Preface: I wrote this for a prose exercise for a comparative literature class where our prompt was to write something based on an object in our room. This is mostly a work of fantasy as it should be evident. The ending is very rushed and bad but I liked this overall to post.


It is said to be impossible to measure how many lifetimes had passed since the end of history on the 26th of December 1991. If one were forced to measure it in terms of how many times the shutter had been released on this particular Zenit EM 35mm Single Lens Reflex camera, that too I could not tell you for I was not allowed the privilege to be an observer of any of its previous users as curious as I had been about them.  What I can tell you is that Mikhail, its present possessor, had released it exactly 1.278 times, having jammed the film advance lever on his second try. Prior to yesterday – no, perhaps the day before – Mikhail had thought of photography, film photography at least to be certain, utterly antiquated and somewhat perverse. For his generation there was nothing real about the film photograph, having required an elaborate foreplay between author and subject and conduit to capture and a further dull post-coital development to observe the results of this intercourse. A snapshot, as he would understand it, it was not. Fortunately for this camera loitering away in some corner of some marketplace of some borderless dimension (an “online auction website” I may have heard a reference to), Mikhail also happened to, at least in spirit, belong to a world pre-post-history.

Though he was born unknown years, I can assume decades, after the so-called end of history he held some affection for the vestiges of the prior world. Among the generations for whom history ended, there remained many who had thought it better had it not. A psychological phenomenon called “Ostalgie” was documented among certain individuals who had thought so in a certain region where history was said to have ended. Mikhail’s parents were said to be among such individuals, and though Ostalgie was not thought to be a genetically transmittable condition Mikhail appeared to be afflicted with it too despite being of a post-history stock.

And so in his affliction he would happen upon the writings of Alexander Rodchenko, painter, sculptor, photographer, revolutionary. “The photographer presents a precise moment documentarily”, he writes in Against the Synthetic Portrait, For the Snapshot. This had greatly intrigued Mikhail who, once again in his affliction, saw Trabant 601s where Ford Focuses lurched. For a time, he would call out “Trabby” at passing cars only to meet the perplexing looks of his peers whose eyes would only reflect those endless assembly lines in Detroit, Michigan, nary a Trabby to be seen save the effigy at the centre marking the end of history in its own way. It once occurred to Mikhail that he was living on some obverse side of reality, where history had ended a different way, but he had no way to prove such a thing. Until the words of Rodchenko descended upon him like the most divine of scriptures – if he could present his own reality documentarily even for one precise moment, if he could prove that an obverse side of post-history existed…

I am not at all certain what it would mean beyond a sense of relief for Mikhail. Or perhaps not even that. Perhaps knowing that one exists on an obverse side of reality as fact would be that much more maddening than seeing those assembly lines in Detroit, Michigan, reflected in the eyes of all your friends, enemies, and lovers and sometimes in ones that were all three. It was worse when the reflections came from those ones – all that consummate fraternity, hatred and desire would empty themselves out of their eyes for one infinitesimal moment, replaced with those assembly lines, and that effigy of course. But he was now intent on performing that foreplay he so hated, that intercourse he never wanted to partake in. Unjamming the lever, with twenty-two more attempts at exposure left, he had ran towards the nearest roundabout. Over the course of the day he had managed to spot twenty-two Fords, and for 1/125ths of a second twenty-two times he saw them through the viewfinder as Trabants.

He was not very experienced in intercourse of any kind, thanks to those effigy reflecting eyes, but the post-coitus of photography proved particularly daunting to him. As Mikhail rewound the film, his desire to expose his obverse reality easily took possession of him. Having not felt the change in resistance spoken of in the camera’s manual that would signify a complete rewind, or perhaps believing that he had already felt it, he would open the film compartment overexposing what had been left. Though he was quick to close it, Mikhail knew that he had lost the documentary precision of many a moment through his impatience. Regardless, he took his film to his Ostalgic mother, whose darkroom had nary any use for many decades but of which those walls had thirsted for metol and phenidone and borax and sodium sulphite all that time. Mikhail was terrified of this climax and had at first simply looked away from his mother’s performance but then proceeded to shut himself off in his room.

Some time later, his mother would call out to him to inform that only one of the twenty-two possible images had been salvaged. She would chastise him for wasting film, and for his one remaining image to be an utterly unskilled snapshot of a Ford Focus, that most mundane of cars and ironically very unfocused. She would throw it on his desk and leave to engage in more Ostalgic reveries. What Mikhail saw when he approached this rarely used desk was neither Ford nor Trabant. Of course, he could make out the grille of a Ford or those iconic Trabby headlights. But he had captured a chimeric abomination containing those elements. From left to right and up and down he saw the first man with legs – smiling perversely at him, a horse-drawn carriage – riding intently at him, those cars we spoke so much of so far – beaming their lights at him. He would also see the first man to fly – heading right towards him, and the last man to fly – coincidentally the last man to live. He would see who succeeds us – walking away from him towards infinity. He would see these all at once. Forever. “The photographer presents a precise moment documentarily”, he remembered. And he realised that all moments past and future existed upon him. He did not exist on an obverse post-history – he did not exist in history at all.