This essay explores the photographer Roger Ballen’s series Boarding House in terms of the creature Odradek in Franz Kafka’s short story “Troubles of a Householder” and in terms of melancholia. Rather than mark identity and sense, the traces, traits, contours, orli, and splendores in Ballen’s photographs remain semiotically unclear, as do the arranged part-objects, people, and animals in the photographs. The French psychoanalyst Julia Kristeva’s (and French Romantic poet Gérard de Nerval’s) description of the Thing of melancholia as “a light without representation” provides a poetic and theoretical basis for thinking through these tangled images.

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