Hiroshima mon amour (dir. Alain Resnais, 1959)

In my reply to kvond’s and Meg’s comments on the Event, I alluded to a quote from Derrida’s Cinders, which I thought would be worth posting, especially since I can’t find any reference to it online and I don’t have the book handy to check it.

“At what temperature do words burst into flame?

Is language itself what remains of a burning?

Are cinders all that’s left from the ringing at the origin of words?”

Derrida’s reference point is the Holocaust, but it’s also the entry into language, which resonates with Lacan’s notion of a gap between the Real and the Symbolic. Following up on Meg’s suggestion of petrification and Pompeii as western civilization’s perhaps archetypal reference point for volcanic/traumatic cataclysmic events, what’s left behind, and what Herzog dwells on in the films I mentioned, is the signature of the Event (though, in the case of La Soufriere, it’s a non-Event). Rather like a nuclear explosion that leaves its radioactive shadow splayed across everything, the traumatic event leaves everything askew, haunted by a spectre, or ringing with an inaudible sound, the meaning of which we can’t make out. The vacated city, the empty landscape, the city frozen in time, with its illegible ciphers, the Event we can never come back to, yet which we perpetually circle around. If the human disappearance from this planet is genuinely thinkable, Herzog is one of its most evocative thinkers.

But sometimes reading these fragments can only be done in still shots, not in movement images. Unlike Deleuze’s time-image, which is always an image of movement, these might be something more like a geological frozen-time-image, which is always an image of movement stilled, of time passed, and, as Barthes put it in Camera Lucida, ultimately an image of (one’s own) death.

La Jetée (dir. Chris Marker, 1962)

For all that I value the vibrant materiality of process-relational and vibrant-materialist ontologies, I still turn to Derrida (and Buddhism) to remind us of the resonant emptiness at the heart of things. Derrida and his followers (Caputo, Mark Taylor) groped toward an ethic, a call, a claim on us from within that emptiness; but for a pretty reliable method for hearing that call, we could do worse than to turn to Nagarjuna and the Buddhists.