Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Shudder Speed: The Photograph as Ecstasy and Tragedy

Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Shudder Speed: The Photograph as Ecstasy and Tragedy

Article excerpt

Aristotle, Augustine, and Heidegger describe the phenomenon of "suddenness." Interpreters of Greek tragedy such as Holderlin and Jacob Bernays relate suddenness to the cathartic effect of tragedy--violent agitation of the psyche followed by a restoration of calm. Does shutter speed in photography produce a similar effect?

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At some point in every little boy's life he wishes he were Jacques Derrida. At the outset of every text Derrida has ever written, a dozen multicoloured spheres sail into the air, and a little boy thinks this time he won't be able to pull it off, these motley-coloured thoughts bear no relation to one another, now he's gone too far, this time he's going to embarrass himself and of course by page eighteen of every text Derrida has ever written each one of those multicoloured spheres has already become a fixed star in a constellation of thought that must have been thrilling the night sky since time immemorial. I have fewer spheres (there will be five of them) and they are all less dazzling, and by page eighteen they will still be vagabonding through outer space in search of a hospitable galaxy. Very few little boys grow up to be Jacques Derrida. In fact, so far, only one. (1)

Yet I am convinced that "The Photograph" is a congenial site for many ideas that have been occupying me for some time now. I hope that the following apparently quite disparate spheres of inquiry may configure themselves as a modest constellation in our immense universe: first, Heidegger's account in Being and Time of the temporalizing of time as "ecstatic," that is, as a kind of seizing, removing, transporting, and enrapturing of our existence; second, Aristotle's discourse on time in the Physics, specifically his analysis of "the sudden," [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], along with Augustine's repeated use of raptim, "suddenly," in the Confessions, both discourses decisive for Heidegger's fundamental ontology; third, Aristotle's theory of [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], as developed in the Poetics and Politics, with the latter's account of the effects of music and rhythm on religious experience and the healing process; fourth, Jacob Bernays's remarkable monograph on catharsis, published in 1857, entitled The Basic Features of Aristotle's Lost Treatise on the Impact of Tragedy, a text that is important to me, not so much because of its famous first two chapters, on the medical nature of catharsis, but because of its fourth and final chapter, on tragic pleasure and ecstasy; fifth, and last, Holderlin's "Notes" on Sophocles's Oedipus the Tyrant and Antigone, notes that interpret tragedy as ecstatic transport to the ex-centric realm of the dead. The suddenness of time temporalizing, even when it temporizes; the ecstatic removal or transport that tragedies effect in us with their rhythmic language and their rapid sequence of scenes, a transport that seems to distill and refine those emotions in us that threaten to blow us apart or to cause implosion; the [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] of time in and as human existence, projecting us into a future that is all possibility, yet also back onto a past that shapes our fundamental possibilities like the pronouncement of an oracle, dropping us continuously into a maddening, moiling present--each dimension, which Heidegger calls an ecstasis, seizing and transporting us; a privileged mode of transport, the metaphor (literally, the [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], which is a mode of public transportation) of an intellectual intuition, namely, the intuition that life is all one, which is the insight that tragedy as such institutes, such transport interrupting our everyday preoccupations and snatching us away from the very midpoint of our lives, absconding with us to the realm of the dead--these are the spheres of ideas that I hope will form a constellation, if not a universe. Or, rock bottom, will provide a perfect snapshot of the photograph.

Well, then, "The Photograph. …

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