What can be said?
What remains, still frightening, still there with the "past's" insistent
hold is the possibility of comprehension. How is the "beast" able to
endure, still? Once one question is asked the rest - though there will be
no rest, no final rest - seem to tumble forward. Moving as though the time
in which they are asked no longer bears on the time of asking; let alone
the time in which any response could be envisaged.
Is it possible to turn from the personal, perhaps even the
idiosyncratic? Such questioning cannot be simply accepted. It is a
questioning - a questioning embracing a certain banality - forced upon you
who are there wondering, remaining, frightened. The personal while here, in
this very instance, in this writing, writing now, cannot be left outside
the act of questioning. Its admission however does not efface the
insistence of personal involvement. How is the I that is touched to be
Not another I, this one here, now. The one "I am". The one while being
me will always be more than that which is given by any I am.
Within every possibilty what remains, still enduring within the time in
which it was given, is the process that in being linked to it opens up the
now of possibility.
Savoir cela suffit déjà à égarer. Comme si la connaissance ne nous
était laissée que pour connaître ce que nous ne pouvons supporter de
connaître. Maurice Blanchot.
Remembering, when the practice of remembrance involves activity,
opens up a series of demands that work beyond the hold of piety. Working
with the intolerable will have to be, necessarily, tolerable. Denying the
significance of this move is to open up another version of the intolerable.
Memory, and art works that involve themselves with the question of
memory - while occasioning the possibility of memory and thus even for a
type of commemoration - are linked to sites. What however takes place with
a site which comes to be specified within an act of commemoration that then
comes to form an essential part of an art work?
How is the specificity of any site to be maintained? Placing
geography and with it taking up the name of a given place become insistent
problems when what figures within them is the work of memory. Pam Skelton's
Dangerous Places. Ponar can be located at this complex site. What demands
to be taken up, and it is a demand given by the work, imparted by the way
it works, is the productive interconnection of geography, memory and name.
Dangerous places have worked to give this interconnection its present form.
The site's own history will allow, initially, for the familiarity given by
historical description. In a way addressing the differing elements of this
difficult set of relations is to address that which endures as the same. In
being the same distinctiveness is neither collapsed nor denied. On the
contrary it is to insist on the determining presence of time; the insistent
presence of the present. It will be a time that is linked to remembrance.
As such it brings the vigilance of present remembrance into play. Time and
memory are no longer contained by a retention that is worked by the
calendar and judged by the clock.
Despite its initially having the precision and clarity of any name,
the name Ponar is itself, now, far from clear. In fact, it is a Yiddish
name for a site - in fact, a forest - that had, equally a Roumanian name.
The question of naming, a question bearing an inevitable complexity, is
already present. (Its presence is the mediation of language by history.)
Ponar was a name used by Jews when talking to other Jews. Within this
context the name had particularity. It retains it. And yet once that
particularity is insisted upon the name opens. It is no longer possible to
restrict the sway of the name. Nonetheless since neither possibility nor
impossibility exist in themselves what will always have to be pursued is
the reason why the name, now, names beyond itself; beyond itself while
holding itself in place. Responding to the question of the name will have
to incorporate this now ineliminable doubling.
A naming that works beyond the name while retaining the name - a
set up which it itself given by the specific interplay of time and language
- reworks the nature of the name and as such takes thinking beyond the
oscillation between impossibility and possibility.
Responding to the name - the insistent presence of the name as
question - needs a site. In this instance the site in question can be
located. It will allow for a geographical description: as a site it can
bear a name. However the site must be more than that which is named - more
while taking, at the same time, a name: it must be more than a given
terrain - more while allowing, at the same time, that terrain a place. The
complexity of place emerges because of time. Once the present is thought as
a temporal position that eschews any immediate reduction to the interplay
of dates and clocks it becomes the site in question. What is eschewed is,
of course, also retained. Dates and clocks still figure. The present needs
to be thought however as this irreducible site that holds, as part of its
work, the conventions of time. Another time is brought by the present. Its
determining force is signaled above in the reiteration of that which is
necessarily more than one at the same time.
Naming - here that which will now enact that which is more than one
- occurs at the present. Part of the present's force is the impossibility
of retaining the absolute particularity and thus alterity of Judaism. This
is not to deny that Judaism has its own specificity - understood as
Judaism's self-conception of its tradition. (It should be added immediately
however that the tradition harbours an ineliminable plurality.) However
what specificity and particularity bring with them is an opening out. A
movement caused by the Shoah. The singularity of the Shoah lies in the
nature of its impact. While forgetting and normalisation are possible
counter moves to the forms of recognition that have taken place and which
continue to take place, what endures as a constitutive part of the present
is the necessity to negotiate with that which is given as the Shoah. Part
of the negotiation will involve both the concrete as well as the more
straightforwardly human forms of memory.
The name Ponar, now, names the site, the place, the forest which
harbours the place of extermination and struggle, while at the same time
naming for those who while not Jews in recognising the determining role of
the Shoah in the present - in our modernity - are constrained to
acknowledge the inescapable doubling that inhabits such sites, now. The
name Ponar brings a the catastrophe with it. The catastrophe is not just
the deaths, nor is it the cruelty that accompanied those who were held
there. What is catastrophic is not to be accounted for just in human terms.
The measure of the human here is already infinite. It is rather that the
catastrophe is registered in the fact that word Ponar, now, can never again
be a word used just by Jews. Something has happened to the word such that
it, the word, is compelled - and the compulsion is there in its being used
- to name in addition to the site. It names more than the forest and
therefore more than the place of death, torture and imprisonment, while
naming them. It names the condition that cause its naming to have opened
up. As a site of memory and the name for the place of memory, a place now
commemorated, it names the present.
Time is only ever "out of joint" because of time's insistence
within language at the present.
A man appears on the screen. His reminiscences are spoken in
Hebrew. In what language is he remembering? His words are translated on the
screen. It is as though the process of translation, coupled as it must be
to the question of memory's language, work to reenforce the opening of the
Yitzak returns. He describes a place that is there no longer. He
recounts occurrences, remembers names, mourns his own family, Memory
causes the site to return. The place that had been is only there in traces.
The description can do no more than work with the traces. Neither
physically nor descriptively can what had been there return. (Pam Skelton's
project as an artist lies, in part, in allowing this difficult return to be
confronted. It is as though it is the confrontation of a confrontation.)
And yet of course this is the general condition of memory. Remembering is
only ever a partial window.
Skelton's project derives an essential part of its force from its
reworking of the partial and the transitory such that with the move away
from the ephemeral and the all too quickly dissipated reverence of death's
more usual conventions, the presence of loss is given a pain and a
poignancy beyond the tradition of pathos.
What occurs with this work - Dangerous Places - is the attempt to
uncover a place of loss - a loss that has nonetheless played an integral
role in the constitution of modernity - and then to take up both the
specific as well as the general problematic of loss in such a way that loss
is reworked in order that the response incorporates mourning but cannot be
reduced to the work of mourning. In the opening beyond mourning that
maintains mourning another practice emerges. The nature of the practice
pertains to questioning. What is maintained is the question of memory that
is held as a question and thus as an ineliminable part of that which works
to intensify the present. As a work Dangerous Places allows for art to work
within the confines of the present by confining itself to that act of
transformation in which the present is shown as such.