Alix Cleo Roubaud, Alix’s Journal, translated by Jan Steyn, (Dalkey Archive, 2010)
Alix Cleo Roubaud, née Blanchette (1952-1983): Photographer, writer. Bilangue. Study’d philosophy (Aix-en-Provence and Paris) and, earlier, architecture and psychology (Ottawa). “Mad chaos of booze and barbs and despondency” versus “Why not behave like a lady and a tiger,behave the way one imagines a spy,never ready to compromise security . . .” Asthmatic, dying of a pulmonary embolism. Marry’d to Jacques Roubaud. See Jean Eustache’s film: Les photos d’Alix (1980). See Jacques Roubaud’s Some Thing Black, translated by Rosmarie Waldrop (Dalkey Archive, 1990).
“Singularity in photography remains fixed to what is singular, to the “real”(but the “real” and its “illusion” are nothing but representable singularities)—there is no point in making photography more pictorial—photography is shot through with abstraction in its composition and in its rhythm:
make singularity dance,repeat it,make it turn back upon itself, make it pivot move sing.Repeat what is singular and make it sing.Repeat.
Making it sing:inventions in two or three parts, make some crabs and others canons.”
(See Jacques Roubaud, in the “Introduction,” how Alix Roubaud, who “did all her own printing”—the Journal numbers hours of darkroom work—“recognized as part of her oeuvre only those images that she herself had consigned to paper.” Roubaud insisted (according to J. R.) “that a photographic negative was no more important than a pallet [palette?] is to a painter. Any photographic work that she signed was composed by her hand with the aid of light and chemistry. Transposing, for her own use, and without claiming any philosophical significance to this borrowing, a Wittgensteinian distinction, she opposed the living image to what she called a piction: a mere “idle” image. On a negative, she used to say, there is only a piction. “Printing” alone can set it into motion and truly make an image.”) (Roubaud attempts to preserve the work’d singularity, too, of the “typoscripts”—A. C. R.’s odd orthography and punctuation—“in the printed version of Journal.”)
J. R.: “The original title, later abandoned, of her great series, If some thing black, was rakki tai, and “rakki tai” designates one of the medieval Japanese poetic styles, the style for “taming the demons.”
“.A painting of the same bed would be a mere repetition.A photograph of the same bed,one day later,doesn’t repeat,but adds one more:what is photographable is as infinitely fragmentable(into these brilliant fragments we call photos)as is the time we have in the world.”
(Recalling a little Gertrude Stein in “Composition as Explanation” saying “Everything is the same except composition and as the composition is different and always going to be different everything is not the same.” Or, in “Portraits and Repetition” Stein’s note about “what has been called repetition”: “each sentence is just the difference in emphasis that inevitably exists in the successive moment of my containing within me the existence of that other one achieved by talking and listening inside me and inside in that one.”)
Ebullience: the photograph’s song in the fixing bath: “When in the past I had to explain to young people how to know how much time is required to fix a photo,I used to say that one had to wait until it (the photo) had finished singing:and indeed, when one plunges an exposed proof into the fixing tray—of acetic acid—after twenty seconds,one hears a mounting, bubbling glissando beginning in approximately D, then descending once more and fading away;failing that, I added, one must wait for the bubbles to have completed the octave.None of this is true,or rather everything is true except the young person.”
After developing “a horrible sentimental painting,playing at being a Magrittean chromo except that it’s a photo”: “Pornography and sentimentality are twin sisters claimed Valéry,both detestable . . .”
“. . . to group together, to produce all my photos two by two (like saqqarah or The Man Who Hesitated) or by fours (like The Last Room):two being the minimum of organization that completely de-centers any reference to an original . . .But two can organize themselves as an infinity of binary oppositions.”
“So, light;nothing but light;light when it falls,light which exposes the film,the light wherein the image of light gets deciphered,light from the window;sunlight;reflected in water;contracted in a window;refracted by a mirror;condensed by film;seen in a room where, once again,sunlight, refracted by a window,compressed by a door,refracted by a mirror,and so on. Repetition like those in music;loops.(the hierarchies need to be determined:the various levels that prevent the loop from truly looping).”
“Modesty.interior life in a journal is like a car stuck in neutral:it goes nowhere;and it only begets infinite repetition. To write down everything.”
“The visual is the affirmation of an ante-predicative substance unable to produce certainties yet giving a grounding,of a sort,to a belief in the real
in the same way that memory is the ground of belief in the past.”
(See, again, Fenollosa’s “The eye sees noun and verb as one: things in motion, motion in things.”)
“Or why photography?because it is fragment and because,like in aphorisms, fragmentation makes visible the white spaces between the fragments and it’s precisely there.Maybe an aesthetic of the ruin,preferring,say, Hölderlin,to,say,X.”
(Think of Hölderlin’s lines in “Hälfte des Lebens” (“Half of Life”)—“Die Mauern stehn / Sprachlos und kalt, im Winde / Klirren die Fahnen”—in Richard Sieburth’s rendering “Walls stand cold / And speechless, in the wind / The weathervanes creak.”)
“A question of the meeting between the umbrella and the sewing machine maxim of the Lautréamont-surréalistes,not often used in fact by Man Ray,law of all kind of photography:coexistence of heteroclite objects(and also in poetry,says Jacques:the strategy of disconnected trivia*) in the same space supported by the photographic axiom (the photo is the momentary coexistence of the photographer and the photographed) giving a kind of law of reality or the effect of the real.”
*Phrase in English
“Padgett describing Ted Berrigan with the gusto of an old friend:’he’s huge now and lies in bed all day smoking cigarettes and drinking pepsi covered with ash he says:I had no money but Alice just sold two books for a dollar thirty now isn’t life wonderful.’”*
(Too, glimpse of a dialogue between Michel Chaillou and Kenneth Koch—“two curly white heads”: “Chaillou maliciously parading Walden,Emerson,Emily Dickinson,Salinger,and in a breathtaking move all the way to ‘trout fishing in America’ by Brautigan: “what I love,is the subject,trout fishing”;Koch increasingly perplexed.”)
*Paragraph in English
“Benjamin preferred the image to the concept;in temporality he privileged the moment.cross the image and the moment,in whichever way you want,image of the moment,moment of images,you end up with photography.”
“. . . the journal was a moral undertaking,more so than photography.Irgendwie, says Scholem.The word for a thought in preparation.”
(See Scholem, in Walter Benjamin: The Story of a Friendship: “I also made this notation: ‘The word irgendwie [somehow] is the stamp of a point of view in the making. I never have heard anyone use this word more frequently than Benjamin.’”)
“Between telling and showing? The ideal is mutism and display:a cadaver’s silence and ostentation.”
And, out of the series of statements titled “All Photographs Are Childhood Photographs” (1980):
. . .
5.5. Every fact has a right to photographic existence; the banal as much as the exotic, the familiar as much as the grandiose; to favor the intersection of two opposing categories.
5.6. If there is a photographic aesthetic, distinct from pictorial aesthetics, it satisfies André Breton’s axiom (which is not my own): the more arbitrary an image is, the more beautiful it is.
. . .
6.1 Never forget the fascination exerted by every photograph in childhood, even if it is blurry or askew; it is a domain where there is no such thing as a good photo.
. . .