Camera Obscura

War is the art of embellishing death

Japanese proverb
Except there is no art In Absentia ...
Make a fresco of our blood,
an ocean of our tears,
make mountains of our bones,
and bogs of our bowels,
but who will know death in art,
or art in death?
Seeing is destroying,
and what is destroyed
is seeing itself.
The unseen art
is accursed.
But how frame an absence
when nothing remains?
How verify what
has already left?
Death hides itself
away from art,
and deals its hand
by sleight of hand.
The secret eye
is all that remains
of our remains.
And war wages war
by sight and sound,
as pictures image us
passing out,
as once the demiurge
imaged us into being.

"The force of arms is not brute force but spiritual force."
Ortega Y Gasset
War is delirium
in the chiaroscuro
of a trance,
in the sleep of chance,
the magic spectacle,
the force of a face
pressed up to fear.
War's unfolding
is its representation,
its guns its tools
of perception,
its bombs its cameras
filming death.
Credibility, not deterrence,
is the fulcrum
that balances terror,
that binds us to them,
and each to each
to conquer mind—
when casualties
are food for thought,
threats alone
produce our fears,
and guns in space
are not more real
than the theatre weapons
imploding Laissez Faire
perceptions of perception.
The wars of stars
are not spent
for their idle use.
War is not battles
won or lost,
but perceptions
fields of unseeing
pictures untaken,
then snapped again,
or unexploded bombs
in the theatre
of our gaze,
dying in the very art
that firing fires
and photographs death.
Who needs sight
when guns
can see at night,
can outlive
the middle space
between a target
and its face,
can shoot to shreds
the plane it rends?
War is doomsday --
as soon as it sees
its end, its end
is at an end.
"War is cinema and cinema is war."

Abel Gance
The sad soldier longs for love,
but the woman he pins
to his bedpost
only reminds him
of death,
so he pins Marilyn
to his bomb instead,
he straps her to the phallic tip,
this broken emblem
of his broken heart,
this shattered shard
splitting dreams
and announcing
with a bang!
It is a weird love to give,
this love of death,
whose contagion
and panacea
is also death.
What matter if Vera sings,
"Till We Meet Again"
as the bullet pings,
as the bomb rings,
if the bomb's a bust?
If in that instant of light,
Hermes morphs
into Trismegistus,
then happy times
are here again?
If you don't like it,
invent a new code
to bind and kill it,
but barring that,
sit back
and enjoy
your symptom...

His icon, his star,
is but a fragment
of his home.
The sad soldier carries
his bits of home,
his Jean and Jane,
his Lana and Betty,
to the front,
then rains them down
on alien fields—
A thigh here,
a breast there,
A nipple yonder,
a hip above
a lip below,
an arse between,
a grave of silken hair,
where death lights
from their lustful eyes.
Only the montage
of rolling tanks
and firing guns
can film the instant
of instantaneous death.
So there is your art
or, as Abel Gance
had it, your
"War Machine."
Cinema was born
out of that matrix
of mind mates machine,
when the lions
of war and plague
coupled with illusion
to mass produce delusion,
and made death
the starting point
of death's metonymy,
and substituted mirage
for the wellspring
of the real.
Get Real!

"Death is just a big show in itself."
Samuel L. Rothapfel
War is movement,
the constant ferrying
to and fro,
live bodies here
dead bodies there.
The reel is never done
turning what is real
into the surreal.
Charon was never so busy,
rowing from the shores
of light
to the farthest banks
of darkness,
though the twain
shall never marry,
mix or meet.
But does war ever end?
Do visions end?
Only peace ends
with a post-spree
sale-tag or
a white flag
round its gizzard
in a shop window...

The movie moves light
into shadow
and back to light again,
trades and traffics
in light,
and sells us nothing
but our own past,
made bright by light.
The movie is memory
come alive and well,
like the coin
in the dead man's eye,
pushing its frontiers
to buy a line
as war expands
a frontier.
Memory is the science
of forgetfulness,
remembering to mislocate
our dreams in illusions
of what and who we were,
memory is Deja Vu
or, altering the tale,
Hermes stealing the
Sisyphean stone,
where Prometheus was chained,
and rolling it back
to the cave's mouth,
the aperture
of the Camera Obscura.
Memory is the cave,
the tomb,
the dark room,
developing the light,
or the Mormon catacomb
in the Rocky mountain,
a purgatory,
where baptized souls,
saved on film
await their dawning day.
Memory is the eye
atop the pyramid,
staring into the
burial chamber
where a pharaoh lies --
a dead icon
reborn as an artifact
when the morning sun
blinks him back
to life.
In that instant
the mummy king
becomes the Kipling tale,
"A mirror walking
on the highway"
of time,
while the image
of his repose
inscribes light
into the art of his death
to bring it back
again to light.
The black mass of film
Hephaestus' fire
into Pandoran hope,
into sameness,
brings death to life,
moves mind and eye
to the brink
of peril,
and then withdraws,
while our fears dangle
in the void
like bodies at the end
of bungee cords.
Death is imminence.
Death is art.
Death is amusement.
Death is our movie,
our motive’s movie.

"You can see hell much better through a narrow vent than if you could take it in with both eyes at once"
Barbey d'Aurevilly
The camera telescopes
war's distance
into the aperture
of the eye,
where it feeds
the pitch pool
with images
of itself.
To survive, we know,
is to see and act
the same event
We are alive and well,
for now.

In the war museum,
we can loiter
or vicariously visit
the battlefield
and pretend
we have survived.
We can lock ourselves away
in the chambers
of the camera obscura,
bathe and soak
the senses in full-on war,
or we can visit
the dark dungeons,
and squint
through the chinks
in the dark
as if taking aim
at death.
We can stage the drama,
play the part,
and direct ourselves
for the clapping
congress of the dead.
The Fuhrer hypnotized
a nation into death,
but failed to lure
a war-sick world
to sleep.
He directed the epic pageant
of his powers,
spared no expense
to give offense
to commonsense.
He hoisted his pennant
of light,
but only found
a ruined dark.
He knew a Speer
is father to a Volney,
that to construct
a temple
is to foresee
its destruction
and future ruin.
His abject Reich
lived but to die,
rose but to fall,
so that the cornerstone
might become the headstone,
a ruin of what once
was never great,
and fell like Greece
and Rome
out of hate,
that we might loiter
amidst its stones
and rue what was
a sentimental,
genocidal hoax.
"The osmosis between industrialized warfare and cinema."
Paul Virilio
If Caesar or Alexander
had every gun
under the sun,
then no war
would have begun
they could not have won,
and they would have ruled
the sun,
but imagination
is not a relative motion
to stagnant evil,
and they are not like us
with our portable props
and compact pocket sets,
our GPS-directed ends, 
they are not like us
directors in their own
actors in the propaganda
of themselves,
but they too were no stay
against the chaos or the dark.
Somewhere, sometime
fact should talk with fiction
to discover
who we are.

"Il pleut mon ame, il pluet mais il pluet des yeux morts."
Did the war of light
usher in the warring dark,
and negative
the earth
to film its flash?
Put a search-beam
on the battlefield,
and death scurries
like a cockroach
into the night,
but when the beam
is so bright the flash
photographs even shadows
onto walls
and pavements,
then the earth itself
becomes the film strip,
wearing war and death.
The more guns see,
the more war widens
its perceptions,
the less we can hide away
in the dark
hugging our fears.

Everything is naked now,
everything is seen now,
high up and low down,
eyes are everywhere 
watching, filming,
developing, gawking,
and yet the shot soldier,
killed in the mud,
never saw the bullet,
only the flash was seen,
but then too late,
and yet he had watched
all that live-long day.
War is the art of seeing,
and to win a war
is to see death's shadow
behind the "Silver Shroud".
Even now, invisible eyes,
radar, sonar, satellite,
see death before it dies,
as it moves into view,
invisible to the naked eye,
but not too unseen
not to die.
With nowhere left to hide,
life is transparent,
always on screen,
always seen,
always stalked between.
Who controls the sun
controls our end.
Where all is seen,
life finds reprieve
in advance of being
by going before what is
to avoid what will be --
a timely warning
saves lives and time.
He who sits in the panopticon
and has the panoramic view,
may seize a way
to seize the day.
But seeing itself
is not enough
to clear the way
before the Camera Obscura
images the final
shutting of the eye.
Then the curtain falls,
the dark shadowplay
meets its own showdown
where thought itself
is death.
This is Our War,
This absolute tyranny,
this NOW.



John A. Griffin

John A Griffin was born and raised in Tipperary, Ireland, and emigrated to the USA in his teens, where he subsequently read for his BA, MFA, MA, and PhD, specializing in German Idealist Philosophy as it laid the groundwork for British Romantic Aesthetics, especially the writings of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, whose proposed though unwritten Opus Maximus was the subject of his thesis. He has published poems & essays in literary journals, and two chapbooks, After Love and Absences ~ A Sequence. He now lives in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where he works at King Saud University. John recommends the World Wildlife Fund.


Edited for Unlikely by Jonathan Penton, Editor-in-Chief
Last revised on Thursday, September 16, 2021 - 22:00