Half Plus Half Equals Not 1, But Two Different Halves

A new housing settlement close to the center of Itaúba featured a peculiar looking structure. Although more than one house, it only looked like half a house. The sharp incline of the roof gave the impression that the other half was missing. In the late afternoon sun, a parabolic satellite dish cast a shadow along the west wall, its silhouette inching the rough surface seemed the ghost of a gargantuan basketball. The occupants were probably young: a) two satellite antennas, b) clothes with stamped lettering hanging on a line, c) a chaotic scenario of neglected belongings. A bed of modernist design lay tilted, thrown over a pile of wood. A dotted silver tie twisted in the dirt like a crawling snake. Behind the house, not a private yard but bare land, left alone, a chair contemplated vast emptiness. Construction debris and the imprint of tractor tires marked the clumps of crumbling, recently turned red dirt. It was the virgin soil of the new continent, once again surrendering to the improvised will of newcomers.

Leaning on the ledge of the roof, there was a ladder of triangular design, the steps narrowing on the way up to vanish into the infinity of the sky. As I took the photograph, I noticed a distant plane coming into the frame in a perpendicular course of collision with the ascending ladder. I wondered why any moment would be more decisive than another when capturing a photographic image. After all, seizing chance in an unexpected intersection of distinct realms only reiterates the uncanny sense of surprise of news and art as novelty.

I decided to step back further into the terrain and get a frontal and more panoramic view of the back of the house as it fits into the surrounding landscape. I attempted a more neutral, if not objective, at least more formal depiction of the house. The lateral sunrays accentuated the details in the texture of the brick wall. I realized that this sun was not the sun, but that afternoon sun from the poetic prose of Juan Ramón Jiménez. A passage of his book "Platero y yo" (Platero and I) (Platero and I) portrays the afternoon sun projecting the silhouettes of plants onto a wall. Since I read it in fourth grade, that sun tinted the afternoons I spent in the patio of my house as a child. As the sun would set, those long shadows of the plants transformed into shapes that no longer resembled them. Crawling on the rugged wall of the patio they became characters in a crepuscular theater of silhouettes.

How could anybody ever know that by looking at these photographs? However convincing, the indexical nature of the photographic medium barely conceals the pitfalls of reducing the vast materiality of the world, and the elusiveness of time and life to a mere scaled down, flat, still resemblance. I wonder if it could ever exist a medium able to convey with any approximation the overwhelming specificity of sensorial perceptions, memories, and thoughts, which seamlessly converge into the mere act of being. How could all that complexity ever be recorded, organized, and represented?

Total memory of unambiguous exactitude may not only be a blessing. It may also be a curse. Borges' character "Funes the Memorious" portrays perhaps the only truly lucid man in history, a precursor of the superman, "an untamed and vernacular Zarathustra" from a provincial town of Uruguay.

He remembered the shapes of the clouds in the south at dawn on the 30th of April of 1882, and he could compare them in his recollection with the marbled grain in the design of a leather-bound book he had seen only once... He could reconstruct all his dreams, all his fancies. Two or three times he had reconstructed an entire day… In effect, Funes not only remembered every leaf on every tree of every wood, but even every one of the times he had perceived or imagined it… He was the solitary and lucid spectator of a multiform world that was instantaneously and almost intolerably exact… It was not only difficult for him to understand that the generic term dog embraced so many unlike specimens of differing sizes and different forms; he was disturbed by the fact that a dog at three-fourteen (seen in profile) should have the same name as the dog at three-fifteen (seen from the front).
— Jorge Luis Borges, Funes the Memorious (1942), translated by Anthony Kerrigan, Grove Press, 1962, 83-91

The rudimentary inadequacy of language to name the complexity of the world as experienced in space and time finds no redemption in the way we choose to order visual knowledge. The most efficient tool for visually organizing the world is arguably the nineteenth-century artifact known as the archive. An anachronism derived from dictionary illustrations, the archive presumes the ability to convey a range of representations as signifiers of a reality outside of themselves that it not only names, but also manages to classify, order and transmit. The downside is that with potential enlightenment through detailed information comes the endorsement of a taste for the clinical as a literal signifier of "science" and "reason", as well as the pretense of authority founded on the rather prosaic notion of organizing typologies according to genus and species. A primitive tool for someone like Funes, the archive still remains the best civilization has to offer…

He determined to reduce all of his past experience to some seventy thousand recollections, which he would later define numerically. Two considerations dissuaded him: the thought that the task was interminable and the thought that it was useless. He knew that at the hour of his death he would scarcely have finished classifying even all the memories of his childhood… I suspect, nevertheless, that he was not very capable of thought. To think is to forget a difference, to generalize, to abstract. In the overly replete world of Funes there were nothing but details, almost contiguous details…
— Jorge Luis Borges, Funes the Memorious (1942), translated by Anthony Kerrigan, Grove Press, 1962, 83-91

I have to concur with Borges, that such an approach to knowledge can only engender a monstrous institution, a motionless museum of Platonic archetypes: "I don't know if mortal eyes ever saw it (outside of oracular vision or nightmare), or if the remote Greek who devised it ever made its acquaintance…" I vividly envision the sterilized corridors, the polished vitrines, the chilling silence in which everything that ever was is preserved, made into a model replica, named, defined, measured, dead. That hermetic, airless museum of ashes and stillness may be the one invoked as a cognitive model by adventurous lunatics eager to disclose the dark side of the moon. Some believe I used to be one of them. They don't know that the very idea of plotting a total proliferation of the archive has always horrified me. Now, I only wonder if that rapturous revelation of the archive could eclipse the traumatic awareness that absolutely everything in the world is perishable, vanishing as we speak, soon to be lost.

The limits of what can (or should) be known are not easy to accept. The desire to see things portrayed in photographs proves a mere consolation for our failed attempts to control the world and our desire to avoid the intrinsic loss of time's passage. The contingencies and the arbitrariness of photographic evidence only confirm the fact that reality is beyond control, inherently unclassifiable.

Over the years I have developed a taste for randomness and absurdity, chaos and entropy, for that which can be known but not measured or priced, for images without form but with history and humor, precisely because they remind me of that.