Unreal Nature

April 29, 2017

‘Look! You can see our breath!’

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:40 am

… “the spaces between the perceiver and the thing perceived can … be closed with a shout of recognition. One form of a shout is a shot. Nothing so completely verifies our perception of a thing as our killing of it.”

This is from Timothy Findley’s chapter in The Other Side of Dailiness: Photography in the Works of Alice Munro, Timothy Findley, Michael Ondaatje, and Margaret Laurence by Lorraine M. York (1988):

… Unlike Alice Munro, who sees photography as a symbol of the celebration of prosaic reality [see last week’s post], Findley emphasizes, especially in earlier works, the darker elements associated with the camera image: artificiality, lies, stifling fixity, and even fascism. Only in more recent works … has Findley come to appreciate the photograph as an invaluable preserver of the past as well as an image of what he called “violent stillness.”

… His emphasis on process — on the writer assimilating visual and aural stimuli from the external world — bespeaks a concern for subjectivity which differs enormously from Munro’s concern with textures and surfaces. “Writers are never through with the world they see and hear,” he writes in the introduction to Dinner Among the Amazon, “even in the silence of a darkened room, they see it and they hear it, because it is a world inside their heads, which is the ‘real’ world they write about.”

… At first the photographs [that the researcher surveys at the beginning of The Wars] function as mirrors of the age — revealing changing fashions, entertainments, and the growing popularity of the automobile. Suddenly, however, the photographs become a type of narrative series; with the news of Ypres in April 1915, “the pictures alter — fill up with soldiers. … More and more people want to be seen. More and more people want to be remembered. Hundreds — thousands crowd into frame.”

[line break added]¬†Findley is, of course, referring to the surge of young men offering to fight overseas after Ypres, eager for adventure, and fame — a continuing companion of the photograph. As he recently remarked: “everyone’s fear” is “not to be one of those people chosen, en passant, to be hoarded in someone’s memory; not to be a resident in someone else’s country of invention.” The underlying irony in this natural human fear is the fact that those individual men are not hoarded in memory, but are, like Robert Ross, “obscured by violence.”

… [The] bizarre truth, that the fact of death brings home to us the value of life, is captured in the words of the essayist which the researcher then recalls: “the spaces between the perceiver and the thing perceived can … be closed with a shout of recognition. One form of a shout is a shot. Nothing so completely verifies our perception of a thing as our killing of it.”

In The Wars, Findley offers us a positive and creative alternative to the “shot” that destroys life … — that is, the photographic “shot” which preserves it. In the very last photograph of The Wars, showing Robert holding Rowena on a pony, we witness one such life-preserving shot. “On the back is written: ‘Look! you can see our breath!’ And,” the narrator affirms, “you can.”

My previous post from York’s book is here.

-Julie

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