Saturday, March 19, 2005

foregrounding the errors

One of Flickr's games is called favourites -- you put pink stars on the photos you like the best, and they get made into a slideshow of everything you like. I expected this to produce a lot of very good photos, but actually ... no. I'd picked things that were low resolution, out of focus, over-exposed, greyed out ... and, now I come to think about it, I post imperfects myself.

So, in something as undirected as viewing a photograph, the theory is that imperfections can mediate (direct, control, persuade) the experience of the viewer. Whether it is an attractive in-point, like bad teeth in a beautiful face, or alienating, like an accident in the depth of field, yanking the viewer back to the artificiality of their experience, they represent the moment that the author visibly contacts you:

"I've come to believe errors, especially written errors, are the only markers left by a solitary life" (Danielewski, House of Leaves)

At which point he uses some written errors of his own to draw attention to the fact that what is presented as biographical criticism is in fact a fiction written by him, the author, like Sebald with his deliberate "mistakes" -- "important writerly adjustments to the historical truth" (Guardian obit) making sure you see the artificiality of the performance. Which brings up the problem with this. Go and talk to the photographer (if you can) and chances are they meant something entirely different; the thing you see in the style, the slips and errors isn't the photographer but your impression of them. And anyway, when I'm wandering through pictures of ducks or amsterdam on Flickr I'm not trying to find out things about the photographer (nor ducks or Amsterdam, for that matter) .

But even if they're not a directing force, or even biographical scarpas, mistakes are evidence of the author's hand, and as such, comforting -- a reminder that we are not alone with the subject, but listening to a story told by another person. So maybe pursuing the mismatched subject or uneven composition is actually a way of gaining an illicit social contact with the person who took the shot. Illicit because the other can't control the contact as they are unaware of it happening. Then maybe my attachment to shots like this and this and this come about not because I'm gravitating towards some artistic ideal but instead because I crave social contact -- albeit a contact so light the other person need know nothing about it. Looking for that "you, you, you" to compliment the "I, I, I" of blogging.

Which is all well and good, but then, why do I post my own mistakes? Is it just a question of passing out copies of the things you like in the hopes of being given more of the same? Here's Murakami on the uncertainty of autobiography:

"I have already forgotten any number of things. Writing from memory like this I often feel a pang of dread. What if I've forgotten the most important thing? What if somewhere deep inside me there is a dark limbo where all the truly important memories are heaped and slowly turning to mud?" (Norweigan Wood -- not an autobiography, but autobiographical)

In the time-displaced tangle of blogging, it's hard to know what is important, what you'll want to remember. Hard to avoid the anxiety that if you only select what you think is best or finest you'll end up like Krapp*, fast-forwarding through your great works in a frustrated frenzy, obsessively going over and over the scraps you can find of the person that used to be you.

And perhaps also that only selecting the best creates a wrong impression; better content, perhaps. But not really you.

*Samuel Beckett, Krapp's last tape.


kc said...

On Sunday, I saw a matinee of the film "After Life" (Kore-Eda Hirokazu). The film is a set in a waystation between life and afterlife, where people have 3 days to choose a single memory to take with them to the eternal hereafter, and which will replace all of their other memories. The film's documentary style means that it doesn't need to answer questions like: how does one remain oneself if they only retain a single memory, ripped out of context?

If you could only create a single entry in your blog, what would it feature or be about?

Disappointingly, the film doesn't address any questions about the status of the single chosen memory, and which you ask about the relation of blogs to memory: do they stand in for memory? do they create memory? do they re-write memory/history? do they stand aside from, but parallel to memory? do they represent in miniature all of memory? do they diminish or enhance memory? do they overwrite memory?

In the film, after a person chooses a memory (if they choose; some refuse, and there is a special fate for them), the staff of Afterlife's waystation spend the next 3 days cinematically recreating that memory, under the directorial guidance of the rememberer. The representation of the memory they take with them to the afterlife is therefore a recreation (like blogs?). Which I think, in that context, is a slightly creepy idea. Made all the more creepy because everyone in the film seemed quite satisfied with their recreated memory, pleased that the staff had gotten it just right.

Which is to say, I think it would be far weirder if every blogger was perfectly content with their blog and fully satisfied by its relationship to (or capacity to represent) their "real life."

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Jeremy Dennis said...

Mr "my blog" above is an astroturf account -- a blog which combines a thin veil of autobiography to conceal advertising through recommendations, suggestions and (ha-ha-ha) handy links. It's a good example of the genre, and I recommend it to anyone interested in this new advertising phenomenon.