I’ve been reading Susan Sontag’s On Photography in a sleepy way, as though Susan is spoon-feeding me and I can’t even keep my mouth open. I get this way with non-fiction, fiction, reading, become complicit in some takeover I orchestrated by picking up the book. I want to read this book. I need to read about photography. But do I? I think I just want to think about it.
Photography is key to the novel I’m writing. I know that much. Elsie is an artist photographer who has taken years away from her craft because she’s been busy raising three children. She walks around seeing things, looking after them, rearranging and replacing them that she can’t also frame and shoot them at the same time for artistic purposes. That’s frivolous. That’s Mallory. But she wants frivolity. She wants it back.
So for Elsie, taking photographs is a way of escaping. Unfortunately, I can’t help but understand from Sontag that photography is also about representing. So while Elsie will try to escape her life through photography, she will also be forced to see it, by representing it to us through this novel. It is interesting to now state that the problem I’m having with the novel is the perspective of the narrator. How close is she to Elsie? Is she Mallory? Is she an all-seeing narrator, and if so, what if she was the camera?
One of Sontag’s essays is about the dichotomy between photography and painting. This is useful to me because Mallory is a painter, Elsie a photographer, and they are the dichotomy of the book. I want to roll this piece out until I have a nuanced understanding of it all, but I don’t need history, don’t need all these references I don’t know about. Yes, I am trying to avoid reading a book (and in turning writing a book), but I think I’m also realizing that as I read the book, I’m not thinking. Thinking is writing, and that’s what I need to do right now. I need to think through a few key things.
One is who is seeing and representing this novel?
Two is how does this affect its structure?
Three is, as a way of displaying this, and playing with it in a dissociative way, I want to bring photography in as a tool. I need to understand a lot more about it in order to do this.
So: I must read Sontag again, but closer, with thinking. I must also read and write more about photography. Through all this, I think I could get a little closer to the heart of the novel, or at least who’s beating it, and how.