At the end of 2023, I posted my thoughts about how returning to familiar locations and subjects allowed me to take multiple visual readings of, for example, the lone tree or the reeds of Loch Cill Chriosd. In this post, I intend to explore this idea further and also consider how Harman’s brand of Speculative Realism might conflict with the ideas of the Algerian-French philosopher, Jacques Derrida (1930-2004).
However, for, my practice and research I believe there are four crossover points where Derrida provides me with insights or ideas that manifest in my experience in the field while the significant difference is the acceptance of otherwise of a present world.
Possibility of a glimmer
My early days as a PhD student were characterised by a search for:
“. . . the crevice through which the yet unnameable glimmer beyond the closure can be glimpsed.” (1967) p14).
This quotation provided hope as I began to realise the challenge I had set myself, to capture through my photographic images, something that was hidden or withdrawn. Whilst referring to his search for meaning through words and text in the quotation above, it has been suggested by Derrida’s son, that his father’s reference to “the unnameable glimmer” was a reference to Being. This insight from Derrida encouraged me to continue to search for this momentary revelation.
Multiple Visual Readings
The multiple readings in my photographic practice (that I refer to above and in previous posts) might be taken over days, weeks, or months, as I return time after time, or may occur during a single shoot, or might emerge by using multiple exposure functionality and combining several images in-camera. This idea of taking multiple readings in my practice has emerged by reflecting on the deferral of meaning in text articulated by Derrida. I am looking for something that is withdrawn, and yet might be glimpsed by triangulating visual images – something that might emerge through identifying similarities and differences in a series of shots that might in turn reveal a trace of Being (hence the title of my Handmade Artist’s Book. Like the navigator at sea seeking their exact location, they record the time of day, the angle of the midday sun and the horizon – multiple pieces of information are considered to obtain an unknown position on the surface of the earth. Similarly, in my photographic work, I use different modes of practice to deepen my knowledge and understanding. I walk, I write, I attend, I dwell and capture images with my camera. I use these dimensions in my practice to test, elaborate, explore, and confirm meaning.
Ten-Signifier Onion Diagram
The word signifier above offers a clue to Derrida’s influence in the practice that led me to the conception of the Ten-Signifier Onion Diagram. In creating this visual heuristic, I was seeking to identify and elaborate on the drivers of my practice in possibilising allure. I was clear from its inception, that although my research was intended to describe the key drivers in my practice, I intended to offer the ten signifiers as a starting point, fully accepting that the concepts and words may have different meanings to me over time or for others who might recognise value in its structure and principles.
Primacy of Writing
The primacy of text and writing in Derrida’s work is something that I can relate to, although I would consider myself to be more visually centred. However, words and meaning are also important in my practice. All PhD students, through the nature of the thesis, need to produce a strong narrative and well-crafted piece of writing. I have also chosen to support and enhance my practice and research by writing a regular and extensive collection of blogs in this Critical Research Journal (CRJ). These posts have two significant purposes: first to provide a narrative and explanation of the development of my images and photographic practice and second to provide a place to reflect on emerging theories and thoughts, which together form a running exegesis of my practice within the practice-led tradition. It also provides a historical and contemporaneous record of my research.
Debate about Presence
One of Derrida’s significant works is Of Grammatology (1967) in which he proposes a “science of writing”. In presenting these ideas, he distances himself from the likes of Socrates who believed that philosophy belonged in the realms of debate, philosophers speaking in their voice, rather than their thoughts being enshrined in the written word where they might subsequently be subject to misinterpretation. Derrida carves a different path, accepting the inevitability of contextual reinterpretation of meaning, and referring to the written or spoken word as disseminations. In taking this approach, he stands opposed to presence and refers to those committed to it as “logocentrists”. Graham Harman suggests that:
“it would be no exaggeration to say that the fight against presence makes up the whole of Derrida’s intellectual career.” (Harman 2018) p199).
Herein, is the crux of the divergence between Harman and I, and Derrida. Harman refers to the “sensual world” of presence, a world of sensory experience. He argues that all objects, not only humans, inhabit a sensory world but there is also a real world that is withdrawn. Derrida, on the other hand, does not accept a world of presence, his world is one of words, there is nothing outside the text, the text is thought, an overlay, and the method by which we understand or find meaning.
Derrida, J. (1967). Of Grammatology. Baltimore, John Hopkins University Press.
Harman, G. (2018). Object-Oriented Ontology – A New Theory of Everything. Milton Keynes, Pelican Books.