprehension where he expends no energy, consumes no energy—where he simply and quietly apprehends. She feels him, hovering there, in the ether, aware, but without motion, eternally apprehending.

When she walks the streets of her neighborhood in the late afternoon when the light is most dense, most palpable, she strains to recall the names of flowers she once knew. The names hover somewhere on the perimeter of her consciousness, flirtatious, enticing, elusive. She realizes that this is what it must have been like for her grandfather, preoccupied as he was with light, reaching for the name of a daughter or wife, hovering somewhere near, the face recognizable, but the name, the name…

Part I
Tiny Historical Accidents

New York City, Spring 1987

She is walking down a quiet Brooklyn sidewalk. Unlike other sidewalks, it is paved with flagstones beneath which, over time, the earth has shifted, so that now, as the heel of her boot strikes the surface of the stone, a clear sound rings out. She is unaware that this sound changes the tissue of the air around her--that time cringes uneasily and recoils from its standard procession. She does not yet know that hope ripples outward upon the waves of this sound, permeating the air around her and the ancient bricks of the row-houses that line the sleeping street.
It is 6 AM. She has left a man beneath a thin quilt upon a bare mattress in the middle of a room in an almost empty apartment with tall windows overlooking the seven corners of Ft. Green Avenue (what were the others?). It is beginning to snow. She exists simultaneously in his dream and as a figure slowly disappearing within the entrance of the G Train.

Prague, Winter 1942
When it stops snowing, he arranges the objects on the windowsill. The light forces its way through the grime on the glass. It appears thick, like mud. He places an empty bottle, a dead flower, a cascade of wrinkled cellophane—the light lazily moves among them. He is ready. He loads the film, presses the trigger, and the whirring of the shutter stretches time across a crevasse of anticipation. With a snap he is once again lost in the arranging, in the viscosity of light.
Since the Russians occupied the streets of Prague, he has existed quietly and anonymously within the walls of his small apartment. Yet, through the one window that overlooks the street (which?) the world mirrors itself in the lens of his imagination, opening a shaft in the dark recesses of his mind. He spends hours watching the light, how it tentatively enters through the window in the morning, how it seems to gather density and weight throughout the day, then grows crisp and cold, almost to the point of shattering like a sheath of ice.
Light, he thinks, is like a woman--breathy and sensual, but elusive. She enters his bedroom, touches his skin, the stump of flesh that was once a limb. She caresses. She bends. Just as he reaches out his hand, a cloud passes between him and the object of his desire.

September 2, 2004
What is a collection if not a physical catalog of desire?
--Michael Taussig, My Cocaine Museum

I wonder about the history of optics, which makes me think about Galileo and astronomy—that my exploration of my grandfather is somehow connected to astronomy intrigues me--that the desolate landscape that is the Caprock is interwoven with the stars, that there is no meaningless connection anywhere.

Seeing the world through the lens of lonely man in Prague, I am reminded of Husserl, and the birth of phenomenology. If we can never be certain of anything other then the constructs of our minds, these phenomena of perception, then what is a photograph? What is it that draws us into the world interpreted through another person's constructs of perception? Barthes writes:

The realists, of whom I am one, and of whom I was already one when I asserted that the Photograph was an image without code—even if, obviously, certain codes do inflect our reading of it—the realists do not take the photograph for a "copy" of reality, but for an emanation of past, reality: a magic, not an art.

Here is the world through a dirty pane of glass, a curtain, a fading flower. Can these be any more real, any more meaningful to Sudek, than the soft touch of Sophie's small hand?

We are raised among images. I remember my childhood through fading Polaroids in thick albums that my brother and sister and I leafed through year after year . Would we have existed otherwise?

I decide to fashion some sort of methodology. I decide to always begin with what it before me, what is concrete. So I begin with the collection. I have carried my collection to many cities. If I knew how to use the items in my collection, if I employed them in some craft, then there would be no need for a methodology, the collection itself would have no hidden meanings. As Benjamin says, "Every passion borders on the chaotic, but the collector's passion borders on the chaos of memories." But isn't it even something beyond that—beyond memories. The memories are there or not, but it's the meaning, the framework, the architecture—the fetishization of the objects that raises the whole undertaking to a higher plane—the plane of desire, the ether where dreams are born and become real. We carry these secret desires within us, we invest our collections with them, with the almost conscious belief that the sacred objects of our collections (the "catalog of our desires") serve as intermediaries between what we hope for and what has not yet to come to pass.

My collection is small, humble. I have three German cameras manufactured before World War II, and a motion picture camera of the same vintage. There are also various highly utilitarian, yet beautiful, accoutrements -- mute icons of a world that opens up beyond the viewfinder, that would only speak audibly on paper floating in a darkened bath of solution—photography as language, as metaphor, as method of conveyance.

These objects that sit on my shelves and collect dust are unique to me because they served as interlocutors of passion for the man who marshaled over our childhood lives, more as a spectre that a human dictator.

Here are the details:

New York, 1987

The girl who had fallen in love with a sad, lost soul, someone who had given up on living, or was living his life as if it were a shell that he carried like a great burden upon his shoulders. He was a historian dredging through the ruins of a lost culture looking for some memory of himself. He manufactured himself anew each morning, bolstered by the stiff morning light, propped up by syllables, mumbling their sounds like a mantra as he shuffled toward his stuffy office in the history department on Washington Square.
She remembers an exhilaration that permeated the air of the lecture hall when we rattled in like dead leaves or dust, and as he began speaking, the words tumbled out of her mind and into the air before they fell from his lips.
This happened several classes in a row. She dreamed the words, he shuffled in, the words tumbled like water over stones in her mind, then they fell from his mouth in familiar shapes.
He said that he couldn't explain, but that evening they made love on a solitary mattress on the floor in his Ft. Green apartment (he was recently divorced), and the second story brownstone faced the seven corners over Flatbush Avenue, were bare and leaning nakedly up into the winter night as the clouds pressed n upon the borough. When they woke, there were no corners, no streets, no cars. The world slept beneath a thick, suffocating snow.

Prague, 1942

And then there is the impenetrable darkness (why do I say impenetrable?) of the world of Joseph Sudek, soldier and photographer, who (like the curtain that longs to be a flag outside) looked out his murky window onto the streets of Prague and dreamed of flying.

Kafka again. This morning I have a pointless and stupid fight with David and then have to attend a lecture by the department chair. For the most part it is uninteresting to me, except for his mention of an article by Borges, "Kafka and his Precursors." I am beginning to think that Walter Benjamin and his little hunchback have more to do with this story than I originally thought. As a matter of fact, it was in New York when I first learned of Walter Benjamin, and ever since, he has been someone I have hung on to like a life raft.

The idea is to let it sit on a superstructure—perhaps the formulation of the general theory, perhaps the frustrated attempt of Keynes to hang his economics on this structure. What are you getting at? It looks like the birth of some modern phenomenon, like existentialism—some sort of metaphysic emerging from these random events. But what IS the structure-it still eludes me?

I have to find the architecture.

Wednesday. Waiting for the cold front to come in. An alarm sounded outside for almost an hour. I was awakened by the ringing of a small bell. Where is my small bell?

Where does my grandfather belong? With the fading polaroids? His scout manual ( I need that—quotable) The photographic process—how does it relate--or should I worry?
I think about my grandfather today. I am in the parking lot mulling over the end of my marriage—there is a word bubbling beneath the memory of his alcoholism. The word is disappointment.

What happens if you let go of everything?

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Palamedes invented the alphabet after watching the patterns that flocks of migrating cranes made in flight against the sky…
Susan Brind Morrow

No less than reading, writing is exilic and fugitive at its very core.
Consonantal homographs, 'speech' and 'desert' are spelled the same (MDBR) in Hebrew—as, incidentally, are 'there' and 'name' by the lexeme 'ShM'

-AZN, The Elsewhere

Then there is the relationship between language and desert, a fulcrum upon which hinges to opposite universes of positive and negative, of matter and anti-matter (again bringing us back to light). The symmetries abound—the deserted Caprock hinging on the human fulcrum which opens up within the mind of abundant association, perception, emotion. Here it is my grandfather, a still point around which turn the dual forces of stable, abiding space and chaotic, fertile time (perception) within his mind. Matter and anti-matter. What is it that destroyed him? Thought (time) no doubt.

March 10, 2005

Today an awareness of the tentative gestures on behalf of beauty—seeds flung into a garden, wildflowers erupting along a polluted and forgotten creek, a small windmill planted in the yard of my elderly neighbor who was taken in an ambulance two days ago—is she okay? Fragile, fleeting moments of beauty.

I wanted my children to see and know the flowers, the familiar trees of my childhood, to know them as I know them, like family—to stop in the midst of drifting seeds of cottonwood and search the canopy for the tree that exhaled them. To have the names on the tips of their tongues, the shapes of the words palpable in the mouth, like food—to know the silhouette leaves against an evening sky, to recognize birds. Stopping to inspect a common weed, one which goes by the most disparaging name, beggars lice, I am amazed that I have never noticed the fragile white flowers which form a circular umbel, turning reddish toward the seed that becomes the stickery pods that hijack the cat's fur and tennis shoes and especially white socks. Tiny and lovely, and beside it an empty husk of some wild grass, gold and tapering to a black tip like Japanese calligraphy. How much more I appreciate beauty that is tentative, hesitant.