- Angel With a Missing Wing:Loss, Restitution, and the Embodied Self in the Photography of Josef Sudek
It is by lending his body to the world that the artist changes the world into paintings.—Merleau-Ponty
There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse/ and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.—Isaiah XI.1
Angel With a Missing Wing
The Czech photographer Josef Sudek (1896-1976) was a bit of a recluse. He nevertheless had a large circle of friends, many of them fellow music lovers, and his Tuesday evening salons, at which he entertained those who crowded into his tiny studio with recordings of classical music from his large collection, were legendary.
Sudek lost his right arm in the First World War, fighting for Austria-Hungary at the Italian front. In 1926, ten years after his injury, some of his musician friends persuaded him to accompany them on a tour of Italy—where, one night, he disappeared.
One day I just couldn't resist it. When the musicians of the Czech Philharmonic told me: Josef, come with us, we are going to Italy to play music, I told myself, fool that you are, you were there, and you did not enjoy that beautiful country when you served as a soldier for the [End Page 127] emperor's army. And so I went with them on this unusual excursion. In Milan we had a lot of applause and acclaim and we traveled down the Italian boot until one day we came to that place—I had to disappear in the middle of the concert; in the dark I got lost but I had to search. Far outside the city toward dawn, in the fields bathed by the morning dew, I finally found the place. But my arm wasn't there—only the poor peasant farmhouse was still standing in its place. They had brought me into it that day when I was shot in the right arm. They could never put it together again, and for years I was going from hospital to hospital . . . The Philharmonic people apparently even made the police look for me, but I somehow could not get myself to return from this country. I turned up in Prague some two months later . . . from that time on I never went anywhere anymore and I never will.(Sudek, quoted in Bullaty, 1978, p. 27, emphasis added)
Although Sudek kept this promise, he did not abandon his search. His quest would prove a recurrent theme in his sparse remarks about his own work, as well as those of his commentators, such as the art historian Antonín Dufek, who described him as "the creator who did not construct, but who rather searched and found" (1996, p. 21). Contextualized within his life story and his political and cultural milieu, I will interpret Sudek's search as a driving force behind his life's work. Further, through the analysis of his photographic oeuvre, this essay will build a conceptual bridge between Sigmund Freud's formulations on mourning and identification and Maurice Merleau-Ponty's theory of the embodied self. Synthesizing these contributions with Melanie Klein's theories on mourning and reparation, Hannah Segal's application of Klein to Proust, Freud's concept of Nachträglichkeit, and its contemporary elaboration, après-coup, I will posit Sudek's work as an extension, reclamation, and re-creation of the self, and of the world that comprises the embodied self.
In 1915, Austria-Hungary conscripted the nineteen year old Josef Sudek into its armed forces. In the twilight of the [End Page 128] Habsburg Empire, and against the backdrop of cresting Czech nationalism, Sudek was sent to Italy to fight for the powers that had ruled his country for three centuries (Fig. 1, left). Within months of his arrival, he was fired upon by his own regiment and suffered a wound to his right arm, which developed gangrene. Despite several surgeries, the arm could not be saved, and ultimately required amputation at the shoulder.
It was a full year into his four-year convalescence when Sudek finally wrote his mother and told her about his injury...