Wednesday, January 12, 2011

This excerpt is from the short story, "The Balloon Man's Dictionary", which I'm writing as part of a challenge from a friend and colleague, and experiment in making fragmentary images into narrative. It is entirely experimental, and I would love some feedback.

By Hila Shachar

Memorialise: Lee
Lee Miller decides that memory is like a hallucination with photographic borders. Her fingers click at mechanical buttons that seek to intercept memory before it disappears.

A camera is not simply a mechanical object, but a memory box filled with locks of hair, lost buttons, mildew and paper cuts.

The day she sat in Hitler’s bathtub she considered how this would look in a photograph years later, frozen in time.

An old woman flicks through a magazine with this very image and captures her breath like a photograph. She suddenly becomes swollen with history, a telltale sign of her impending death.

She too remembers the war, but not through Hitler’s bathtub, or through the visual. It is an assault of the senses in the dark: sweat, stale bread, acrid milk, explosive skies and the texture of blood. What they don’t tell you is that memory is all-encompassing, and how little these photographs penetrate what was, and what is made from it.

When the war ended, she dreamt in subtitles, and could not bear to look at photographs. The smell of freshly made jam, clean laundry and soap became imprints upon the process of memorialisation.

A photograph should convey the smell of rotting bodies, she thought. And of fire. And the agony of numbers stamped upon flesh. It should not be a hallucination, but a tremendous enclosure within defined boundaries of the past.

She wants to forget, and to remember. She admires Lee and her clever camera, and mocks her attempts at capturing history. Above all, she despises her cool blonde hair.

Memorialise: An irretrievable smell and sound. To honour and mock memory. To create a box of light in which horror becomes hallucination. Lee Miller in Hitler’s bathtub, the lost precision of numbers on a forearm.


hila said...

whoops, that should read "challenge", not "challagene". That's what happens when I type too quickly.

Thanks for letting me submit Jo and Laura, this blog is such a great idea.

louise said...

Sounds fantastic, Hila. I'm looking forward to reading the whole piece. xolj

hila said...

oh thank you louise, that's so kind!

Tracey said...

This is amazing Hila!

I love the shifting perspectives and the very 'textured' descriptions you've used throughout the excerpt. I think the way you've tied emotion to the experiences of the senses is really wonderful too.

You say it's entirely experimental, but it feels very measured and very deliberate ... I would love to read more! :)

Sundari said...

This is beautiful. It is quite subtle and still quite moving. The way words can capture the senses. Oh and the way you talk about smell! It is really powerful.

I think you really were spot on with portraying Millers thoughts on being in that bathtub, whether or not she actually thought it at the time I'm not sure, but it is interesting the way we think in terms of photographs becoming memories or triggers for memories later on. I hope to read more!

Your writing on photographs is so perfect, I find it very useful for my own research.

hila said...

Thank you both so much! I had to resist the urge to get all misty-eyed about your kind comments. I really appreciate the feedback, and also the specific detail that you go into, describing what appeals to you about the writing. This really helps me figure out what ideas do and don't work. Sometimes my writing doesn't live up to the thoughts in my head.