A Response to “Ever After”
by Matt King
As Miah Saunders’s professor notes, this project creates an “engaging hybrid” of philosophy and fiction as well as the abstract and concrete. Rather than capturing death, these juxtapositions open the opportunity for engaging death as a possibility space through which we encounter our unlived lives. For me, the space opened by Saunders served as a call to reflect on how death has affected me recently. A few months ago, my maternal grandparents died within two days of one another, and they were buried at the Fort Richardson National Cemetery in Anchorage, Alaska. As I searched for something that could help me honor my grandparents’ memory and frame my relationship to them, I turned to Don DeLillo, a favorite author of mine. His novel Underworld includes a scene in which a husband and wife share a hot air balloon ride over the Arizona desert, eventually flying over a “graveyard” of World War II bombers. While such aircraft graveyards do exist in Arizona, DeLillo imagines that a conceptual artist has taken on the project of painting the aircraft, creating a giant art installation in the desert expanse.
This scene resonated with me in a few ways. One of my fondest memories of visiting my grandparents as a child involves watching hot air balloons from their back porch in the Alaskan summer twilight. Given that my grandfather flew a fighter plane in World War II, DeLillo’s scene suggested to me a dreamlike mixture of memory and family history. The quality of DeLillo’s prose and the nature of this moment shared by a husband and wife floating through the sky resonated with the journey that my grandparents were undertaking together. I shared this passage with my family at my grandparents’ funeral, and it now serves as the foundation of my video response to Saunders.
While the video primarily serves as my opportunity to reflect on death and my relationship with my grandparents, I hope that it engages “Ever After” in interesting ways as well. For Saunders, multimodal narrative offers her protagonist an opportunity to experience in death “all the things she has never had the chance to because of her circumstances.” Water provides the medium for this experience: “underwater photography is gorgeous and embodies the romantic dream state that is the complete opposite to the cold normalcy of everyday life.” My video turns to the sky as a space of stillness and embodied memory. As Saunders revised her project, she emphasized clarity and concision in her narrative. My recorded narrative blurs as the music swells, suggesting meditative distance rather than articulation. My response aims for polyphony rather than counter-argument, and my hope is that the juxtaposition of the two videos opens further spaces for engaging death and its radical otherness.