Some Sunday Morning Aimlessness

by zunguzungu

To quote myself, a few days ago I wrote that I was interested in “the quotation/anecdote, the strip of text torn from its context, thrown into a new one, and endowed with a false sense of its own sufficiency. Sontag even notes a broad Benjaminian analogy between the photograph and the quotation: both reproduce a fragment of the whole so perfectly as to transform it.”

There’s something to be said about the fact that Sontag’s book On Photography — which famously includes no photographs — does include “A Brief Anthology of Quotations” at the very end, parenthetically subtitled “Homage to W.B.” It is obviously a meaningful omission that Sontag, a photographer herself, chose to include no actual photographs in her book on photography, and the substitution of an anthology of quotations for that absence is just as meaningful: it is both an attempt to situate her book within a particular problem space (how to represent reality once representation is called into question?) and an argument that it can be done, and should be. Instead of showing and telling, we have deconstruction and dialectic.

As Sontag wrote elsewhere, “the taste for quotations (and for the juxtaposition of incongruous quotations) is a Surrealist taste,” and I think she was right (and so are incongruous photographs), which helps me understand why Edmund Carpenter writes like that, why juxtapositions produce a more interesting dynamic than argument for him. His “West” isn’t a reliable constant identity, but an effect produced by broader and stranger and interrelated movements, a produced product of forces to which it is not reducible. Surrealism, too, sought to show “reality” up for the fraud that it was, not to denounce it or deny that it exists (as the worst caricatures of deconstruction would assert, for example) but to think about how the fiction of coherence works, how it is made, and why we live according to its rules.