The Alan Sondheim Mail Archive

January 13, 2008

Railroad Club

Images from open house, Morgantown model railroad club, embodying cuts
from one scale to another, from human to true world, from mind to emanent.
Who would call this the postmodern? One might locate something else here:
not the cut but the suture, not disparity but deep memory; the locales
represented, real and imaginary, conjure the West Virginia landscape of
the 1950s, in the memory of many of the club members. What better than a
photograph than a reconstruction in which everything is punctum, intended?

The photographs are of the text, of this text; they're weaker without it,
they go elsewhere, I'm pulling them back in. I'm pulling them back in to
indicate multiculturalisms and emphases on locale and habitus tend both
suture and division (these people, these others) in favor of _listening_
and its phenomenology.

But listening is skew-orthogonal, again, to the _style_ of the images,
based on any number of photographers and trajectories.

Now what do I see when I do not know what I see? Certainly aspects and
entities are present within the true world filtered through the history of
photography and photographers who have no responsibility for me.

Where are the passengers in this life? Where are the passengers in the
life of the other?

You can already feel the economy of the land, extractive industries, pov-
erty, environmental pollution, mountain-topping, strip-mining, deep-min-
ing, feed stores, small towns in the hollows, grey dust, what's worn is
worn, what's not is brought into play through deep memory's suture which
even bends, transfigures the landscape, someday we'll all rise to the

I will live forever
I will live forever
I will live forever
As a hungry ghost
As a hungry ghost
I will live forever

I don't remember the exact name of the railroad club or the members. Some-
one named Mike, I believe, made the larger mine model. I came in as a
tourist finding nameless things. the models were both outstanding, depres-
sing to an outsider. The images appeared as images, imaginary, with what-
ever context I might bring from the outside; the social depth was absent.
I turned to the jump-cut.

The jump-cut was of the visual, that disparity of mind and scale. Railroad
switching systems were fundamental to the development of the Internet.
Evidence of electronic skein was everywhere. Jump-cut sutured into dream-
scape, dream-screen, displacement/condensation semiotics. What is of truth
or tending towards the indexical in the images applies as well to the vis-
ual in general, compounding of memory, suture, cut, surface. Whatever one
sees is surface, surface-only; x-rays report on deeper surfaces,
translucent or transparent to invisible light.

The photographs bother me, as if theory needed image-propping beyond the
diagrammatic. But what can the image hold, if not an arrangement that
might be constituted as evidence? If a diagram is indexical or symbolic,
the photograph resides elsewhere; evidence stands for nothing and hardly
represents itself, nor is it pointing towards something across ontological
or epistemological lines. On this level the photograph simply reports as
Bazin might have it, on what-is, or rather the what-is and thetic con-
strues within the dialog of image production. In any case, the postmodern
is left behind, or rather, is relegated to analyses of socio-economic
phenomena where the theory works wonders; think of postmodern geography,
Harvey or Roja for example.

What would postmodern geography make of mountain-topping? And then its
representation which makes the wrecked landscape somehow graspable,
something to walk around, replant with meadow or pasture?

I think of tantra, mandala, Jefferey Hopkins' introduction to the Kala-
chakra Tantra (Kalachakra Tantra, Rite of Initiation, Dali Lama, 1999).
Hopkins walks/writes the body of the reader through the mandala ("Notice
the entryway at the eastern door, wider than the doorway, with a three
storied portico above the entranceway. Each of the stories of the portico
above the entryway has four pillars across the front, thereby creating
three room-like alcoves on each story. In each of these eight alcoves are
goddesses of offering; the middle alcove in the first story on the eastern
side has a black wheel of doctrine with a buck and doe to the right and
left." And so forth.) Now think of the Morgantown railroad club images in
the same or different shimmer, think not of the imminent/immanent identi-
fication of entities within them, but of paths through or around or by
virtue of these entities, which themselves are processes (one doesn't live
forever, the tracks are constantly changing). Is there a meditation here,
emission or spew that is sourceless except for (in spite of) the corners
or frame of the image? Can one imagine a habitus, inhabitation? Is there a
seeing that moves through memory near and far without the supplication of
the signifier? This is what literally remains to be seen, and brings the
essay to its clothes.

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