Artist Blog

Every week an artist whose single image was published by Der Greif is given a platform in which to blog about contemporary photography.

Fictions

Jul 31, 2020 - Gabriel Sacco

    Today, I want to exhibit three authors who have inspired me and discuss their work and the thread that weaves them together.

 

    The first author I want to talk about is J.M. Coetzee, who authored Foe, a story about Daniel Foe (The real Daniel Defoe is the author of Robinson Crusoe, a 1719 novel.) The story is narrated by Foe and through the words of Susan Barton. She a woman in 1720 who is shipwrecked on the same island as Robinson Crusoe just before he, Friday (Crusoe’s former slave and manservant,) and Barton are rescued. Shortly after rescue, Crusoe dies and Susan Barton takes his name. Friday survives with Susan, however, he has no speech. His tongue has been cut out and not even he can tell the story of how it happened. Barton wishes to tell the story of the island through the pen of Foe. However, truths are missing and she finds fiction troubling. Is her future the one she thought of in the past? Does she have the agency to tell Friday’s story in her recount? If she takes Crusoe’s name, who has the voice and is alive to say she is not widowed? Fictions and the nature of truth in being are questioned throughout the parable.

 

    Édouard Glissant wrote Poetics of Relation, and I would like to bring up an essay from this work For Opacity. Glissant discusses the way in which we understand each other. In western thought, he says, to understand requires transparency. A full view and explanation of who you are, and subsequent judgements made to reduce and verify the person and accept them. Transparent acceptance is violent and takes away from the person you are “understanding” by reduction. An example might be an identifier or descriptor of a person, like a pronoun, or feminine and masculine nouns in romance languages. How can you fix descriptors when humans (as well as inanimate objects) are non-binary? Glissant is ‘For Opacity,’ I will quote now.

“Thought of self and thought of other here become obsolete in their duality. Every Other is a citizen and no longer a barbarian [to be compared to]. What is here is open, as much as this there. I would be incapable of projecting from one to the other. This here is the weave, and it weaves no boundaries. The right to opacity would not establish autism; it would be the real foundation of Relation, in freedoms.” (Glissant, Poetics of Relation, p. 190)

 

    Finally, I read Ben Lerner’s book, 10:04 this summer. It’s on the “edge of fiction.” There is a lot to unpack in this novel, but one main point brings us to the crux of these three authors. There are a few times in the book where the narrator mentions, considers, or feels like an octopus. He is saying that he has a feeling of “orders of perception beyond his individual body” (I had to read this interview between Ben Lerner and Believer Magazine to understand it further.) The narrator speaks about a collective that is beginning to inhabit his self. The collective transmission of interpretation. The way we feel when we live in golden hour or the feeling of privilege when we see a sun shower AND a rainbow all in the same moment. I perceive this as the interconnectedness on a visual cerebral level, meaning-making, a fiction we believe because it makes us feel grounded to the earth and each other. This trade between humans cannot be commodified and is the redeeming quality that America’s oppressive capitalism cannot touch. For me this is art, however Ben Lerner is saying that fictions have real and lasting consequences. If a far-off notion grounds a person or secures an identity, I think there is responsibility at stake.

 

    My own skepticism of art and photography lead me to ask what is the use of photos if they are projecting us into a future that a despairing fiction dictates?

    Especially if naming (or describing a person) is destructive and violent to another person. It reduces us to a certain thing, a fiction (Coetzee) that people believe about us. In Foe, the contradiction is Susan Barton’s newly found ability to even think of identifying the story of a man who cannot speak for himself, while speaking her own truth.

    Where is the hope, or ‘glimmer’ as Lerner calls it, that we can latch onto? For me it’s the opacity as Glissant says, which we can weave into a collective leaving identity to the individual.

    And Lerner looks at the redeeming quality of naming (if the idea can be adjacent to the other two authors.) If something is named, there is the possibility to be unnamed, connected and redeemed with opacity, not reduced.

    The fictions we create in art and everyday life have higher stakes than those non-fictions we live, simply because it’s the ones we name, the ones we value, price, and commodify. There is always the possibility to have the collective in mind when telling our stories, and not just our own.

 

Links:

Interview with Believer Mag and Ben Lerner

https://believermag.com/an-interview-with-ben-lerner/

Wiki on Foe:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foe_(Coetzee_novel)

For Opacity by Édouard Glissant, via Shifter Magazine:

https://shifter-magazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Glissant_For_Opacity.pdf