Anne Mette Hjortshøj: To live is to leave traces

Anne Mette Hjortshøj: To live is to leave traces




Walter Benjamin’s insight seems particularly apposite to the life of a potter. In English ‘trace’ can refer to vestigial signs of a past event such as the surface of thrown or turned clay that record the gesture and tools that produced them. But it can also mean the action of following such marks, as one does when handling a finished pot, fingering the line of the rim or foot, feeling its texture; a tactile affirmation of the potter’s intention. It can mean to follow as in copy, either oneself as in repetition throwing or the admired work of others, as with tradition. It can mean a minute quantity such as a tiny amount of an element found in a mineral that will significantly change the appearance and behaviour of a glaze. ‘Trace’ is also used to describe a change in the brain caused by a learning process. ‘Spuren’ is the German word originally used by Benjamin; its primary meaning is the track left by an animal or person. ‘Spuren’ gives us the Afrikaans word ‘spoor’ whose meaning includes not just an imprint but the more elusive trace scent of an animal, a sense, as Proust poetically describes in In Search of Lost Time, richly associated with evoking memories.