The Ephemera(l) Institution

by Martin Gantman

Tomorrow, I begin residency at the ICI, Institute of Cultural Inquiry. Http://

The Ephemera(l) Institution

She waved the back of her hand carelessly toward the old cabinet, slowly, palm slightly opened, as if wafting steam from a cooling cup of tea. “This is our ephemera,” she said.

Ephemera, suspended as a disappearing cloud before our eyes, yet hanging there nonetheless. A suspended, yes hung, wisp yet somehow manifesting before us, physically, in spite of its well know penchant toward disappearance. For, again, in spite of its diabolical tendency toward phenomenological reversal: physicality/memory, illusory/concrete – in spite of that willingness to attempt to mystify just exactly, or even coincidentally, what is meant by presence, this term, ephemera, wills itself to remain within common usage.

It is unusual for a term, one that somehow can reverse itself (potentially) by the addition of one letter, ephemera(l), to be able to prolong its efficacy. One would expect a word as marginal as this to have floated invisibly down the river of archaic practice – a footnote in the OED. But ephemeron has never been noted for its disappearance, only its prolonged morphosis toward the state of barely imagined – though still meaningful and visible.

Within the Institute, one’s eyes may rest on an object, a large solid wooden cabinet, with drawers presumably filled with all manner of earthen materiality; and hear, stated in a demeanor fraught with pride and virtuous triumph: “Our ephemera.”

One, such as perhaps I, might take from this declaration that what appears before me, something upon which I would think I could break the back of my hand; that I could manipulate by opening, closing, removing, and perhaps even destroy by stomping upon its contents, is at the very same time something that should be almost disappearing before me, dissipating dust in the cosmic breeze while its sense of itself remains, enhancing or stigmatizing all earthly thought until the sun has finally done with its own presence – and everything.

Of course morphosis is relative to time and so, I must now accept, due to the Institute’s almost flippant usage of phrases previously revealed, that ephemerality, the distance from physical manifestation to cognitive memory, is similarly relative. I don’t want it to be this way. I want to know what exactly physical presence (material) is, and conversely, what is visually present yet unseen. The Institute, through its demonic determination to confound the accepted known, is now compelling me to confront these notions.