Jack Delano, “New Bedford, Massachusetts. Foggy Night.” Fall 1940. Farm Security Administration / Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives, Library of Congress. http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/fsa2000024815/PP/
From the bedrooms all the light has disappeared. The citizens of this night have dropped into the dark behind the image plane. Now that they are there, they have gone permanent. They can never be seen again.
Outside their windows, the surface of the picture is a box of light-soaked fog, seemingly open. We can look at it, and we think that looking at implies looking into. Diffusing out of the picture’s permanent unchange into time, the light illuminates the sign on the wall and tempts us to think that come November we’ll be able to take it at its words, surrender our light source in exchange for the source within the picture, take a stroll down the picture’s cracked sidewalk, and cast a vote for or against John Francis Morrow, citizen of the night.
But at the end of the avenue of fog, perspective merges the street lamps into a backdrop. From there, illumination shines back at us, overmatching our every attempt to see more of the fog than its display on the surface of the photograph’s silver halide replica. Behind the silver halide is the fog we can’t see into, within the fog are the fog’s own sources of light , and what they illuminate is what the fog illuminates, under fog terms. Because it is not our light that shows us the name on the wall in the box of fog, it is one of the names of the dead.
Ben Jonson, Volpone, ed. Philip Brockbank. 1968; New York: Norton, 1992. The illustration by Audrey Beardsley (not in this edition) shows Volpone saying, “Hail the world’s soul, and mine!”as he begins his morning prayer to his gold.
The advertisement “‘Tis the Genuine” has been photoshopped from the online original at https://www.flickr.com/photos/library-company-of-philadelphia/6857386818/ On this site, the text explains:
“Advertisement for the Antikamnia Chemical Company established around 1890. Depicts the skull-headed company icon ‘Funny Bones,’ wearing glasses, attired in a suit, and holding an “AK” tablet in his hand, and shrugging. Antikamnia (opposed to pain) was a toxic and addictive medicine often mixed with codeine and quinine. Funny Bones was designed by pharmacist and doctor Louis Crucius.”
(Data for the waking mind:
(On October 19, 1924, the newly constructed zeppelin LZ126 leaves Friedrichshafen, Germany, bound across the Atlantic to Lakehurst, New Jersey, where it will be commissioned in the U.S. Navy as USS Los Angeles and then become the subject of the “Cape Hatteras” section of Hart Crane’s The Bridge. Image postprocessed from a newspaper photograph.)
The spring wind was stripping the blossoms. Little was left of this one except its reproductive apparatus. I opened my lens wide and cut back the exposure time to 1/2500 second. That minimized my instrument’s exposure to the quivering thing before it, and the change it was undergoing where it had been touched by light in midair.
“Flirting with Death in Mid Air,” reads the curving headline. Like the curve, the choreography of flirtation with death had to be planned to its conclusion, even when (as here) the flirtation was called off in advance. It’s the having been planned that remains in evidence, going brown under the touch of light and air but still serving as the record of an intent.
“This act will not be done,” said the scrupulous newspaper. Yet the artwork that promises a doing still clings to language’s living stem. Its trace remains as a print on paper. It was always on its way into the homes. In the homes where it went to be read, the idea of flirtation with death became an act promising to be done. Ninety years later, the flirtation has been consummated.
Carter Buton album loan, image 00055. San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive, http://www.flickr.com/photos/sdasmarchives/9971158295/in/photostream/
Walter Benjamin, “Theses on the Philosophy of History,” trans. Harry Zohn:
“A Klee painting named ‘Angelus Novus’ shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them.” (Illuminations [New York: Schocken, 1968] 257-58)
Sometimes a lantern moves along the night.
That interests our eyes. And who goes there?
I think; where from and bound, I wonder, where,
With, all down darkness wide, his wading light?
— Hopkins, “The Lantern out of Doors”