linger: 1. To stay on as if reluctant to leave. 2. To proceed in a slow manner; dawdle. 3. To pause or dwell with interest, pleasure, etc.usu.with over. Funk & Wagnalls Standard Dictionary, Signet, 1983 p.460.
When we sit around the table with friends after eating a convivial meal, drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes; doing anything we can to prolong the moment so it won't end; we linger. When an image, thought, idea or scrap of song lyric stays with us for longer then normal, it is said to linger. When a moment in time, fleeting and impermanent, has pinned us like a butterfly in a display case for good or bad we linger over the memory.
There are lingering tell tale signs of a trail in all the good Western movies when the loyal Indian scout is helping the soldiers track the renegades. The smell of rain lingers on in the damp musty scent of the earth that rises out from the roots of an ancient tree, or in the dust of a city dampened on a hot summer's day and the steam that rises from the sidewalk.
Linger is also the name of Viggo Mortensen's 2005 collection of poems and photographs released through Perceval Press. Photographs of course are a means which we can all make moments in time linger forever. Simply a matter of pointing and shooting and presto: instant memory.
But through the lens of Viggo Mortensen photographic memories are sometimes as indistinct as the their real counterpoints. Blurred images in the foreground merge with background murkiness, and with enigmatic titles like "Fall 7" we're left trying to piece together the artist's memory fragments and to wonder about the nature of memories.
Then again look at the images that Mr. Mortensen has recorded as if shot through a tube. There in the distance, as if seen through the lens of an inverted telescope is an image that is in sharp focus. Some of the photographs in this series are entitled "hindsight". According to my old friends Funk & Wagnnalls this word has two meanings: the understanding of an event after it has happened, or the rear sight of a gun.
Looking at a picture of something that you remember, something that has lingered long in your head, will sometimes bring new clarity, about the whys and the wherefores of your history. But sometimes, lingering memories are like looking down the barrel of a gun, the gun of your past that has the ability to blow apart your present with feelings of guilt, remorse, anguish, or even anger either because of your own actions or past inequities.
Of course, Mr. Mortensen could also be using the word hindsight to describe his position literally in the process of composition. He is the final sight looking through the barrel of his lens. He is the one who has aimed his eye, and therefore ours, at certain images that he wants us to let our eyes linger on and be affected by.
If a photograph provides a literal view of something that is to be lingered over, poetry and words offer a different path into memories, a different means of drawing someone's attention to an incident. In some ways we might think they would be subtler than photos, as a photo presents a concrete image for us to look at, but that precludes the power of words.
Think how many times people have used words to convince others that black is white and vice versa. Words are a far more dangerous commodity than a photograph could ever be; they have the power to convince without needing to supply anything so mundane as the truth.
In the hands of Viggo Mortensen words are not a dangerous tool, unless you have objections to lingering over truths. Whether they are emotional truths about himself, or truths about the world as he sees it. Linger with him as he recounts the cremation of his dog Brigit; the details leading up to he being put down are sparsely sketched, but the trip from the vet's office to the crematorium, the waiting for Brigit to be "done", the attempt to keep the bones together as he gathers them in the bag provided and places them in the cedar box when she is "ready".
The meaningless questions, "what kind of cedar is it?" which slip out of your mouth at times like these that he dutifully records for us to hear him saying in our heads these however many years later, make the incident all the more powerful. It is a day for lingering for Mortensen the writer, as he lingers in the crematorium office waiting, writing about whether or not he should be writing about this moment. He doesn't want to record it on film because that doesn't seem right, but he knows he will want to linger over these moments later.
Of course it's possible to linger over beauty, and fun just as easily as despondency and upset. The images of nature in this book, of the grey majesty of gathering thunderheads, sun through foliage, and nature's juxtaposition with the man made as she reclaims the ruins of an old fort in Spain.
A sequence of photos follows a boy through the steps he needs to take in order to complete a cartwheel. It appears Mr. Mortensen has left the lens aperture open and shot at a very slow speed, in order to preserve the moments of motion – the transitions from one point of being to another. How often is it we get to linger over the sight of a young boy's exuberance? Mr. Mortensen has captured that energy beautifully.
Linger invites you to join Viggo Mortensen linger over images and words that have affected him in the past few years. Maybe we are the hind most sight, as we are the last ones looking at the lingering images and reading the thoughts that he would have linger in our brains.
An artist strives to create work that will linger, that will exert a pull upon those who read, see, hear, or watch what they have created. One could look for deeper meanings, deconstruct it in true post-modernist literary tradition, in an artist choosing the word linger as a title, but not this one. I'd prefer just to let the work speak for itself; it has a nice strong, clear voice that talks to the heart and the mind.
(Originally posted March 2007)
Richard Marcus is the author of two commissioned works published by Ulysses Press, editor in the books section of Blogcritics.org and contributor at Qantara.de. He has been writing since 2005 and his work has appeared in publications all over the world including the German edition of Rolling Stone Magazine.