Unaltered By Perception

Nicholas Rombes, The Absolution of Roberto Acestes Laing

For I’ve come to see, in retrospect, that there was a void at the heart of the films that Laing destroyed, and that through his description of those films he was attempting to fill, somehow, that void, as if talking about the films might fill in the meaning that they themselves lacked. I also came to understand that Laingn didn’t think of the destroyed films as “lost treasures” at all, but instead as something more dangerous, as expressions of pure nothingness. A nothingness that goes beyond nihilism, beyond philosophy, a sort of absence that’s so seductive and so powerful that to look upon it is to corrupt a part of your soul (p. 67).

“…I’d watched them, all right, and seen something in them that should never be seen, and I’m not talking about a real-life killing on camera or a dangerous, evil idea convincingly expressed by an otherwise sympathetic character or anything like that. What I mean is that there was something there, in between the frames, something that wasn’t quite an image and wasn’t quite a sound. It was both and neither of those things at the same time. In other words, an impossibility that, because it expressed or represented a new way of being, had to be destroyed. An extreme, undiluted truth, that’s what I’m talking about” (p. 69).

As Laing looks down at the picture I think about the missing children, the ones in the news, and that Laing’s reasons for destroying the films only made sense if you believed there was such a thing, as he had called it, as undiluted truth because in fact, well let’s face it, we’re luckless when it comes to truth because there’s just no way to grasp it without polluting it or mucking it up with ourselves, as if the observer effect didn’t only apply just in physics, but in metaphysics as well because, sure, you can coax it out, the truth, but the moment it shows or reveals itself to you it’s changed in response to being detected, and maybe that’s what Laing meant, after all, that somehow, against all reason, the films in question had actually managed to capture the truth unaltered by perception and that’s why they had to be destroyed… (pp. 60-70).

The shoebox seemed to vibrate there on my lap, like a dying wasp, and I imagined opening it right there and unleashing a terrible fury and blaze that was meant for some apocalyptic future, like some carefully erased sentence slowly re-appearing across the page (p. 76).

See also Guillaume Apollinaire, Yves Bonnefoy (here and here), Stan Brakhage, Karl Ove Knausgaard (here and here), Steven Millhauser (here and here), and Simone Weil.

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