“It seemed that she was trying to convey to me a message of her sadness.”
Herve Guibert’s essay “Ghost Image” is the text that accompanies a non-existent photograph; the implication being that if the photo did exist, and were, for example reproduced with an essay (one that would obviously not be titled “Ghost Image”) the text and photo would create a sort of “proof” that the image and the back-story of its creation made for a unified true account of the photograph’s origin.
Instead “Ghost Image” is the story of a botched photograph that seems to haunt Guibert so acutely the memory is as real, or more real, than if the shot had been successfully recorded. In fact, in either scenario, what is being presented as Guibert’s straightforward autobiographical recollection may be an inaccurate memory, a magnified, dramaticised partially true story, or a completely fabricated incident. The existence of the photo, or its lack, have little bearing on the essay.
Setting aside Guibert’s apparent disdain for his parents’ conventional marriage and lifestyle, Guibert is talking about, on some level, the relationship between photos, writing, and memory. Taken more at face value, Guibert’s remaking of his mother in an image that is to his – but maybe not Mme. Guibert’s – liking is about control, but also about rejection and reinvention of the self. Guibert creates distance between himself and his mother through his careful construction of “a look” and “a scene,” but also a sense of intimacy that is not entirely lacking in dignity and affection. His haughtiness seems to conceal both a deep, unquenchable discontent and a desire for recognition of himself as someone removed from his family’s middle-class affectations – phantoms are not of this world of course and maybe it is Guibert who is the ghost.
Though it is easy to become annoyed Herve Guibert’s caustic statements about his mother’s fading appearance and thus her viability as a female being, these asides are a red herring to Guibert’s inquiry into the “reality” of the photo world. Beyond that, Guibert himself died a full decade before he himself would have been his mother’s age at the time the “ghost image” was (not) made. This is melancholy-making too; Guibert ends up in history being pegged as a sort of hanger-on to noted philosophers. These youthful writings give many hints that Guibert was deliberately fashioning himself as a sort of scolding, multi-faceted journalist-artist (like Andrew Sullivan) who probably would have, at some point, abandoned the extreme autobiography for a more compassionate voice.