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  • Wounds of Self:Experience, Word, Image, and Identity
  • Mariana Ortega

As spectator I was interested in Photography only for sentimental reasons. I wanted to explore it not as a question (a theme) but as a wound. I see, I feel, hence I notice, I observe, and I think.

—Roland Barthes

1,950 mile-long open wounddividing a pueblo, a culture,running down the length of my body,staking fence rods in my flesh,splits me splits meme raja me raja

—Gloria Anzaldúa

I would like to look into the relationship among experience, image, word, and time in order to disclose the one who experiences, sees the image, says the word, and remembers. And I am inspired by the photographic image that was once considered merely the mirror of nature but is now a broken mirror in which life, context, and interpretation reside. I am also inspired by the way in which experience, image, word, memory, and self come together in Susan Brison's and Gloria Anzaldúa's powerful words.1

In the following, I attempt to bring together the image and the word or ways of knowing by understanding those words through the ways we see images. Thus, here I discuss a wound, but not the wounded attachment that according to Wendy Brown makes us merely react to the powers that undermine our freedom, wounded attachments that make us reify ourselves and rename ourselves with the very name given to us by those powers that be, the very name that unnames us.2 I would like to expose a different kind of wound, one that in my view informs our words, our projects to seek, to produce, and to maintain our ways of knowing of the world and of ourselves—we women of color who have been and continue to be silenced by flesh and blood bodies as well as by bodies of ideas that intentionally [End Page 235] or unintentionally obscure, undermine, assault, or disappear us. This wound is the punctum, as it is named by Barthes in his musings on photography, the sting, the speck, the cut that wakes us and alerts us to look further, to investigate, to understand, to care.3 For me, war is this punctum; living in-betweenness is this punctum. For other multiplicitous selves like me it is liminality, oppression, colonization, erasure, a mix of all these4—and our words bleed just like our bodies do.

Here I propose that when we put words together, when we create ways of knowing, we follow the phenomenological insight that such theories be informed by and do justice to our lived experience. Yet not all experiences are the same—there is the quotidian, the habitual, the commonplace, the exceptional, the transforming, the traumatic, and more. The type of experience that I would like to think about is the one that, although it may be part of our everydayness, "pricks" us, just like Barthes says a detail in a photograph may prick, wound, attract, overwhelm, or produce a tiny shock in me. The wound in the photograph is what leads him to see, feel, hence notice, observe, and think (21). Our lives, our experience, also have this/these wound(s); they inform the way in which we live and the way in which we think about life and explore the ways to know life. Barthes himself saw photographs as capable of doing much more than words. For example, he says that writing can in no way show the kind of certainty that a photograph shows (85). He also points out that, unlike photographs, words "fail" to capture the "air" of a person, "a kind of intractable supplement of identity, what is given as an act of grace, stripped of any importance" (109). However, while I recognize the important differences between words and images, I wish to explore their similarities as I appeal that our words be informed by our life, by our lived experience.

In the following, I first explain what Barthes means by a photographic punctum and subsequently analyze the way in which words can be said to have a punctum as well. I use the work of both Susan Brison...


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pp. 235-247
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