Wave (Histories of the Kursk)

by Stephen Willey

Published: Jan 08
Publisher: Openned Press
Format: Print/PDF
Price: £15/free

View free: PDF (2.9MB)

Wave (Histories of the Kursk)'s original manifestation was as a handmade accordion book. The book is available for viewing in the reading rooms of the British Library. 

The Kursk sailed out to sea to perform an exercise of firing dummy torpedoes at the Pyotr Velikiy, a Kirov class battlecruiser. On August 12, 2000 at 11:28 local time (07:28 UTC), the torpedoes were fired, but there was an explosion on the Kursk. The submarine sank to a depth of 108 meters. A second explosion 135 seconds after the initial event measured between 3.5 and 4.4 on the Richter scale, equivalent to 3-7 tons of TNT. One of those explosions blew large pieces of debris back through the submarine. No one survived.

In the case of the Kursk, only a small select group of people actually saw the Kursk when it was underwater, (at the depth the Kursk lay at there was no visible light; no light waves) the Russian government has as much admitted to suppressing evidence, such as the letter found on ‘Dmitry Kolesnikov’ (one of the crew members). On top of this, conspiracy theories abound, even the date of the tragedy is contested. It is apparent that the most concrete evidence available, at least to those who are not within ‘privileged’ and hermetic, military, scientific or governmental circles, takes the form of grainy underwater photographs, crass media reconstructions and diagrams (which give only the impression of knowledge but abounded, at the time, with such all-encompassing intensity as to make independent thinking of the incident virtually impossible) complicated seismic diagrams registering sound wavers, and the thick testimony of silence spoken from the dead, these representations, represent the boundaries of the knowable. The ‘Kursk’ presents a determined challenge and seeks confrontation with such modes of conformist historiography.

Wave refers to the wave as a cultural signal of departure. (The wave as the unceasing wave of movement; the ‘wave’ as a concept which is never attached to a static object or in the particular case of my ‘book work’, never attached to a reductive treatment of ‘image’).

Wave, refers to the electromagnetic wave (the electromagnetic spectrum in the discourse of science acts to homogenise all forms of perception into a single all encompassing discourse/diagram, an image which claims to represent and cover all possible perception).

Wave refers to the wave like image of the text (the text which is mapped onto the page against the image/diagram of the electromagnetic spectrum).

Wave refers to the audible sine wave, the representation of the text, in the pictorial image of the spectrogram; the recorded image of the written text, which is mapped underneath the text, as well as the image of the explosion of the Kursk registered as a seismic wave on a seismograph which interrupts the book during the ‘blue section’. Wave refers to the moving surface element of water, (water being that substance that separates the colours from light, as light waves pass through water’s depths) poignant as in the case of the sinking of the Kursk, waves formed an impenetrable substance which hindered rescue attempts. Most importantly, yet inaccessible to the reader of this work who confronts the book in its online context, Wave refers to the material wave of the accordion book (as when the book is placed on its back the folds of the paper evoke the image of the wave, but more so, by unfolding the book object one activates a movement in the book endowing a static ‘Work’ with the moving properties of ‘Text’.

In its off-line context, Wave uses the physical folds of the book to activate the boundaries of a linguistic and historical landscape. One can understand how the particular materiality of the accordion book is conceptually interesting in its potential to complicate a conventional and ‘affirmative’ historical narrative, by relating the binding of the accordion book to the following quotation by Barthes:

'The status of historical discourse is uniformly assertive, affirmative. The historical fact is linguistically associated with a privileged ontological status: we recount what has been, not what has not been, or what has been uncertain. To sum up, historical discourse is not acquainted with negation.' (1)

As one unfolds each section of the accordion book, page by page, and (ironically) in linear fashion, the book increasingly resists a linear or complete viewing, the book enacts a type of negation and loss. This negation has political ramifications in that my ‘book work’ is attempting a type of alternate poetic historiography on what has ‘not been’, what ‘has been uncertain’ and what has been omitted by the very enunciation and conformist perspective of conventional historic and cultural writings. By using the electromagnetic spectrum as a consistent feature of structure, and then undermining it through the impossibility of that structure when it expands, the fallible and dubious nature of such scientific and indeed social metanarratives are revealed.

Stephen Willey, 2008

(1) Roland Barthes, ‘The Discourse of History’, translated by Stephan Bann, in Comparative Criticism, 3 (1981): p. 7-20. Link

Reader Comments (1)

[...] Willey’s poem, Wave (Histories of the Kursk) is now available for viewing and purchase on the Openned press. Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Constellation: Alice [...]

Sunday, November 9, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterWave (Histories of the Kursk)

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