Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Translating, ruins

I came upon this book the way one comes upon one's own reflection in the mirror and views it as other. Or perhaps the other way around: seeing another's reflection and mistaking it for one's own. To talk about oneself when talking about a book might be a fallacy of interpretation, yet the constellation of ideas mapped out here, and thinkers invited to dialog, so closely matches what I have been working on, what I have been nearly obsessed with, while submitting it to an unexpected dislocation, that the effect of this encounter is a sort of shock: photography -- memory / forgetting -- geological, temporal, affective ... fault lines -- translation . . . Ilse Binge, Germaine Krull, Vieira da Silva, Hervé Guibert, Viktor Kossakovsky, Maurice Blanchot, Walter Benjamin, Georges Didi-Huberman . . .

I could start differently: Nathanaël's Sisyphus, Outdone is a meditation on photography and catastrophe, on the ruin of memory that is perhaps triggered by the opening of the rift that is the shutter and the seismic event that is the act of taking a shot.
After an aftershock, there is stillness in the fault plane. With and without (visible) fault lines. The fault may be mine. In keeping with the fault, out of line. Seismically, I presume -- I know nothing of such things -- the stillness to be measurable, the way tremors are. Seismically, I presume again, for it not to be possible, ever, for the earth not to move. For the rest of us not to be moved by it. Every which way: still. (p. 14)

The text is a theatre, a "theatre of the catastrophal" -- where, it must be noted in the margin, the -strophal reverberates. A theatre whose "action" has already unfolded, the "event" has already taken place; the theatre is an aftershock, a wound, memory and the destruction of memory.
The time of the photograph is (always) after. This imprecision accommodates the numerous successions, the end upon seismic end. In a time without time, un(re)countable: still. In this, it is a perfect crime, "l'anéantissement anéanti, la fin ... privée d'elle-même." (p. 45)

"A theatre of the catastrophal is a theatre of reiterative ending" (p. 21). It is a theatre lacking a beginning: it has an origin but no start-point. It is reiterative like a shock wave. Its fragmentary form is, in the words of W. Benjamin, a "continual pausing for breath" which is "the mode most proper of contemplation." The catastrophe that might be said to be at the origin of this text, is not a single historical event, or an event in personal history; nor is it exactly the Blanchotian désastre, either. Rather all of these: a constellation of events, some of them infinitesimal, imperceptible, that become known only through the shock wave they generate, others recorded; some defining moments in history, others perhaps forgotten. What is at work here, what sets rhythm to this text, is close to what Benjamin understood as origin:
The term origin is not intended to describe a process by which the existent came into being, but rather to describe that which emerges from the process of becoming and disappears. Origin is an eddy in the stream of becoming, and in its current it swallows the material involved in the process of genesis. That which is original is never revealed in the naked and manifest existence of the factual; its rhythm is apparent only to a dual insight. On the one hand, it needs to be recognized as a process of restoration and re-establishment, but, on the other, and precisely because of this, as something imperfect and incomplete.
(W.Benjamin, The Origin of German Tragic Drama, trans. J. Osborne)
Catastrophe, etymologically, is an "overturning, [a] sudden turn," a "final event" (OED, quoted at p. 6) that, for its finality, is not the end. Writing is a seismographic recording. As is photography. The continual movement of re-commencement makes it possible to say, at p. 109, "To introduce an exergue this late". From Greek, ergon, exergue is an "hors-oeuvre." A belated exergue is an echo of the origin, a tremor, or a possibility of a tremor, that -- perhaps musically -- out-lasts, out-does (and undoes) the text, turns it to ruin. In the aftermath, an exergue is perhaps what falls outside, the fallout, proving the instability of margins and borders.
For each time that the frame falls from the shelf, the letter is shaken. The margin redresses itself. And the glass, though it does not break, comes away from the masonite back, creating a gap through which a piece of time becomes visible. (p. 108)
Translation, in Euclidean geometry, is an isometric function that moves every point of a set over a constant distance in a specified direction. The result is isomorphic. In a theatre of the catastrophal -- which is nothing other than life -- the isos, the sameness of the form, the sameness of the self subject to translation is questionable.
Ontologically speaking, the self is in seism; it produces an instance of instantiation, a moment of syncope. If I stand in the way of it, I make myself substitutive, reiteratively displaceable. A translation of remove. (p. 79)
Un séisme en soi. A seism in (it)self. An ontology of foreclosed possibility. Of foregone eventuality. The single, perhaps even singular, certainty, is the conjuncture, in the body, living or not living, of shakenness and stillness, of tremulous seismicity. None of this is decided. (p. 19)
A perfect example of Euclidean translation would be the act of opening a door: the door is translated from, say, a closed door, to a door opened, say, at a 45 degree angle. Yet, instead, "A door open in two directions at once" (p. 66), or "Someone carries a door through a door" (p. 28). 

A theatre of the catastrophal is a theatre-in-translation, that is, a fragmented theatre in which a constellation of elements is in a continual movement of displacement, resulting, not in a coherent, unified text, but in a written ruin that, in order to be read, must be continuously reconfigured.

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