The Other Reality

Words of Light, No. 5

Posted in MFA, Reactions to Readings by aryckman on October 16, 2008

Cadava, Eduardo. “Words of Light: Theses on the Photography as History” Diacritics Vol. 22, No. 3/4 (1992): 85-114.

Words of Light is the distillation of Walter Benjamin’s theories and theses by Eduardo Cadava.  Whether he writes about photography, philosophy or history he uses the language to photography to describe how they work. Topics range from the photographs recognition of the temporal nature of the referent, the impact of mechanical reproduction on society and the understanding of history.

I was finding understanding his language difficult and decided that I could best internalize the information by paraphrasing Cadava’s writings.  He writes in the form of theses and I’ve kept this same format.  Below each paraphrased section are my own reactions in italics.  Check out the previous posts for my earlier reactions to Words of Light and watch for more to come.

I welcome any and all comments, if you understand something a little differently let me know it might help me out!

11.
History is always on the verge of disappearing, threatening to leave but not quite doing it. We need to be able to recognize the traces of the past in order to open up the possibilities of history. These traces don’t belong to a specific time though because the time of history extends in every direction possible.  Thus no event has a necessary connection to a specific temporal situation.  But they only come to legibility, understanding, at a specific time.  Events are not specific to a time but can only be understood in a specific time.  This is the critical moment of danger, this moment of legibility.  “History is what such legibility comes to, and the place of this legibility is constructed by…[now time]…This time is to be understood according to the structure of photographic temporality, which conceives of the relationship between a past and a present as dialectical, that is to say, imagistic” (102).
Every present is determined with those images that are concerned with it.  Now is recognized as a specific now and it’s bursting with truth.  It is the death of intention and the birth of historic time.  When things are no longer going to happen but are happening.  The past doesn’t tint the present and vice versa but they come together at a standstill.
History is not formed by “homogonous, empty time, but rather by time filled by ‘now time” (102).  What is now-time, you ask.  Well “Now-time does not mean the present…nor does it represent the present. Now-time presents the present of an event, or makes it emerge…The present of ‘now-time,’ which is the present of an event, is never present.  But ‘now’ (and not ‘the now,’ not a substantive, but ‘now’ as a performed word, as the utterance which can be ours) presents this lack of presence.  A time full of ‘now-time’ is a time full of openness and heterogeneity” (103).  Now-time as it relates to understanding history determines the readability of images and is determined by them.  The images are not bound to a time but they are not timeless either.  Instead they are written into every moment, this determines the images legibility. “History is made in its being photographed” (103). But as soon as its legibility is interrupted its moment of self-realization is over.
“Photography promises that everything may be kept for history, but the everything that is kept is the everything that is always already in the process of disappearing, that does not belong to sight.  What is kept if only the promise, the event of the promise.” (103).  Photography promises to keep history and the photographic event is that promise.  “Nothing that has ever happened should be regarded as lost for history” (103).

Let me repeat this “Now-time does not mean the present…nor does it represent the present. Now-time presents the present of an event, or makes it emerge…The present of ‘now-time,’ which is the present of an event, is never present.  But ‘now’ (and not ‘the now,’ not a substantive, but ‘now’ as a performed word, as the utterance which can be ours) presents this lack of presence.  A time full of ‘now-time’ is a time full of openness and heterogeneity” (103).  What, may I ask, does any of that really mean?
I see the now-time of history like a budding flower.  The moment is internationalized and the bud bursts open—now-time is here because it is full, explosive. Now-time is full of the potential of the present… it presents the present. But as soon as it happens the process of blooming is interrupted and it begins to fade.
I like your last paragraph… I think it made sense.  Photography is a promise that everything will be kept, remembered, but it can only remember the things that will disappear, the things that disappear the moment the photograph is taken.  This corresponds to the death of the referent that you talked about earlier.

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