Phorgotography, 4

Continuing the theme of images randomly thrown up by Facebook that then vanish before I’ve finished my usual arduous Working-Out-Of-Thinks, this was from the day of the Russian invasion back in February. The image itself was more than a decade old at the time, so this definitely qualified as an instance of Xenochronicity.

These texts, about images forgotten by me but ‘remembered’ by an algorithm, fall into an aligned category I think of as The Provisional – essentially what you make of such coincidences, and how they operate as a type of stochastic research, in which you allow chance to determine what it is you talk about, whether as a subject or as the materials or reading supporting that subject.


‘On this day of all days, Effbok randomly throws up an image of a Soviet tank crew having a picnic, quite possibly on the Ukrainian border, just during the Second World War…

This image was from Gladston’s in North Shields, which shut in 2016, but which sold hardware – and model airplanes, etc. This was back when the realm of model warriors was fixated on historic conflict, and not, as model shops now are, on the fighting taking place in gaming dimensions.

Something about the slightly absurd pastoral aspect of this scene still gives me pause. I wonder, in the face of new tank-related uncertainties, how much of that prior modelling impulse was accuracy-fixated (reproducing the authentic details of actual machines and uniforms), and how much it was related to controlling the chaotic violence such machines and uniforms produce? 

Was the possibility that you could miniaturise, freeze, and thus stabilise such potentially terrible matters important, or were modellers just a bunch of General Jumbos?

The apparent innocence of this moment extended the modelled cosmos for me to include the concept of, not peace, but certainly non-fighting – military boredom. Might this extend to hospital scenes, or depictions of the shell-shocked? Is there a model of members of a highland regiment digging a latrine in the Crimea?

Could this weird nostalgia, which seems to lie at the heart of Brexit and other post-imperial fantasies, in some sense depict ‘actual nostalgia’ – a 19th C response to military trauma? Might there be a model of Liz Truss in a tank, given that she herself was participating in the construction of an image modelled on Margaret Thatcher?

Could modelling extend to the terrified families crouched under their tables in present or indeed yet-to-come conflicts? Will there some day be a model of child soldiers sharing cans of soda, thus bringing the whole thing full circle?’

About Bill Herbert

Poet and pseudo-scholar W.N. Herbert was born in Dundee in 1961, educated there and at Oxford, where he completed his DPhil thesis on Scottish poet Hugh MacDiarmid, and now lives and works in Newcastle. He is Professor of Poetry and Creative Writing at Newcastle University, and his books are published by, among others, northern publisher Bloodaxe Books. He is also the Dundee Makar, or city laureate.
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