Self-Portrait Series

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I love self-portraits, partly because in grad school I read this fabulous essay by Philippe Lejeune called "Looking at a Self-Portrait." Lejeune is a literary critic whose primary interest is autobiography, verbal and visual. He asks, "What is it that makes a self-portrait recognizable as such? What special interest can their be in looking at a self-portrait?"

Of course there is nothing in a painting that marks it as a self-portrait for anyone who does not know what the painter looks like, hence the existence of titles like Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror, by Parmigianino (which John Ashbery borrowed for the title of one of his books). Painting, Lejeune points out, has no obvious first person, whereas "For the first person, writing is invincible."

Not long after reading that I started writing self-portraits: "Self-Portrait as Hungry Nude." "Self-Portrait as Burnt Offering." "Self-Portrait as Someone Who Looks Exactly Like Me."

I have this really fabulous book given to me by my big sister as a Christmas gift several years ago, called Seeing Ourselves: Women's Self-Portraits. Some of the titles of the works depicted there are so thoroughly cool: "Self-Portrait Painting the Virgin and Child." "Self-Portrait at the Dressing Table." "Self-Portrait, Black Background." "Self-Portrait with Metro." And my favorite, by a painter named Cynthia Mailman: "Self-Portrait as God." (!) Some day I will steal all those titles and turn them into self-portraits in language.

Sometimes people call what I write stories. In the terminology of critics and writers, I don't write stories. I write nonfiction. I tell stories, but they are usually true stories, and the things I write about them are essays, memoirs and poems. I admit I have two ideas for novels I want to write, but they'll have to wait until I'm done figuring out my own life.

So what you'll get on this blog are lots of self-portraits. Self-portrait as Woman Who Can't Find Anything Worth Eating in her House on a Tuesday Morning. Self-Portrait as Insomniac. (I've done so many stinkin' versions of that one.) Self-Portrait as Someone who Simply Enjoys the Act of Typing. Self-Portrait as Someone with Something to Say. Because I want to say something that matters about the things that matter to me.

1 Comment

That's cool. I like doing verbal self-portraits myself.

In fact, I've already done a Self-Portrait with Metro. ;-)

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This page contains a single entry by Holly published on August 9, 2005 12:16 AM.

The Ultimate MF is the next entry in this blog.

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