Today I did my presentation for the Queer Theory Symposium about photographs and storytelling, Gertrude Stein and Roland Barthes, Tom Phillips and Tacita Dean, and some other things too. Here are the first and last paragraphs for the general gist. Summertime is almost here, my friends.
The English noun, souvenir, comes from the French verb meaning ‘to remember.’ History, or, social memory, has a tendency to simplify the complexity of events into a falsely singular version of the truth. A queer reading of memory accommodates for the possibility of alternative outcomes. Stories and photographs are souvenirs, evidence of passage through time. To queer the souvenir is to understand it not as evidence but as a prop, to open up its meaning beyond its possession. I hope to connect and complicate the exclusivity of souvenirs and memory using the writings of Gertrude Stein and Roland Barthes. After deconstructing the relationship of possession by which objects and narratives have but one meaning, I will explore how contemporary artists Tom Phillips and Tacita Dean use photographs and storytelling as props to strategize new understandings of ownership and authorship.
(...imagine 8 pages of incredibly verbose and illuminated writing here...)
I’d like to return to the word souvenir. Found at a flea market, a photograph once a souvenir from a particular autobiographical narrative becomes a part of a social and phenomenological landscape. The wealth of memory is that it is fluid and resourceful, with no scarcity in its infinite alteration. By teasing photographs and stories out of the singularity of possession we can open up the possibilities of ownership, where we defy the conventions of autonomy to foster greater notions of collective consciousness. The story and the photograph are both props that aid us in this shape-shifting process of discovery, essential to defining and redefining who we are. As Barthes writes, “I am the reference of every photograph, and this is what generates my astonishment in addressing myself to the fundamental question: why is it that I am alive here and now?"