The Hegemony of the Good Photograph: Or, an Excuse to Post More Sunset Pics

Small Epiphanies: December 5

I have been immersed in and happily enslaved to language my entire life, from when I first started reading. No, from when my parents first started telling me and reading me bedtime stories. When I was a kid, long after bedtime, I’d hang off the side of the bed reading my book by a sliver of the hall light. During the day, when my mother would take the book out of my hands and make me go outside to play, I’d sneak the book out and go find a tree to sit in, or a bush to hide under, and keep reading.

Nothing made me happier than to discover that places in novels were real,  like Betsy and Tacy’s houses in Mankato and the Radisson in Minneapolis, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine from so many of Madeleine L’Engle’s novels right here in New York.

I fell in love with words. I love amok, and bereft. I love fragmented, and protean, and primeval. I love fetid.

I’ve read and written for so long that I’ve learned to trust my own sense of what’s good and what’s bad and when and why rules need to be broken. (Well, with prose, if not so much with poetry.) The relationship between language and power, between literacies and power, the power relationships within communities of practice–these are things to be manipulated and challenged.

My relationship with images is less complex, less developed, less confident. I tend toward, “Sunsets ARE beautiful. The cliche had to come from somewhere!” And I want to remember every one, so I keep taking pictures of them. And I think my dogs are the cutest, smartest dogs anywhere, so I keep taking photos of them too. I occasionally take an interesting photo, I think. Usually it’s by accident. But even then I’m not sure if it’s truly interesting, creative, outside, or if it’s the Hallmark version of alternative. Something already co-opted.

What’s really behind my photo choices? A lack of creativity? A lack of experience? I wrote for a long time, in good girl ways, in accepted voices and styles and structures, before I started to try to change things up, to do something (I hope) no one else was doing. Where is my willingness, my desire, to stretch genre boundaries, to break rules, to experiment, to challenge the hegemony of the good photograph in the ways I have challenged (I hope) the hegemony of good writing?

Is this how my students feel when I ask them to identify and then challenge the discourses that are writing our lives? Does my position of power in the classroom (that’s a lot of power) and in the field (that’s just a little power, but some, nonetheless) give me the room to challenge, to subvert, to make change, with only minimal risk?

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