The Bright Chamber
The Bright Chamber
A detention center—a facility used not only to detain the accused but also to carry out executions for death row inmates. Unlike a prison, a detention center houses defendants who have not yet been sentenced or death row inmates who are facing execution, perpetuating its state of permanent temporariness. Equipped with an execution chamber, the Tokyo Detention Center sticks out like a sore thumb in the city. While often serving as the stage of numerous renowned news reports, its inner workings have never been revealed to the outside world. A black box that serves as a camera obscura so to speak. The photographic camera has been developed from the concept of the camera obscura, a Latin phrase meaning “dark chamber,” but if we were to consider the Tokyo Detention Center—the city’s camera obscura—a camera, The Bright Room *1, the Japanese translation of the title of Roland Barthes’s La Chambre claire: Note sur la photographie, would take on an ironic tone. If one were to think of the Tokyo Detention Center as a bright room, one would imagine it as a glass-walled structure, but such features of transparency and brightness would be at odds with the function of the original architecture. Returning to Barthe’s title, the word claire—clear—includes both definitions of “transparent” and “bright.” In this sense, glass would be an ideal material for this structure. The word chambre—chamber—is closer in meaning to the word “cell” than “room,” and this points to that of the detention center. With this in mind, what if we switched the function and essence of a detention center with a glass facade with those of photography? Focusing on the section from La Chambre claire that refers to the idea of “stasis,” which bears the strongest resemblance to the attribute of the detention center, I replace the word “photograph” with “detention center” in the following quote, while making some omissions in between the text:
I am alone with it [the detention center], in front of it. The circle is closed, there is no escape. I suffer, motionless. Cruel, sterile deficiency . . . when it is painful, nothing in it can transform grief into mourning. And if dialectic is that thought which masters the corruptible and converts the negation of death into the power to work, then the detention center is undialectical: it is a denatured theater where death cannot “be contemplated,” reflected and interiorized; or again: the dead theater of Death, the foreclosure of the Tragic, excludes all purification, all catharsis. . . .
In the detention center, Time’s immobilization assumes only an excessive, monstrous mode: Time is engorged . . . . That the detention center is “modern,” mingled with our noisiest everyday life, does not keep it from having an enigmatic point of inactuality, a strange statis, the stasis of an arrest . . . .*2
Despite the series of observations I have made on photography, Tokyo, and the detention center, I have yet to discover the essence of the detention center. I would have to go deeper within myself to find the irrefutable piece of evidence, but this may mean awaiting an opportunity of detainment. In this sense, I had to rescind all statements I have made so far.
*1 Roland Barthes, The Bright Room, trans. Hikaru Hanawa (Tokyo: Misuzu Shobo, 1985).
However, what Barthes’s title refers to is the drawing aid invented in the early 19th century that doesn’t consist of a room. The English translation of the book’s title is Camera Lucida, with a cover showing an illustration of a camera lucida.
*2 See: Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography, trans. Richard Howard (New York: Hill and Wang, 1981), pp. 90-91.