“Because I thought and still think maybe.”

Affinities

October 18th, 2013

 

One of the striking things about Bough Down—Karen Green’s lament of her late husband—is how she addresses him directly: she speaks to him, asks him questions, touches him. Many works of mourning, driven as much by love as by the pain of loss, persist in their relationship with the dead, invoking them in the present and thus resisting the totality of death. The writers and artists included in this post navigate those relationships, in some works reclaiming a measure of intimacy, in others conceding to (or respecting) the ultimate anonymity of death.

—Joseph Ocón


 

1.

from Mourning Diary by Roland Barthes

 

Around April 12, 1978

Written to be remembered? Not to remind myself, but to oppose the laceration of forgetting as it reveals its absolute nature. The—prompt—”no trace remaining,” anywhere, in anyone.

Necessity in the “Monument.”

Memento illam vixisse.

 

 

2.

“The Black Page” from The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne

 

Grief_Memoir_Laurence_Sterne

 

The project of The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy is an impossible portrait. Complete representation of a person, his “life and opinions.” Everything that can be said about a person, everything that can be known. . . . The black page memorializing Yorick is an emblem for this impossible project. It’s black because it is completely written over. The writing could be maledictions, or it could be complete information. In either case, the resulting portrait is fatal to the subject.

—Aaron Kunin

 

 

3.

from NOX by Anne Carson

 

Grief_Memoir_Anne_Carson_"NOX"-2

 

 

4.

Detail from “Catafalques” by  Teresa Margolles in Teresa Margolles: Muerte sin fin

 

Grief_Memoir_Teresa_Margolles_"Catafalques"

 

The hollow forms of ‘Catafalco’ (Catafalque, 1997), two plaster casts of autoposied corpses, speak of loss. Standing upright, the negative forms reveal impressions of bodies, faces. . . . The hollows contain traces of destroyed life. Hair, particles of skin, etc. have adhered to the plaster in the casting process and, like fingerprints, certify the genuineness of the forms. Yet the latter nevertheless remain nameless . . .

—Klaus Görner & Udo Kittelmann

 

 

5.

“The Anatomy Lesson” by Rembrandt

in The Rings of Saturn by W.G. Sebald

 

Grief_Memoir_Rembrandt_"The_Anatomy_Lesson"

 

And yet it is debatable whether anyone ever really saw that body, since the art of anatomy, then in its infancy, was not least a way of making the reprobate body invisible. It is somehow odd that Dr Tulp’s colleagues are not looking at Kindt’s body, that their gaze is directed just past it to focus on the open anatomical atlas in which the appalling physical facts are reduced to a diagram, a schematic plan of the human being . . . Though the body is open to contemplation, it is, in a sense, excluded . . .

—W.G. Sebald

 

 

6.

“Dead Dad” by Ron Mueck

 

Grief_Memoir_Ron_Mueck_"Dead_Dad"

Image by Raoul Wegat/Getty Images

 

7.

from Suicide by Édouard Levé

 

Given that I am speaking to you, are you dead?

 

 

8.

from Bough Down by Karen Green

 

December

Paper, cotton, crystal, fruit.

There was a poem on rice paper, a funny twenty-one consonant rhyme about what we could do after dinner if we weren’t too tired. And once I put on underwear which intimidated instead of enticed, so I took it all off. We both agreed panties is a horrid, Updike word. The facets in the goblets were meant to reflect candlelight onto beloved faces at dinner parties for years to come. I remember a Christmas apple merrily eaten off my breast. Now I remember to take your mother’s pie out of the freezer. Now ash and bone, now bitter crop, now moorings puppeteered with curious wire.

On our wedding night we smiled at the antler chandelier rigged with rope and walls as cold as snow. Sorry, sorry. How on earth.

 

 

Here we are, here we are.

I have a Polaroid of us kissing in another country. The funeral directors wrapped the box precisely, a layer of plain paper under golden foil. I recall your ear very well today, the way your hair grew around it. Under the paper is a brown plastic box, the color of a fast food booth. It doesn’t open easily. What did they do to you? What do you deserve from me? Everything I have is yours, you said. Like it was an act of generosity, what you left. I always had a thing for your hair, soft against my or scratchy against my

 

 

9.

from Book of Ruth by Robert Seydel

 

Grief_Memoir_Robert_Seydel_"Book_Of_Ruth"

 

 

10.

from NOX by Anne Carson

 

Grief_Memoir_Anne_Carson_"NOX"-1

 

 

11.

from Camera Lucida by Roland Barthes

 

(I cannot reproduce the Winter Garden Photograph. It exists only for me. For you, it would be nothing but an indifferent picture, one of the thousand manifestations of the “ordinary”; it cannot in any way constitute the visible object of a science; it cannot establish an objectivity, in the positive sense of the term; at most it would interest your studium: period, clothes, photogeny; but in it, for you, no wound.)

 

 

12.

from Kaddish by Christian Boltanski

 

Grief_Memoir_Boltanski_"Kaddish"

Image & text from Claxton Projects

 

“I began to work as an artist when I began to be an adult, when I understood that my childhood was finished, and was dead. I think we all have somebody who is dead inside of us. A dead child. I remember the little Christian that is dead inside me.”

—Christian Boltanski

Kaddish is the Hebrew prayer for the souls of the dead and this book is a testimonial to personal and collective human memory. Originally created as four separate bodies of work (Materiality, Morality, Locality and Humanity), Kaddish is an archive of found photographs that form a provocative memorial to death and its proceeding anonymity.

 

 

13.

from Afterimage by Damon Krukowski

 

Who memorializes the survivors? They have to die before they can be remembered. And then when they die, the ones who remember them — but not the events they survived — will write their stories. If they ever told them to anyone.

A plaque is for the dead; an effaced inscription is for the living. Or: the living are an effaced inscription.

 

14.

from Bough Down by Karen Green

 Siglio_Bough_Down-Karen-Green-1

 

 

 

FOOTNOTES

Mourning Diary by Roland Barthes, Hill & Wang, 2010 (trans. Richard Howard)

The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Stern, Penguin Classics, 1978

NOX by Anne Carson, New Directions, 2010

Teresa Margolles: Muerte sin fin, Hatje Cantz, 2004 (ed. Klaus Görner & Udo Kittelmann)

The Rings of Saturn by W.G. Sebald, New Directions, 1998 (trans. Michael Hulse)

Suicide by Édouard Levé, Dalkey Archive Press, 2008 (trans. Jan Steyn)

Bough Down by Karen Green, Siglio Press, 2013

Book of Ruth by Robert Seydel, Siglio Press, 2011

Camera Lucida by Roland Barthes, The Noonday Press, 1981

Kaddish by Christian Boltanski, Gina Kehayoff, 1998

Afterimage by Damon Krukowski, Ugly Duckling Presse, 2011