A Literature of the Eye

Actually Sloon, it’s the University of KZN, Pietermaritzburg. From one small town to another it seems. And yes it’s true, I do have long ear hair. It’s how I get through doors, like a radar. And I do like Jameson, with ice – that’s entropy.

I’m in the heart of the labyrinth, stalking the minotaur; it’s Pieter Hugo’s ‘Nollywood’ at Michael Stevenson.

Photographers are the worst breed. Notorious liars the lot of them. Photography is a medium literally invented for lying, for telling half truths, for presenting tiny parts of the world in all their empirical grandeur. It’s the ‘truth’ factor of photography – that inherent representational realism – that really helps to confuse matters. We see what was once actually there, what once really occurred. Like that writing in light Sontag loves to talk about.

And here is where the perversity comes in. Writing with light is an awesome responsibility. It occurs twofold, both to the thing you’re taking a picture of and to the viewer that will later glance over your image. That’s photography’s fidelity.

But that was the days when writing in light meant just that, actually burning an image onto film and then to paper, when little silver particles exposed to light would yield a recognisable image, one filled with all the corporeality of the event. For a little while time stood still.

But then again, photographs are only a very tiny part of the world, slices of time particular to where the lens was pointed. I suppose that’s the real joy of looking at a picture; seeing a different time and ultimately, a different world.

So, back in the heaving labyrinth I’m trying to get a drink. The Stevenson, with it’s flagrant capitalistic orientations demands that you pay for your grog. I suppose they have every right to but, as a student, it kind of kills the fun of an opening, glugging the wine and scoffing the chow. But when you have a labyrinth filled to capacity you’d have to sell a bunch of Pierneef’s just to bankroll the minotaur’s appetite.

Anyway, I digress. Outside I bump into Justin Rhodes from recent Whatiftheworld fame. He has very long legs. Looking at the Darth Vader picture through the glass of the courtyard I remark ‘so the rumours are true’, in a rather witless quip. Justin in his New Yawk drawl responds quickly ‘Yeah, some fags gonna probably buy it, hang it above their bed’.

I chuckle at this self-referential joke. Different worlds indeed. With all the horrors of Hugo’s images I realise that any type of writing is fiction even if it is with light. There is no truth anymore. His images speak of worlds removed from immediate experience, of fictions designed to spark the imagination and rouse the soul. We are not looking at reality but beyond to a projected literature of the eye.

The clock stops once again and I am confronted with the brutality of imagination. And the vocabulary of this imagination is grim. Maybe that’s the pull, maybe that’s why we keep on looking. It also begs the question of our fascination with that brutality. How the gaze is sanitized by such literature and how it finds itself perpetuated sends me reeling. I stare at the eyes of the assumed characters, glance at the other and finally see the horror and the ultimate violence of the viewer.

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