In a previous blog, looking at a photograph of Jonah Rogers, I mentioned Roland Barthes’ concept of Punctum; “…that accident which pricks me (but also bruises me, is poignant to me)…” In that photograph (reproduced below) I found it (that poignancy) in the left foot and the missing brick of the flower bed.
In my last blog, in the newspaper clipping reporting Jonah’s death, there is also an especially poignant moment – the clipping’s punctum as it were. And it’s this:
“On Sunday last, at the close of the evening service, the Society Meeting was held, and references to the death of Private Rogers were made by several members of the Church. Private Rogers’s mother is one of the oldest members of the Church. The meeting passed a vote of condolence with the relatives, all present standing in silence.”
It’s there in the last line: The meeting passed a vote of condolence with the relatives, all present standing in silence.
The past is silent (as the tomb which it becomes) and that silence of the relatives, beating inside the church, is one hewn from that immense quietude; a grave cut into another grave. And yet it’s all the louder for it. Imagining the scene, one can hear the silence, punctuated by coughs, scrapes and fidgeting bodies (it’s amazing to think that my grandmother, then three years old, might have been there). There is something too in the silence which serves to throw into relief the image of my ancestors. The writing sets them apart from the rest of those gathered inside. They are silent and just as one imagines those everyday sounds from which silence is made, one can imagine those relatives, standing and recalling everyday things about Jonah… And it’s there that we can get a better picture of Jonah than we can from any photograph.
It’s almost as if the words in that penultimate paragraph, describe something entirely different. One can almost imagine the vote of condolence, the kind words spoken, coming only as murmurs to the relatives; all made shapeless by their mournful introspection.