Friday, January 23, 2009

Memories Failed, Memories Disciplined

Robert Mapplethorpe (1987) Chest

In the beginning of the “camera”…it did not produce the photo…it produced an image that could only be captured by tracing the image… The images of the camera then were fleeting, rarely saved, rarely archived as they are in our postmodern world of scrapbooks, facebook photobooks, myspace accounts – archives of our lives. Yet, the fleetingness of the image is the same today, for the image captured is of but a moment, a moment caught in time and (re)produced in the hopes that in such production our memories can be captured just like the image itself. Yet, our memories are not our own. They are always, in part, those of the Other and what story, what memory the Other seeks from us or allows us to tell. I cannot reveal certain memories to you because they may be inappropriate, traumatic, inaccessible and therefore are disciplined from being told, hidden from view. My “photo” then is not “my” photo. That above is not, even if I would like it to be, my chest, my six pack, my pec. It is not me above. Rather, it is an image of someone I do not know created by a famous photographer, made famous by capturing such images – producing photos, producing anxieties, outrage, passions, desires. Yet, it is an incomplete photo, it is missing a part, but in missing a part is a “complete” piece of art, a complete piece of work provoking and evoking reactions.

My interest is in this absence, that which is not present, and the possibilities to be imagined. What will “we” imagine and will “it” in part be what we hope to be there, a normal mirror image of the pectoral muscle already present, for that is often the story that “incomplete” photos allow us to tell. That story makes the subject of the photo complete. Yet, what if we imagine it to be something else, a pectoral muscle “disfigured” by a burn, a tattooed pectoral muscle – tattooed with the image of a name - the name of a lover, a mother, a child, a lost love, a lost mother, a lost child? What possibilities does this incomplete image provide for the stories that the “image” can tell…perhaps illustrating that any photo whether complete or (in)complete illuminates that the memories constructed in the telling of such memories are always incomplete, failures because of the partiality of language…that language cannot tell us all that we wish it could tell. Does this incomplete image then perhaps allow us to explore our own anxieties of what is absent, what we wish was present, and how in such failure, such incompleteness we can encounter the Other in new ways?

Ruination by the Child: Adam and Eve Revisited

Figure 1: Titian Adam and Eve c. 1550. Madrid, Prado.

The images of Adam and Eve are often evoked in a variety of settings, although often it seems to emerge around the role of original sin in relation to the child. Utilizing this “biblical” reference…I want to think about the phrase that humans are “made in the image and likeness of God” where “God” becomes parent (either mother or father or both depending on your read of the Bible) and “man” becomes child. Yet, in this we see that God did not make “child” (in our image of the child as a “little person”) but made man and woman – made “adults” that then had little people (our image of the child) after their fall from grace…Adam and Eve were arguably of course “God’s” children but they were not little shitting, eating, crying children but grown people with rather childlike curiosities and behaviors. Being “made in the image and likeness of God” then creates an image of “God” that is “grown” (our image of the “adult”) and the notion of a small “child” rather queer, rather “unlike” God, an image occluded by the image created by “God” of the “child” that which is “grown”.

As I thought of this mythical pair and their relationship to the concept of the “child” and as the first adult-children, I went to find an image of them…one that represented the image that I had with me of a man and woman, grown, by a tree (see Figure 1). In the image I found and choose for my purposes here, one sees the peculiar presence of a child. The child, positioned above the heads of Adam and Eve is handing Eve the apple. The child has become the serpent, tempting Eve with that infamous apple that would lead to the downfall of “mankind” and its banishment from the Garden of Eden. As I looked at this image and pondered the queer place of the child I became rather perplexed. The child in this image provokes a variety of readings. One could read it as the serpent using the innocent child-image to tempt Eve, since a child would never lead its parents astray AND parent’s can’t but help be “dazzled” by the beautiful (innocent) face of the child. But, if one looks at the date of this painting (1550), we see that it dates around the time in which the child was more often seen as a corrupt, depraved being not yet seen as the innocent little cherub of later times. This is of course not as clear-cut and open to debate.

However, looking at the painting, the child is not the cause of the downfall, only the instigator since it is the “apple” and what it contains (knowledge? Self-concept?) that opens the eyes of Adam and Eve to their nakedness. The child though is positioned above Adam and Eve, holding a figural position that is superior to them. The child has perhaps already been corrupted by the wonderous taste of the apple, otherwise why would it want to offer it to Eve? Is the child, living in this state of corruption, envious of the adult-like innocence of Adam and Eve, therefore tempting them in order to have company in the state of corruption, to usher them into the Symbolic realm of “knowledge” – the wily child? If the child is ushering in the adults to the Symbolic, how does this ushering alter the role of the m(O)ther in psychoanalysis – my current fascination? Within Lacanian psychoanalysis, the m(O)ther mediates the child’s entry into the Symbolic as the m(O)ther’s language cuts the Real of the Child, shattering its image of a perfect ideal world. But, here in the mythical story of Adam and Eve, through the artistic representation of Titian, it is the Child that cuts the world of the adult and ushers the adult into the Symbolic – cutting the Real of Eve (her ideal Eden) with Eve then cutting the Real of Adam (his ideal Eden). So it is not the m(O)ther that cuts the Child, but the Child (as Other) that cuts the mother (providing that Eve is viewed symbolically/mythically as the first “mother” from which mankind emerges). It is the child that ushers in language while simultaneously being without language – incomprehensible to those around unless they “eat” the forbidden fruit and enter the realm of corruption. The child is the Real – representing something inaccessible to Adam and Eve since they were never “child,” never little. But, the child is also that which cuts their Real, by bringing them that which is in the apple – language, “sight”, knowledge.

I obviously do not know how legitimate or accurate such a read is in relation to Lacanian psychoanalysis (the three Orders of Lacan – the Real, Imaginary, and Symbolic – are still being worked out in my mind) but if we take this reading where the Child ushers in the cutting of the Real, perversely giving Eve the apple, the role of the Feminine takes on a different meaning as it is not Eve, the feminine, who instigates the downfall but the sexless child, the child with a serpents tail, who instigates the downfall.

Furthermore, does this image of innocence and corruption reveal both the Dionysian and Appolonian child…with the literal “child” eliciting the image of evil - instigating the corruption of the adult – revealing that the “adult” can never be innocent because of the “child” AND the literal adults, Adam and Eve, in their symbolic child-like state, eliciting the image of innocence and purity corrupted by the pain of the child.

[Random Aside: I find it rather curious how Adam is touching Eve (perhaps her breast) with his left hand, Eve is grabbing the apple with her left hand – an apple that is on the “left” side. The child, however, is handing the apple with its right hand – its left side is unseen – as the left side of the photo (if split in two) is the darker side. Yet, historically it has been the “left” side that is seen as evil, as any (left-handed) student of the Catholic educational system of yesteryear can attest and the right hand side seen as that of “good.”]