My MLA abstract on photography and mourning

Feedback welcome on this one… I’m excited by the idea but not wild about how I articulated it here. I could use a title, too.

Photography and Mourning in the Poetry of Anne Carson and Jacques Roubaud

The attempt to render the unsayable in language is the unending craft of writers, and never is it more challenging than in cases of mourning, when such expression is both necessary to the healing process and painfully evocative of past suffering. Including photographs in elegiac texts is a common means of giving voice to the impossible gap between experience and language. As Barthes notes in La chambre claire (1980), photographs provide an immediacy and an authenticity that written text cannot match, while also suggesting a simultaneity of past and future that always bears the mark of death.

Moving beyond the inclusion of photographs as straightforward memorials or reflections on the passage of time, poets Jacques Roubaud and Anne Carson incorporate photographs into their work in ways that accentuate the profound disconnect caused by loss. In the visually stunning Nox (2010), Carson includes photographs of her late brother among myriad other original and borrowed scraps, creating a physical space that holds both her thoughts and her brother’s. The photographs are a part of her mourning process, which she conceptualizes as translation: she studies her brother fragment by fragment, trying to reach something whole.

Roubaud also makes use of photographs and diary entries in Quelque chose noir (1986), a haunting elegy to his late wife, Alix Cléo–and yet in this case, the fragments are notable not for what they show, but for their absence. Roubaud relies on the photographs as a framework for his text–even the title refers to a series of Alix Cléo’s black-and-white photographs–and yet the photographs are excluded, becoming another element of the unsayable.

I will explore ways in which Carson and Roubaud look to photographs as key elements of the mourning process, not as memorials in themselves, but as passageways to understanding and expressing the unsayable.

Personal Writing

The ups and downs of daily writing

My new year’s resolution for 2012 is to write something or take a photo every day (which, in all honesty, is a bit of a cheat; I’d love to reach a point where I do both daily). I’m setting out to do this for a number of reasons; for one thing, my current position is not one in which I generate much creative work, so I feel a significant lack (which was a big part of why I started this blog in the first place). I also know that engaging in creative work every day eliminates the fear of the blank page, and leads to better work simply by dint of volume. It’s highly likely that in a stack of a thousand photos, at least one of them will be great. In a stack of ten, it’s not so certain.

Sustained engagement in creative activity also makes the process more fluid. With photography, the more photos I take, the better my eye for detail, and the better my muscle memory for creating the perfect settings. With writing, my voice becomes clearer and less forced, and I find that I have more and more that I want to say. I finished my dissertation relatively quickly in part because I wrote every day, and I have had many conversations with students, colleagues, and friends (especially @ekfletch) about treating creative projects as work (rather than as mysterious flashes-of-genius that somehow flow through one’s passive fingers). Still, it’s not easy to do, especially when the goal is more nebulous than a dissertation and has no clear endpoint.

I now have at least three (four?) posts that I have started and not yet finished. I started each because I needed to write something, or because I had finished reading something and wanted to jot down a few thoughts about it, but I haven’t felt committed enough to them to really figure out what I want to say. The unfinished posts are unsettling to me: I like to finish what I start, and I don’t like letting projects linger untouched. What I suspect I need to learn now is which ideas are worth working on, and which ones to drop.

I just read this Wired post by Jonah Lehrer on how we identify our good ideas, and it was a helpful reminder that time away from the thing is one of the most useful tools for separating good work from garbage. It’s something I’ll try to keep in mind, maybe by allowing an extra day between finishing a post and hitting that “Publish” button.