أشغال works 


Only in Spring Stones Turn into Turtles, Did You Know?
mourning diary

 غُول خراب الشّمس
The Ghoul of Kharab al-Shams 

unfinished research

الصّورة كالسّيف إن لم تقطعها قطعتك

Image is like a sword if you don’t cut it, it cuts you

Where Does a Director Hide in a 360° Frame?
  يختبئ المخرِج في كادر °٣٦٠ ؟  أين

How a Photograph Assasinated Dead Lenin

عينيك التانية وحشتني
I miss your other eyes



How a Photograph Assassinated Dead Lenin


The Mausoleum opens at 10:00 am. You are advised to reach there 2 hours before it actually opens, as there are extreme chances that you will encounter a long queue under the sun and might never manage to see him as the Mausoleum closes at 13:00. When you step inside, you need to keep on walking. The surreal atmosphere feels like a contemporary art museum with guards in groups of 3 in every corner.

Inside a bulletproof glass display box, red lights illuminate his light skin. Dressed as if he is about to give a public speech: black suit, white shirt, a black tie with white dots; his goatee is freshly trimmed: A body without organs (not as Deleuze means it, but in a literal sense, anatomically speaking), laying down on a red fabric…

‘MOVE FAST!’ One of the 3 guards in the corner shouts.

The scene is cut by a guard’s scream which gets in conflict with your staring eyes. There’s no way to stop and feel the historical atmosphere of the place. They will make you walk past Lenin very fast, You're only allowed to be near his body for around one minute and you are not allowed to take any photographs other than a mental image. If you stop, the guards will shout at you. The advantage of this is that the huge line in front of the entrance will be moving pretty fast!

Lenin’s body was preserved shortly after a stroke in 1924, and has been on public display ever since. Laying down in Lenin’s mausoleum on a red fabric, the body is positioned in the absolute centre of Moscow. You can easily find his body from an aerial satellite view as the centre where all highways coalesce into one point in space and time. Is this how history is preserved? conjured through overlaying bodily coordinates of historical figures with geographical ones?

Maybe the more fitting question here is not about the preservation of history but about the enactment of history as such. The non-stopping might be precisely how the historical atmosphere is enacted: if you stop, history evaporates; you are constantly being watched by the guards of time; you feel the pressure; you have to move very fast because the queue is extremely long.

In the Mausoleum, not only the non-stopping of moving agents is what enacts the awe of historical atmosphere, but also the desire to stop, to stare, and the interruption of this desire; at work is a conglomerate of social forces which frame the flow of images and gazes. One wonders if this could be the last soviet film which have been on loop since 1924, directed by the angel of history herself? Albeit a totally different kind of cinematic gaze is invested here, one that is supposed to stop looking as fast as possible. There is no seats in the Mausoleum to be chained to; the chairs are in constant kinematic flux as they get conflated with the moment of stopping and sticking to stare, then evaporate. The gazes are in transit, caught up into a thin layer of what is possible of fixation; the red lights point the gazes where to go: Look at Lenin’s face; whereas the weight of other waiting bodies and the heavy staring, and at times screaming, of the guards shoot them elsewhere.

Not only that you have limited time to look here but your look itself is precisely what enacts the limit of time—since your body is in the way, as an index of thickness and stickiness in a libidinal flow of gazes and bodies. So if this is not a preservation of history, is it then a preservation of an image? of cinema? one that history makes possible? If soviet cinema was militantly involved in enacting history, is this a reversal in which history herself preserves the enactment of cinema?

Maybe looking at the preservation of Lenin’s body would give us some more clues.

In Communist Proteins: Lenin’s Skin, Astrobiology, and the Origin of Life; Alexei Yurchak discusses the soviet project of the preservation of Lenin’s body. The embalmment method which had been used in the preservation of Lenin’s body focused particularly on the elasticity of his skin and the flexibility of his joints: What is described by the Lenin’s lab as his ‘anatomical image’, as Yurchak mentiones here:

It was not Lenin’s full physical body that was preserved but only part of its material structureits skeleton, skin, muscle tissues, and outward form and appearance, but neither its vital organs nor the brain [...] One part of the body that has been preserved almost whole and in very good condition is the skin, including in areas of the body that are usually covered with clothes and that ordinary visitors to the Mausoleum cannot see.’

What is being preserved then is not a matter of visibility, but rather of ‘presence’ to be felt through tactility, which Yurchak describes as ‘tactile visibility’: A sensory entanglement between the visible and the touched:

‘On the contrary, this body is flexible and soft, and its outward appearance, weight, and shape and the tactile experience one gets from touching it are similar to those in a sleeping body.’

The flexibility of Lenin’s corpse is preserved as a latent force within the muscular and cartilage soft tissues which have to be continuously hydrated with embalming fluids, maintaining liquidity as a force from outside the body. This is not a vascular system but a rejuvenation metabolism that pumps vital energy from the heart of a scientific-socio-political imaginary which is condensed in the institution of the ‘Lenin’s lab’.

We reach to the point where we understand that Lenin’s embalmed body is fully flexible—the leader is just napping; which means that he can flexibly move his joints and manifest a multitude of postures: He could stand like one of his sculptures, pretend that he is about to step further and put his hand inside his trousers’ pocket, or fully flex his arm pointing towards ‘the truth’; he could sit on a chair, cross his right leg over his left one and lay his hands softly on top of each other; or he could even embark on writing with his right hand, his fingers could smoothly write some notes on his notebook, but write what? What would he say? Where would this writing force that will animate his hand and re-articulate his body come from?

Yurchak discusses the Soviet attempts to revive the discursively dead Lenin through the evidentiary role of touch, specifically his hand. An example of that is seen in a poster published by The Plakat press of the Central Committee in the early 1990s saying ‘Let Lenin speak!’ The poster depicts Lenin sitting in the corner, away from the podium, with a focus on his hand writing on a notebook. Similarly and in the same year, the journal Kommunist, in April 1990, changed the writing of the word ‘Kommunist’ on its cover into Lenin’s own hand writing. The main concern during that period was, sort to say, going back to the ‘real’ Lenin against the canonised version; and it is particularly in this moment that the evidentiary aesthetics of touch and the hand could perform such indexicality of truth, as Yurchak states:

‘Reproducing Lenin’s signature, a fragment of his handwriting, and recognisable photos of him writing in his own hand reflected attempts, in 1990, to reconnect to a living trace of Lenin that, it was imagined, had survived and remained unaffected by the later distortions and manipulations of Lenin’s words.’

This is an excerpt from the Soviet newspaper Pravada, meaning truth’, which has published first witness accounts of the sight of Lenin’s corpse in January 21st, 1990, under the title ‘The memory of that January’:

‘The right hand is tightly clenched; a small bloodstain on the right ear holds our gaze. . . . Look, it seems that his eyes are opening. . . . The cheek is slightly trembling.’

When looking at the photographs of Lenin’s embalmed body in the Mausoleum—which are highly regulated since the visitors are not allowed to take any pictures inside, one could see that his body had been preserved in its postmortem posture: ‘The right hand is tightly clenched..’, as the previously mentioned witness account stated. Despite the flexibility of Lenin’s ‘living sculpture’ and the complete embalmment aspirations against stiffness and rigidity, what the body—as a living sculpture, performs is precisely the stiffness of the corpse as dead Lenin. In other words, the dead body of Lenin as a corpse is enacted like a portrait which articulates the rigour mortis as a photographic inscription onto his soft flesh.

What kind of afterlife is this? of an image? the advent of flesh photography?

This flexibility of movement as a potential of re-articulating the body is what allows the enactment of the dead body as a corpse to become a statement. The embalmed body of Lenin performs its own death, what we can call ‘ongoing corpsing’, for over a century now. If we go back here to the evidentiary role that tactility and Lenin’s hand had played as a trace of truth in the 1990s, we can see how not only his clenched right hand becomes a postmortem signature, so to speak, of his corpse, but his whole body transforms into a hand which writes: ‘I am dead’. 

The stiff posture as a kinetic luminance becomes the material witness which enacts and ‘does’ the corpse; it declares Lenin’s death in a material political speech articulated through the body. The Mausoleum becomes the public forum where Lenin’s body testifies for his own death. Thus, the circulation of embalming fluids and the circulation of visitors is an essential part of enacting this forum-ness. His body seizes to be an ‘anatomical image’ and becomes a postmortem photograph as a single frame of anatomy, as a testimony of death.

He is dead as long as he testifies for it.