The Pessimistic Optimist

The third Chris Beckett story in Interzone Oct 2008 is called Rat Island. It is about the rapid environmental breakdown of the planet. It is also about the power of photography. The protagonist and narrator tells the story through a series of “snaps” he took when he was an eleven year old boy. He took these snaps, firstly as a hobby – perhaps even an obsession – but when he came to realise, through his father (a civil servant), that “we’ve got two or three years at most before it all comes apart,” the urgency of these snaps also became apparent. The necessity of them – of recording what, or who, would soon no longer exist. I mean… what would you do? How differently would you see things if you thought those things would soon disappear? How important would it become to record, by some means, every single moment, scene, spoken word, thought?

Even photography is temporary – nothing lasts forever – but it can freeze the ephemeral, make the short-lived live a little longer. But there is also a melancholy aspect to photography – you know that what you see in the frame or on the computer screen or on the screen of your mobile phone will never again quite be how it was then. On the plus side, however, as long as cameras of some form exist, there is always the infinite capacity for creating unique and lasting snapshots of what was!

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2 comments on “The Pessimistic Optimist

  1. M says:

    I am continually flabbergasted (and often irritated to Larry David-esque levels) at the numbers of tourists wandering mindlessly around galleries, museums and the like, who don’t really scrutinise the exhibits but merely take photos to view, I presume, at a later date.

    Why not just admire the stuff while it’s right in front of your eyes?!?!

    Otherwise all you’re doing is recording the fact that ‘you were there’. As if the point is simply to prove to the folks back home that you weren’t lying when you said you were going on holiday.

    If I was in the same predicament as the narrator in the above story, I hope I wouldn’t waste my time taking photographs, but spend it experiencing the disappearing world as fully as possible.

    People are idiots and they get on my nerves.

  2. pepsoid says:

    Tiz a dilemma, M, but ideally we perhaps need to live life to the full and in the present and so on *AND* record it for future prosperity…?? But how (one can but wonder, in a perhaps annoying Carrie-from-Sex-and-the-City kind of a way) can we strike the perfect balance of doing both…???

    Re “People are idiots and they get on my nerves”… often true in respect of Yours Truly, also! 😉

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