leo photophile

Through a glass darkly


Wilderness has at least two meanings and both are present in this photograph from my series Men of the Road, taken in Glasgow in the sixties. First there is the wilderness of the slums, within a year or two of their demolition, and secondly, the wilderness that seems to inhabit the man engaged in the serious business of lighting up.

Hud still noo lighting up

Figure and setting could be said to be in accord, but only, I think, in a facile sense. For the old wall and pilasters have a beauty of texture which for me is the seductive potential of the grain of black and white film.

 texture Pilaster base

By contrast, the inner wilderness of the man is likely to be inveterate.

This figure evinces paranoid anxiety, which differs from depressive anxiety in that it is concerned to cast the dead objects into outer darkness; it is a defensive position where objects are perceived as alien and hostile and are cursed with an instant ferocity.

Wary wary

In religious thought, for example in the writing of the Christian mystic Thomas Merton or in Harry Williams’ The True Wilderness, enduring the wilderness is understood as necessary to the refinement of the soul and a stage in the soul’s journey. There is something of this is what the medieval Christian ascetics called The Dark Night of the Soul, though here the witholding of grace was not dependent on the destructive urges of the individual, though this in  itself is a moot point, but rather an initiative of God to test the person’s faith.

Yet is it not close to Klein’s depressive anxiety. Whereas wilderness in the monastic tradition placed its faith in emergence into a permanent state of blessedness, Klein uses the word position and means by it that a person can only visit the experience of reparation and restoration – progression and regression are permanently taking place in the maturing individual (a somewhat different take on the bleak Calvinistic verdict on back-sliding!)

And in Melanie Klein’s thinking on the depressive position contrasts with the embattled paranoid position which holds to alienation as a matter of life and death and may petrify into a state.

 wily and perhaps dangerous wily and ready to strike

But notice the look of anxiety in the other eye, his left.

So what is the true wilderness?


September 3, 2006 Posted by | black and white photography, Harry Williams | Leave a comment