from inscriptions 1944-1956

Again cool windy days,
grey skies and sidewalks black with rain;
again the solitary walks,
and a quiet room in which to sit and work
and see mankind—
only through a windowpane.

Charles Reznikoff



elementary tears

The Czech photographer Josef Sudek left behind a body of work in which the poetics of the window takes on its full intensity. A poetics of the window, but also of the pane, of the clouded pane. At issue here is not simply a journey around his room, but an immobile journey across this vaporous and peacefully lachrymal veil. Sudek photographs branches, trees, barred fences, and houses, each glimpsed from the window of his studio. The focus is on that which veils, the cloud upon the pane of glass, and what one glimpses behind this veil reinforces its indefiniteness. Sometimes, these are only incoordinate fragments. But at other times, the landscape, instead of dissolving into evanescence and blur, is simplified into masses worthy of an energetic charcoal drawing, and takes on a paramnesic force of affirmation, as if we had already seen these trees and these houses, as if we too lived day in day out in front of them and with them. 

Because the frames and sills of the windows do not appear, but only the pane, with its tears tracing their streaks sometimes darker, sometimes lighter, the pane itself becomes like a photographic plate, a photograph to the second power. The minute precision that the vapor confers upon the vision of the plane of the glass gives the photograph a certain mural-like aspect, and the depth beyond that is guessed at is denied as much as affirmed. Does the clouded pane show us a fragment of landscape become simpler and more sober, or is it rather the cloud that shows us the pane, which is to say, shows us that which normally one does not see? The pane of glass itself becomes the site where light and shadows write themselves, and it manifests itself as such. The means of vision becomes the object of vision. And, in certain of Josef Sudek’s shots, he alone is given to be seen. 

The relations of interior and exterior are thus powerfully disturbed. As a general rule, the function of a pane of glass is at the same time to unite and to distinguish interior and exterior: it allows being inside and outside all at once, seeing the exterior while remaining in the interior. The vapor veils this transparency, makes a curtain of the pane, and thus, in a certain way, closes the interior upon itself. But in Sudek’s work, nothing of this interior space appears, not even a sill or a frame, and the interior is no longer a dwelling place, but only a wide-open gaze, pure vision. And the veiled exterior, glimpsed with difficulty, is laden with a patient, slow secret. Hasn’t the exterior become intimate, while the interior is no more than a gaze outside of itself, passed entirely into what it sees? Sudek shows tears that unveil, tears belonging to no one upon the humble surface of windowpanes. These are not yet elementary tears, cosmic tears. Is there such a thing?

Jean-Louis Chrétien, Hand to Hand, pp. 153-4
photo: Josef Sudek



autumn of the patriarch

Over the weekend the vultures got into the presidential palace by pecking through the screens on the balcony windows and the flapping of their wings stirred up the stagnant time inside, and at dawn on Monday the city awoke out of its lethargy of centuries with the warm, soft breeze of a great man dead and rotting grandeur.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez




In my head there are several windows, that I do know, but perhaps it is always the same one, open variously on the parading universe. 

Samuel Beckett, Molloy



la lumière et les cendres

it is there before your gaze
the room empty the day
paused on the window
in your eyes you see what
you never could believe coming
you blink are going to speak
but the words cannot be found

c’est là devant on regarde
la pièce vide le jour
arrêté sur la fenêtre
dans les yeux on voit venir
ce qu’on a jamais pu croire
on bat des cils on va dire
mais comment dire on se tait

Jacques Ancet, from La lumière et les cendres
tr. Michael Tweed



a kind of momentary Japanese effect

The studio was filled with the rich odour of roses, and when the light summer wind stirred amidst the trees of the garden, there came through the open door the heavy scent of the lilac, or the more delicate perfume of the pink-flowering thorn.

From the corner of the divan of Persian saddle-bags on which he was lying, smoking, as was his custom, innumerable cigarettes, Lord Henry Wotton could just catch the gleam of the honey-sweet and honey-coloured blossoms of a laburnum, whose tremulous branches seemed hardly able to bear the burden of a beauty so flamelike as theirs; and now and then the fantastic shadows of birds in flight flitted across the long tussore-silk curtains that were stretched in front of the huge window, producing a kind of momentary Japanese effect, and making him think of those pallid, jade-faced painters of Tokyo who, through the medium of an art that is necessarily immobile, seek to convey the sense of swiftness and motion. The sullen murmur of the bees shouldering their way through the long unmown grass, or circling with monotonous insistence round the dusty gilt horns of the straggling woodbine, seemed to make the stillness more oppressive. The dim roar of London was like the bourdon note of a distant organ.

The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde

Atelierul era îmbibat de mireasma bogată a rozelor şi în clipa în care briza uşoară de vară 
flutură printre crengile copacilor, prin uşa deschisă pătrunse mirosul greu al liliacului şi 
parfumul ceva mai subtil al florilor roz de spin. 

Din colţul divanului învelit în covoraşe persane, unde stătea fumînd ţigară după ţigară, 
după cum îi era obiceiul, lordul Henry Wotton abia zărea strălucirea florilor galbene şi dulci ca 
mierea din salcîmul ale cărui crengi tremurau sub povara propriei frumuseţi intense, ca de 
flacără. Cînd şi cînd umbrele fantastice ale păsărilor în zbor treceau repede de-a lungul 
draperiilor lungi din mătase grea, cafenie, trase peste fereastra imensă, creînd un fel de efect 
japonez, de instantaneu. Acest lucru îl făcea să se gîndească la acei pictori cu chipul palid, de 
jad din Tokio, care printr-o artă, în sine imobilă, încearcă să transmită senzaţia de rapiditate şi 
mişcare. Murmurul albinelor care îşi croiau drumul înghesuindu- se una în alta prin iarba 
înaltă, netunsă, sau mişcîndu-se în cerc, cu o insistenţă monotonă în jurul ţepilor aurii prăfuiţi 
ai tufelor de caprifoi răsfirate, crea o senzaţie de nemişcare şi mai apăsătoare. Zgomotul stins al 
Londrei ajungea acolo asemenea sunetului în surdină al unei orgi depărtate.