Introducing Nihilsentimentalgia’s newcomer André Carapinha with an essay about the veil of shadows that stands between our perception and “reality”.
Photographs illustrating the essay all belong to Trish Morrissey‘s project Front (2005-07), where she sets out to find families that she joins temporarily, in an “as if/has-been” moment, at the same time manipulating reality and attributing to it the statue of memory.
A short essay about the importance of the act of remembering in photography, but not exclusively
Things are even more real when we remember them. When we experience them, they come wrapped in a veil of unreality, which is the constant fluxus of the becoming – that keeps us from grabbing them with both hands, that shapes their plastic and mutant character, which makes for everything to be always, always, changing. But when memory comes into play, that is where all the pieces seem to come together and that which is not important, that which distracted us, that whose function of emergence is that of confusing, finally abandons the thing, and the thing is revealed to us in the greatest purity that we ever manage to achieve. Our knowledge is always regional, imperfect, and dominated by an insurmountable and confusing principle, but the moment when we are closer to reality – that is the moment when we remember things.
Plato has shown that the way we apprehend reality takes the form of a picture. Nowadays, most people may find it difficult to understand this definition. It does not only apply to the Plato-ready-to-wear conclusion one often finds in “Plato’s Cave” (commonly the only thing an average person knows, or is convinced of knowing, about Plato), that reality is an image because it comes to us wrapped in a veil of shadows, contrasting with the “true reality” one could access beyond the shadows or the fogs (therefore diminuishing the status of the image as an “ilusion”). In fact, as one understands from reading the book V of the “Republic” and “Theaetetus”, the image is the fundamental status for the apprehending of reality, it is the alpha and the omega of knowledge. Resuming, what this means is that in fact there is a veil of shadows between us and the “real”, but that such veil of shadows is not like a fog that we dissipate but a permanent event in the apprehension of the real; and that the human mind, which is guided by a constant attention to the real, is capable of little more than the production of images of the real, and when we say pictures, we really mean the picture, as it is understood in the realms of aesthetics and art history – in fact, there is no better point of comparison to understand what Plato means by “images”.
Aristotle, who rejected Plato’s idea that there are “models” fixed in our mind for the production of images, and for that appears to be more accessible to the “modern” eyes, didn’t failed to admit that for the human observer the original state of reality is that of “confusion” – a concept that owes much to Plato’s “shadows”. It also didn’t stop him for coming up with a concept such as “categories”, which works as an organizer, permanently present in the act of knowing. And also for Aristotle “true reality” was understood as something inaccessible except by “mediation”, which is something much more profound and complex than the simple mediation of the “senses”, given that it incorporates constitutive structures of the very essence of the act of knowing.
However, I do believe what we owe most to Plato is precisely the idea that the knowledge of “pictures” is brought to us as a “memory” – “memory” of the “pure forms”, that is, of models that guide and shape the act of knowing. What I mean is forms that organize the act of knowing given the fuzz that underlines the essence of reality, when we are first confronted with it. What this suggests is that the best way to understand our surroundings is not by what is happening in the present, always ruled by the volatile and confusing character of the becoming, but through another moment, which in itself is a “memory” (consider the act of “thinking”: when we think seriously about a subject, do we not summon to our mind the whole set of experiences, knowledge, norms, we already have? And isn’t that the moment when the object of our thinking tends to present itself with the most clarity?) Curiously, contrary to Plato’s conclusion, this may also suggest that “artistic production” is more in conformity with the real than the so-called “scientific knowledge”, given that, in Kantian terms, the former has a more “synthetic” character than the latter, which is mainly “analytical”.
It isn’t foreigner to me that this conclusion isn’t very popular – after all, the “scientific model” (of which Aristotle could be considered the precursor, since he inaugurated the “regionalization” of knowledge) has enormous advantages: besides the fact that it seems to “result” (its conclusions may and should be subject to examination and provide evidences), it presents itself as a movement “towards the” real, and assuming that the “fog” is likely to be dissipated, which is a much more comfortable hypothesis. But what is a paradox is that nothing, absolutely nothing in the evolution of scientific knowledge, in the amazing expansion that this “region of knowledge” has had in the curse of history, nothing as I was saying, diminished the status of the real as Plato and Aristotle defined about 2400 years ago. It is not because we know “more” about reality that it ceases to appear confuse, and that the image ceases to be its fundamental status as it is apprehended.
Let’s consider a past love that is still very present in our minds. How much noise, how many mistakes, how crazy – everything we call as to not understand who that person was, to not understand what was going on, to instantly begin the process of loosing him/her. But now, as I remember her/him, I am left with the light, the spirit, the grace, the youth – in short, everything that made me love her/him, but that in order to truly recover I needed to remember. Only by losing can one love what has been lost, but moreover, only then can we fully grasp the Other that was lost. It is necessary to get undressed of the daily yoke and of the current noise to fully know the person one once loved – when we locate her/him in the past. And so the Other is revealed to us closer to his/her essence than we could ever achieved.
Love is a strange process. In-depth, it’s such a process that consists in starting, from day one, to lose the loved one. Or else it is a commitment that immediately begins by putting love aside in the name of its sustainability. A strange paradox, therefore. No wonder it remains the most inaccessible human act to the “scientific knowledge” and, on the other hand, the one that art most finely understands, if we compare it to all other types of intellectual production. Short essay by André Carapinha