Desire to Capture, Desire to Expose - Section I
In the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, Orpheus ventures into the underworld to retrieve his bride and ascends with both her and the condition that he cannot look back until he has returned to earth. Of course, he looks too soon. The capture of the camera and Orpheus instantaneous snapshot gaze share a similar vocabulary. In Athens, Still Remains Derrida writes: “Three deaths, three instances, three temporalities of death in the eyes of photography—or if you prefer, since photography makes appear in the light of the phainesthai, three “presences” of disappearance, three phenomena of the being that has ‘disappeared’ or is ‘gone’: the first before the shot, the second since the shot was taken, and the last later still, for another day, though it is imminent, after the appearance of the print.” In looking, Orpheus sends Eurydice back into the underworld. Her presence disappears. In H.D.’s poem, “Eurydice,” the speaker names this “presence” her loss: “and my spirit with its loss /knows this;/ though small against the black,/ small against the formless rocks,/ hell must break before I am lost;.” Eurydice does not give her whole self to death. She loses that which makes her alive, though she herself is not lost, she stubbornly retorts to Orpheus. It is Orpheus who has truly lost her to death. Orpheus, perhaps, owes death Eurydice, but Eurydice owes death only her loss, not her self. The image in H.D.’s poem of the small figure “against the black,” “against the formless rocks” is reminiscent of her collaged images, but like Eurydice in this poem, the black does not consume her figures but preserves them. Orpheus’s gaze sends her back to this blackness and H.D.’s scissors and glue suspend her cutouts in a similar state
H.D. condenses the female figure, reinventing all the women as one woman at once determined, beautiful and mysterious. Through her poetry, H.D. sought to re-appropriate the classical female, writing of an angry Eurydice, a hated Helen anda transcendent Hermione. In Her she writes: “I know her. Her. I am Her. She is Her. Knowing her, I know Her… I am a sort of mother, a sort of sister to her.” In the draft of an early poem shown here, we see the interplay between the ambiguous boundaries of a cast of female figures.