Tuesday, May 22, 2007

beasts of burden

Thus the life of someone whose existence has somewhat preceded our own encloses in its particularity the very tension of History, its division. History is hysterical: it is constituted only if we consider it, only if we look at it--and in order to look at it, we must be excluded from it. As a living soul, I am the very contrary of History, I am what belies it, what destroys it for the sake of my own history (impossible for me to believe in “witnesses”; impossible, at least, to be one.
--Barthes, Camera Lucida

I choose this photograph for its burdens. My mother is the tallest child, flanked by her cousins. But what interests me here is not the human life, but the furniture. I grew up with the small marble table behind her, and I vividly recall the way the rough edge of the metal bites into your hands when you try to pick it up. I recognize every piece of furniture in that room, by a leg, or a surface--like distant relatives. These are the things we carry, our burdens of the past, what we are afraid to let go of. I know it’s not about the value of the furniture, but about some other ineffable quality. And it is a disease. My mother has two households of furniture in storage for she suffers from this disease, the collector, the archaeologist, the unwitting beast of burden of the past.

When I moved a few days ago, I sorely felt the weight of all these artifacts, yet could not let go. Why? Perhaps this is why we have museums, because we would rather let go of nothing, but eventually we must, so we select what will be remembered and maintained in climate and humidity-controlled environments, and we create hypermediated access to the past through its artifacts. A museum is a just big storage room of the past. Every new home I create feels like a museum to me, whose collection serves to remind me that I will never be free.

Lineage reveals an identity stronger, more interesting than legal status--more reassuring as well, for the thought of origins soothes us, whereas that of the future disturbs us, agonizes us…but this discovery disappoints us because even while it asserts a permanence…it bares the mysterious difference of beings issuing from one another and the same family…
(Camera Lucida)