[-empyre-] art, representation, communication

Patty Keller pkeller at cornell.edu
Thu Nov 29 07:07:38 EST 2012


 For Derrida etc. the trace is always under erasure, constituted by
erasure, n'est-ce pas?”

Thanks, Erin.

Yes, I think you’re right. I should confess, somewhat unabashedly, that I’m
not a Derridean, so some of what I have to offer on this front might be
elementary at best. My own understanding of the Derridean trace, in its
various iterations, is that his conception emphasizes the “place” of loss
over the inscription of what has been left behind. This is what he wants to
suggest, I think, by insisting that the trace is not a presence (not simply
a remainder) but always—or, I suppose I should say, always
already—difference, always already the absence of a presence.

What might be interesting to think through further is the notion of the
trace-as-erasure, as you mention, in relation to not only Misrach’s work,
but photography in general as well. What happens when the mastery of an
absence occurs not through language, speech or writing, but through
technology (here obviously, the camera)? What about when this takes the
form of photographing? (here I’m not only talking about images but the
*act*of photography—the capturing and developing and exposing gestures
inherent to the medium). Of course, Derrida would say that *everything* has
a trace—the possibility or experience of a difference, or an Otherness—and
that it’s not limited to the written or spoken word. What’s compelling,
however, about the potential linkage of the trace to erasure (as
constitutive, as destructive, etc.) is that, for Derrida, there is always a
possibility (at times, he frames this as the “promise”) of a return. Such
that non-presence or absent presence as tied to erasure and loss has
embedded within it a spectral logic. This seems key and I’m particularly
interested in how photography—as a certificate of absence and as a
realization of loss, rather than *only *as* *the paradigm of the trace as
presence—can bring to light this temporal paradox.  To go back to Misrach
for a moment, there might be two possibly opposing (though in a Derridean
worldview not entirely incompatible) interpretations of his post-Katrina
project—on the one hand, the collection (“archive,” if we want to fully
invoke JD here) of traces as a means to preserve them and stave of their
imminent erasure; on the other hand, photographing becomes the very act by
which such an erasure, disappearance, or death is guaranteed and
foreseeable.  That said, it’s interesting to note that in “destroy this
memory” the title alone invites a deconstructivist reading—the written
trace of the desired and eventual destruction of what the writing act
supplements (in this case, memory).

So, where do we stand? Entrenched in a well-rehearsed system of production,
predicated on a logic of technological reproducibility (and
ever-increasingly technological manipulability), photography’s relation to
the trace remains as ambiguous as ever (and arguably debated even more now
than ever).

As a side note, there’s a remarkable line from his essay on Freud and
Writing in *Writing and Difference* “life must be thought of as trace
before Being may be determined as presence.” Translated into a photographic
analogy, I wonder if the same might be true: “photography must be thought
of as a trace before the photograph may be determined as a ‘certificate of
presence’” (borrowing from Sontag)?

Thanks for reading, P


Patricia Keller
Assistant Professor of Spanish Literature
Department of Romance Studies
Cornell University
408 Morrill Hall
Ithaca, NY 14853
Office phone: 607.254.6708
pkeller at cornell.edu
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