That Which Holds the Image of an Angel

April 27th, 2010 § 0 comments

The title story of A Life on Paper, which first appeared in translation in AGNI Online (Spring 2006), has managed to remain oddly relevant in our age, when taking snapshots is easier than ever. In a strange case of life imitating art it probably didn’t know existed, Munish Bansal, an accountant from Kent, has taken pictures of his two children every day fro the last thirteen years, the Daily Mail reports (showing a selection of the photos). I was staying at a friend’s house in LA last year when I got an email linking to this story, and shared it at the breakfast table. Soon thereafter my friend left for work, and his wife prepared their newborn for the daily ritual of having her photo snapped and texted to Daddy at the office. Apparently showing it to his coworkers was part of the ritual too.

When, bemused, I reported this to Gavin Grant at Small Beer, he said he did the same with daughter Ursula. Most recently, I was stunned to find unexpected echoes in the Banksy documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop. Its main character, Thierry Guetta, assigned his mania for compulsively videotaping every last mundane minute of his life to his mother’s early death. While by no means an exclusive or even unpredictable motivation, it is one nonetheless shared by Kathrin’ father in “A Life on Paper”: the event that drives him over the edge, and causes him to ruin his daughter’s life. Video, of course, negates what I think of as the key phrase in Châteaureynaud’s story, describing a close succession of photos, or our perception thereof, as perhaps “surprising Time at work.” Still, shots of Guetta’s crates and bins full of videocassettes recalled the description of the trunks that Châteaureynaud’s narrator discovered at auction, containing the eponymous material of the story.

Writers from John Crowley to Charles Stross have each in their way noted that the steady growth of data storage technologies has given rise to the specter of total record: a life from birth to death committed to video, preserving in digital amber all the details otherwise lost to time. I am hopeful about the persistence of trivia perhaps changing our conception of history, if by nothing more than sheer mass. Isn’t this the dross that history has traditionally left out? Won’t some new ways of sifting, some new analysis, find use for it, or even some expanded consciousness be able to grasp it all, once it’s available?

Also, I am at PEN World Voices in NYC this week. See y’all around!

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