Reader Expresses Assessment Directly: Miéville Is Effective Vanguard In Livening Literary Evolution

[posted by Alice]“As is the case with the rest of his books, the reader already has the sense in the first pages that there is something else in the narrative than what should be there according to his/her expectations, the sense of a perpetual disquiet which doesn’t disappear and even at the end does not bring us a catharsis but only further questions.” from Matous Hrdina, “The Language of the Fantastic, the Politics of Language: the Permanent Literary Revolution of China Mieville” in Issue #16 2016, A2. (translated by G.S. Evans)

The reader finished reading the novel and was puzzled. The reader was I. She tipped her head to one side as though she had just been swimming and there might be water in her ears, but what was actually inside her head was a complicated reaction. She was thinking deeply about this novel, and she had a lot to mull over.

She was accustomed to reading unusual fiction, I think, such as weird fiction and irreal fiction, but Miéville’s short novel defied classification and, especially in the beginning, the sometimes mannered prose was hard to like; she continued to hold her head to one side and thought about the books by China Miéville that she had read before. She liked Embassytown and The City and the City but had always hesitated to call this writer irreal, especially since he so often insists that his fiction is New Weird.

OK, I’ll stop. But rest assured that I am not parodying This Census-Taker. The novel has affected me, making me feel as though Miéville’s purposeful obfuscation, his prose that switches from first to third person and back again from the very first paragraph, his tendency to hint rather than explain, his use of steganography (meaning that a message is concealed within other text as in the title of this blog post) – all these devices lead the reader to stumble along sometimes, wondering where I am being led, but in the end I don’t want to give up. In other words, This Census-Taker is a compelling read in spite of its complex and purposeful opacity. The reader is asked to pay careful attention, to work for meaning, yet (as Matous Hrdina noted in the above quote) meaning is often withheld. Even when the reader solves the simple steganographic puzzles, the meanings of those solutions are obscure.

I don’t know whether or not this is a secret Bas-Lag story, as Christina Schulz at Strange Horizons claims ( I’m not sure if it’s true, as Francis Spufford at The Guardian has it, that “Repeatedly, as a writer of the fantastic, [Miéville] forces a redefinition of what fantasy can be.” ( I don’t claim to know precisely what Miéville is doing, but I do know about the effect his work has on me as a reader.

It certainly undermines my expectations about genre. The story itself, which begins with a boy running down a hill, screaming, frantic to tell others that his mother has killed his father (or the other way around) at first seems more like a murder mystery than anything. But I usually read a murder mystery to find out who murdered whom and why, and there’s so much sleight-of-hand misdirection going on in this novel that solutions are hard to come by. There are fantasy elements (those keys the narrator’s father makes and what people do with them seems a lot like magic) and there are science fiction elements (the lives of those children who live on a bridge and “fish” for bats remind us of other dystopian stories), but This Census-Taker revels too much in its own obfuscations to be easily categorized.

But despite its tendency toward opacity, This Census-Taker is quite certainly about an outsider and an immigrant who may also be a killer. It also remains resolutely and purposefully a story about a child who feels unsafe in his own home and community. And there are plenty of the strange and disturbing images we might expect to find in New Weird fiction. In the end, though I’m not inclined to call it irreal, I am inclined to say that you should read it for the practice it will give you in reading a narrative that compels you to turn the pages as much as any thriller does, eager to reach the explanation at the end, and more than anything else, when that explanation does not entirely satisfy, leaves you eager to see what this writer will have to say next.


More Serendipity

[posted by Alice]

A few years ago I posted “Reading, Serendipity, and a Little Synchronicity” on this blog. Since then, I have written some essays at my Digital Gloss blog about finding books serendipitously. Because irrealists might be interested in some of these books, here are links to a few of the posts:

Unbalancing Act: Helen Oyeyemi’s what is not yours is not yours

Is Tom McCarthy ‘a Kafka for the Google Age’?

“The Food of Angels” and “A Hunger Artist”

Curtains by John Briggs

[posted by Alice]

When I first looked at the photographs in John Briggs’ Curtains, the phrase “glimmers of irreality” came to mind immediately. Each of the photos in this book is a small introduction to the mysteries that we may find when we look carefully at the material world. The book also contains Briggs’ short essay on how he came to take the photos and then manipulate them so that they became “windows on the unreality we live in.”

In October of 2013 Briggs and his wife were walking near Westminster in London, and the curtains hanging in the windows of the Old British Admiralty building caught his eye. For him the cascading and rippling folds of these curtains exuded a “sumptuous, classically sensual feel.”  He photographed them until a policeman asked him to stop taking pictures of a government building.

When he got the photos home and examined them on his computer, Briggs was disappointed that the “glowing, gauzy folds” he had seen in the man-made fabric of the curtains now seemed more harsh than sensuous.  He tried some digital techniques to draw out the curtains’ sumptuous appearance once again, but it was not until 2015 when he experimented with solarization, inversion, and other techniques that he was able to find ways to reveal to us what he had seen on that October day. In this slim volume we are shown both the “normal views” of the curtains and the images in which the application of these techniques brought out true complexity and strangeness.

John Briggs is a Café Irreal contributor and author of Fractals: The Patterns of Chaos among other works, so we share with him an appreciation of the times our normal concept of reality is undermined. Impressed with the strangeness these photos convey, I carried Curtains with me to Prague and spent some time looking at it. Then last week while in London on our way back home, Greg and I made a special detour to the Old British Admiralty to see for ourselves the “puddled” curtains Briggs photographed.

After our visit to the Admiralty, I appreciated the images in Curtains even more. Though I often photograph architectural details and rich textures and I seek to convey in my own images the above-mentioned “glimmers of irreality,” I wouldn’t really have given the Admiralty curtains a second glance. The fact that Briggs chose to photograph them and then made his photos yield two dozen mysterious and complex images is a project that impresses me with its deceptive simplicity.

In Being and Nothingness Sartre described being-in-itself – the objects we encounter in the external world – as a plenitude of being, full of itself, and manifesting itself in an infinite number of aspects. When we really look at a physical object and are able to see, in Briggs’ words, “what’s hidden in plain sight all around us,” we begin to appreciate the true complexity of the in-itself. Briggs’ photos are beautiful works in their own right, but they also teach us how to stumble into strangeness and to find the “whimsical and profound” in the everyday.

Addiction to the God Drug: an Irreal Notion in China Miéville’s Embassytown

[posted by Alice]

China Miéville is a science fiction writer who frequently describes his own work as “weird fiction.” His 2011 novel Embassytown is a complex and unusual psychological science fiction novel that focuses on linguistics, and though it is not as irreal as his 2009 effort The City and the City, there is an irreal notion at Embassytown’s core. I’ll try not to include too many spoilers in this post, though you can find a full synopsis of the novel here, and there’s a thoughtful and well-written review of the whole book here. But I intend to limit myself to describing the particularly irreal notion that is at the heart of the novel, the idea that extraterrestrial beings become addicted to a type of speech, which is referred to at times as the God drug. To describe it, I will use Shimon Sandbank’s idea that some fictional notions, such as those in Franz Kafka’s work, present us with “so many pointers to an unknown meaning.” But first, though Embassytown is mostly (good) science fiction and not irreal fiction, I need to describe briefly the events that take place in the novel.

In the far future time that is the novel’s setting, humans have travelled out into the galaxy in a diaspora that has taken them to the edge of known space. The novel’s narrator, Avice Benner Cho, is a woman who was born and raised in Embassytown, a human colony on a farflung world called Arieka that is inhabited by an intelligent and unique species. Avice earlier left Arieka to became an Immerser (which means she has the skill to pilot starships as they pass through the Immer, which seems to refer to travel though hyperspace), and after a number of years of living as an Immerser she returned to Arieka with her linguist husband in time to experience the events depicted in the novel.

Embassytown is a place designed to give humans an appropriate environment (such as air to breathe) on an otherwise inhospitable planet, and it is the home of Ambassadors who can speak with the Ariekei in their own language. As a result of the Ambassadors’ efforts, humans can exchange technology and goods with the Ariekei, who are mostly treated respectfully by the colonists and referred to as the Hosts. The Hosts are never completely described, but they are large creatures with chitonous shells who have two wings, a number of legs, and multiple eyes. Their speech is referred to as Language, and Avice tells us that in her wide travels throughout the galaxy Language seems to be unique. It is especially difficult to speak because it requires the expression of two separate sounds or words from separate mouths at the same time. Because the Ariekei can only comprehend these sounds if they are emitted by a conscious being and not if they come from a recording, human Ambassadors are actually a pair of cloned humans who have a special empathic link that allows them to learn to speak two separate but necessary parts of Language simultaneously. In this way they can be understood (though imperfectly) by the Hosts.

Avice has a special relationship to Language in that she was made a simile by the Ariekei when she was a child. The Ariekei are fascinated by the human ability to speak something different from the realities they think and see, and unlike humans they find it nearly impossible to lie. After they come into contact with humans they periodically hold Festivals of Lies at which they make feeble attempts at lying and seem to find the experience oddly stimulating. The Ariekei also create similes to enable them to speak in ways that are not strictly true, and they sometimes recruit humans to undergo various experiences which are then used in a type of figurative speech. Among segments of the community of humans in Embassytown there is a cult of celebrity honoring those who have been made similes — these include “the boy who swims with the fishes” and “the girl who was hurt in the dark and ate what she was given.” The latter is the simile Avice has helped to make possible.

When the Bremen authorities send a new Ambassador, Ez/Ra, who is unusual in that the two humans involved are not clones of each other, the Hosts are so overwhelmingly affected by Ez/Ra’s speech that they become addicted to it. This addiction leads to violence and conflicts that have never before been experienced on Arieka, but it’s not necessary to talk any more about the novel’s plot (which would frankly involve a number of spoilers) in order to say that it is the nature of addiction to Ez/Ra and their way of speaking Language that gives us the irreal element in this novel. This addictive speech is sometimes referred to in the novel as “the God drug.”

When the Hosts hear Ez/Ra speak, they are thrilled and overwhelmed, and after a short time they so desperately need to hear more that they are unable to carry on the normal business of their lives. And so of course the first notion that the idea of Ez/Ra and addictive speech points to is an obvious meaning related to the consequences of addiction in the lives of the addicts. Because Embassytown is a colony this addiction can be seen as part of a manipulative ploy on the part of the colonial administrators to get what they want on Arieka. Despite the frequency of German references and words (for example, Bremen is the name of the administrative center to which the Ambassadors and their staffs must answer; the word immer, which refers to space travel that collapses distances the way wormholes do, is the German word for always), the story implies the kinds of colonial relations that sprung up during the British Empire. (Miéville is British after all, and the colonists in Embassytown do speak Anglo-Ubiq.) The addiction to Ez/Ra and subsequent warfare therefore remind me of the Opium Wars, during which Britain and China fought over the fact that the British were illegally importing and selling opium and wanted to force China to open its markets to foreign goods. Ez/Ra’s speech and the notion of the God drug can be seen as an unethical way for colonizers to manipulate the indigenous inhabitants of an important colony, but many other concepts are implied. I can think of at least five other meanings that Ez/Ra’s speech or the God drug points toward, without actually being fully explained by any of them:

  1. The two voices needed to speak Language and the almost supernatural power of Ez/Ra’s speech bring to mind Julian Jaynes’ book The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. In this book Jaynes put forth the notion that ancient peoples, the Greeks among others, experienced a divided consciousness in which one of the “voices” that seemed to speak to them inside their own minds was interpreted as the voice of the gods. (Note that the name Ezra is Biblical in origin, and the Ra half of the name makes reference to the ancient Egyptian god of the sun.)
  2. The two voices needed to speak Language and the addictive nature of Ez/Ra’s speech also remind us that the voice of the writer is speaking inside the reader’s head. Depending on the reader’s opinion of the writer, this can sometimes become nearly addictive. Perhaps Miéville himself has experienced irrational loyalty and a clamoring for more output from his fans (remember that the word fan is a shortened version of fanatic).
  3. The language of the novel itself is compelling and propels us forward because we want to find out what will happen. Such is the nature of storytelling, which is a kind of lie. When the Ariekei learn to lie and use figurative speech, they also become capable of telling stories. Which reminds us in turn that Embassytown itself is a story.
  4. The hints of German language in the novel make us think about the effect that Adolf Hitler’s speech had on the German people — a kind of hypnotic and extremely enthralling influence that is part of the reason why people followed his lead into the unspeakable horrors of World War II.
  5. Language is inevitably spoken by all Ariekei before the events described in the novel, but after Ez/Ra comes some Ariekei mutilate themselves so they cannot hear and cannot be addicted to Ez/Ra’s speech. Yet these mutilated Ariekei are able to communicate with each other, which leads to the realization that Language is not the only language.

The notion of two humans known as Ez/Ra speaking an extraterrestrial language in such a way that addiction and chaos result is truly a weird notion, and it gives Embassytown glimmers of irreality. However, in my opinion, the Ariekei themselves are not actually irreal. They are speakers of a language that can be spoken by and understood by humans. Much more alien are the aliens created by Stanislaw Lem in Fiasco or the Strugatsky brothers in Roadside Picnic, who are so different from and/or advanced beyond humans that they can scarcely be comprehended.

Quirky Narrators and Occasional Irrealism in George Saunders’ Tenth of December

[posted by Alice]

At the Café Irreal we often receive stories which the author considers to be irreal because they feature a strange or unexpected narrative style. Sometimes the narrator of these stories uses unusual language or the narrator may have a psychiatric problem or is delusional because of illness. But the story itself depicts events that can actually be explained by the narrator’s mental or physical state (or unusual manner of speaking). To us these stories, though they might be entertaining and well written, are not irreal at all — we want to see reality itself, not an individual’s consciousness, being undermined in some way.

As I read George Saunders’ most recent short story collection, Tenth of December, I couldn’t help but notice that almost every story in the collection features a first person or third person subjective narrative style. In most cases the narrator also uses odd colloquial language and may also be mentally or physically impaired. Many writers in the United States — from Mark Twain onward — have shown a strong preference for quirky and colloquial narration. Examples would include Alice Walker in The Color Purple and J. D. Salinger in The Catcher in the Rye. Like both Walker and Salinger, Saunders crafts memorable narrators and often makes serious points about the nature of our society, how it is going awry, and how social problems affect the lives of ordinary people. But even when he is writing stories that could clearly be called science fiction, Saunders’ stories are not particularly irreal.

Tenth of December gives us quite a range of quirky narrators, and Saunders uses their narrative quirks to show us, in the space of a short story, what their lives are like and how they relate to others. In “Puppy” we feel a sense of revulsion toward both the woman taking her children to look at a puppy and the woman whose puppy is at the center of the story. We see into these women’s lives, know their thoughts, and are given their rationalizations even as they do ugly things. This is not always pleasant, but despite an odd incident in the puppy owner’s yard, the story is not irreal. In the science-fiction-inspired “Escape from the Spiderhead” we come to see the narrator from a more sympathetic point of view, despite what we know to be true about him. This story takes Stanley Milgram’s experiments to a new level, as managers psyche themselves and others up to do unspeakable things. (Milgram’s 1965 study on obedient behavior saw “teachers” giving electrical shocks to “learners” despite the pain the learners seemed to endure.) But though the setting of this story is near future and the narrator’s language and explanations are constantly altered by the administration of drugs, the story is sadly plausible and again is not irreal.

In my opinion the only story in the collection that has a truly irreal aspect is “The Semplica Girl Diaries.” This is not because of the narrative style, which reminds me of Sue Townsend’s Adrian Mole books, nor because of the near future or alternative universe setting in which most things are very much like our own world. It is instead because of the existence of an irreal phenomenon that is never fully explained, in much the same way that Kafka never tells us why Gregor Samsa turns into a very large insect. In this story the narrator is a father trying to keep a daily diary for benefit of future readers (a nice device that lets the reader know why he explains things so completely) and worrying that his family is not able to enjoy a high enough standard of living. He describes his life in a frequently annoying yet likeable way and says, for example, that he doesn’t like rich people because they make poor people feel “dopey and inadequate,” but he also wants what rich people have. We know that he is not well off — his bumper falls off at the beginning of the story, he says that people at work only ever see him wearing a a blue shirt or a yellow shirt, and his credit cards are nearly maxed out. When he comes into a small windfall in the form of a $10,000 “Scratch-Off win,” he consults with his wife and they decide to upgrade their landscaping so their daughter can have a birthday party at home and feel comfortable inviting her better-off friends to her house. The investment works well, the party is a success, but one of the upgrades the family has made — the installation of four SGs — upsets the family’s other daughter, a sensitive girl who worries about the pain and suffering SGs might experience.

We don’t learn very much about these SGs (Semplica Girls), but we are told that they are women from economically and politically challenged societies. They are brought to people’s homes by a landscaping company that also sees to their physical needs while they are engaged in the service they are being paid to perform. This involves dressing in white smocks and being hoisted into the air, attached to each other by “microfilament” that joins them brain-to-brain, so that they float above people’s backyards. And because of interviews done by one of the daughters, we even learn some “fun facts” about the narrator’s SGs, including their names and that they hail from the Philippines, Somalia, Moldava, and Laos. But I think that this odd notion of the SGs, which is at the heart of an otherwise only slightly nonrealistic story, has more depth and resonance than the illustration at the New Yorker site implies when it shows the white skirt hems of four brown-skinned women float-flying above a koi pond. Nor do I think it is accurate to describe them as “third-world women strung up as bourgeois lawn ornaments” as Gregory Cowles did in his February 1, 2013 review of Tenth of December in the New York Times. I think that the SGs are truly an irreal notion, every bit as much as Gregor Samsa waking up to find he’s been turned into a very large insect. The idea that young, mostly dark-skinned and dark-haired women would be hung so thoughtlessly in people’s backyards calls to mind the wide range of suffering inflicted on dark-skinned people, such as lynching and the mistreatment of undocumented workers. The surgeries they must undergo also call to mind the surgeries women endure to participate in the sex trade (breast enhancement, etc.). SGs wear white, float above the ground and are often described as singing, bringing to mind an image of angels; yet, several times in the story we see a tethered dog suffer at the end of its chain so we can also see SGs in terms of the sad life of a yard dog. In many ways the SGs point to an unknown meaning, even as they also more obviously show us the irrational spending that fads can induce and the suffering of deprived and impoverished humans in our world. And finally, as the diary ends abruptly, we are also left feeling that the fate of the SGs will affect the lives of the narrator’s family who are running the race to the bottom themselves, their two daughters perhaps more vulnerable than they know. The irreal plight of the SGs is inexplicable yet surprisingly meaningful.

An Irrealist Perspective on God Help the Child

[posted by Alice]

Toni Morrison’s latest novel, God Help the Child, was published in April of this year. Though Morrison has chosen an uncharacteristically modern setting for the work, God Help the Child treats themes familiar to readers of her other novels. In particular it focuses on the notion that, “What you do to children matters. And they might never forget.” These are the words of Sweetness, mother of Bride, the beautiful young woman at the novel’s core. And though the book is about a mother’s failures in the care of her children, it is also about the failures of our society to provide children and their families the support they need – and the ways that racism worsens those failures.

John Gardner said that in all of the forms of non-realistic literature authors tend to translate “details of psychological reality into physical reality,” as happens in our dreams. And though Toni Morrison creates realistic stories with believable characters as she depicts African-American life in the United States, she sometimes brings one or more nonrealistic elements to bear as the story unfolds.

In God Help the Child a nonrealistic trend develops after Bride’s lover Booker misunderstands something she plans to do and walks out on her, saying “You not the woman…” This half-uttered statement, unclear in its implications, not only sets in motion Bride’s journey to the small town of Whiskey in search of Booker, it also seems to trigger her transformation from an exceptionally beautiful mature woman to a prepubescent child. Booker impugns Bride’s womanhood and leaves her without another word of explanation, after which she begins to lose her most womanly attributes, thereby becoming more like the child who experienced the events Booker fails to understand in the first place. And what Bride hasn’t told him is that, in order to win her mother’s approval, when she was a little girl she testified in court that a teacher had sexually molested other children, something she knew to be false.

Earlier in the novel Bride’s mother Sweetness describes her young daughter as “so black she scared me” and herself as “light-skinned, with good hair.” Bride’s dark skin was taken as a sign of Sweetness’ infidelity by Bride’s biological father, who left the family shortly after she was born. Sweetness also says, “Her color is a cross she will always carry. But it’s not my fault. It’s not my fault. It’s not my fault. It’s not.” Sweetness’ negative view of Bride leads her to be a cold and demanding mother who only gives her daughter affection and approval after Bride testifies in court according to Sweetness’ expectations and sends an innocent woman to jail.

To her mother’s surprise, Bride grows up to become a successful businesswoman (with her own cosmetics line, YOU, GIRL), and she is able to use her striking looks to her advantage. But when the woman she falsely accused is released from prison, Bride tries to make amends and is beaten up for her trouble. When Booker, confused about why she would try to make up with a child molester, reacts in the way that he does, Bride begins to experience physical regression to childhood. Her pubic hair disappears, the piercings in her ears close up, she loses her womanly curves, and Bride’s panic and despair as her physical allure is undermined provides at least some of the energy that helps her to come to terms with her past.

Of all Morrison’s novels, God Help the Child reminds me most of Sula, which takes place in an earlier era, mostly prior to World War II. Sula also deals with the hurtful ways parents fail their children, and it contains a scattering of events that seem to represent psychological realities translated into physical ones. As a result the novel shifts between realistic depictions of people’s lives and irreal events that undermine reality. These less realistic aspects include the scene in which Sula slings a child into the lake and leaves him to drown, as well as the presence of a trio of motherless boys named dewey who, despite their differences in appearance and family origin, all answer to the same name and become indistinguishable from one another. A major way in which Sula differs from God Help the Child, however, is in its treatment of community. In Sula the people who live in the African-American section of Medallion, known as the Bottom, are able to function as a community, albeit a sometimes claustrophobic one, whereas God Help the Child implies that our narcissistic individualized contemporary world tends to undermine all human relationships.

Shortly after God Help the Child was released, Toni Morrison gave a reading at the 92nd St. Y in New York. During a discussion about a turn toward the self in the 21st century and how it affects personal development, Morrison says, “And one of the ways you get to be a whole person is you stop thinking about your little self. Am I pretty? Am I not pretty? … And start doing something serious for somebody else.” Though some movement toward community takes place in God Help the Child as Bride tries to understand what happened to her and begins to help others — including another abused child named Rain and Booker’s elderly aunt, Queen — the novel uses the stunting of Bride’s developed womanhood to show how hard developing as a whole human can truly be – especially when family and community fail us.

The Secret World of Objects and Owen Kydd’s Durational Photographs

[posted by Alice]

When I was a child I would sometimes lie in bed and watch the subtle shadows and flickers of color that were projected on the walls of my room by cars passing our house in the night. This intrusion into my life by unknown travelers gave me both a thrill of angst and a puzzled feeling about how these tricks of light occurred.

I felt some of those old reactions again recently when I saw Owen Kydd’s work in an exhibit called “The Pure Products of America Go Crazy” at the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson. Though other photographers’ work is represented in this show (which takes its title from a William Carlos Williams poem and purports to be “a running dialogue between photographic images—past and present—that take as their subject the accumulated byproducts of an American way of life”) none of them caught my attention like Kydd’s work did. And this was not so much because he deals with particularly American “byproducts” but because he engages with inanimate objects in such intriguing ways.

According to the signage at the exhibit, Kydd describes his process as “durational photography,” in which a digital camera in video mode is fixed on an object, scene, or a small tableau for a short period of time, recording subtle motion, reflections, or changes in light. The digital video images are then played on a continuous loop on a high definition LED monitor, the kind used for commercial signs. Sometimes the viewer has to look rather carefully at the monitor to see what’s happening in the piece. In “Mirror Palm (2014)” images from the street are reflected in the blue-violet surface of a kitschy abstracted palm shape that seems to be part of a window display. In “Knife (J.G.) (2011)” a piece of cutlery showcases small reflections that glide back and forth on its somewhat battered blade against a bokeh background that seems to include wine glasses. In “Composition Warner Studio (on green) (2012)” a tattered black plastic bag twists and writhes in the wind like a monotone sea anemone. In “Windows #5” circles of colored light move up and down like rising and setting suns on what seems to be a glass surface. And “Pico Boulevard (Nocturne) (2012)” presents a number of small tableaus that may have moving light or sliding reflections or both, including one in which hazy images of passing cars and buses are seen through a somewhat tattered venetian blind. (Versions of these pieces can be seen at The Nicelle Beauchene Gallery site, but the size and clarity of the images really does affect their impact.)

So what seems irreal about Kydd’s art? Though I read an interview in Aperture in which Kydd speaks about the ways in which his work explores the differences between cinema and photography, to me the most surprising thing about these durational photos is that they evoke the seemingly secret world of objects. These objects move. They glow. They are played upon by light and go through many subtle changes. Kydd shows us objects that seem somehow animated without biological life (or mechanical impetus), and this in turn gives a glimpse into the uncomfortable reality of being in-itself, the existence of objects that, unlike us, have no conscious motivations and, unlike us, cannot be said to live or die. But like us they do exist, and this is the deep foundation of existential unease. Kydd helps us feel this, and his work is worthwhile for that reason — as well as because of the way his durational photographs contribute to “the possibility of undoing the time signature of the photograph.”