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Javier Marias on Using Photographs


In case you have not already read Oli Hazzard’s substantial and excellent interview with Javier Marías over at The White Review, I highly recommend it.  Among other topics, Marías addresses the use of photographs in his novels, starting with Todas las Almas (All Souls) in 1989, a year before W.G. Sebald inserted photographs into his first volume of prose fiction Schwindel. Gefühle. “I remember the surprise of my publisher then – photographs in a novel? Yeah, why not. It was a really strange thing to do then, now it’s not strange any more of course.”

The main reason is very simple. I discovered reading Erwin Panofsky and others, art historians or art theorists, what a pleasure it is to look at an image and read about it at the same time. When Panofsky describes something it you can check and say, yeah, he’s right, I can see it, I wouldn’t have thought of this but now he mentions it, I see it. And then it’s only fair, if in a novel someone talks about a painting or photograph, to show it to the reader a well. That’s mainly it. There is no hidden purpose or enhancement of things – I’m talking about an image, let’s show the image, let’s allow the reader to see it.

Marías then proceeds to discuss the ethical issue of showing photographs of violence and the long debate he held with himself (and others) before deciding not to include in Your Face Tomorrow a much-discussed photograph of a teenager who had been tortured and murdered during the Spanish Civil War. The episode, he tells us, was based on the true story involving his mother and her brother. (I discussed this ” curious decision of discretion”several years ago when I wrote about Your Face Tomorrow.)

One reason the interview is so fascinating is Marías’ infectious, self-deprecating candor.

If I didn’t know myself, I wouldn’t read my works. If someone came to me and said you must read Javier Marías, Spanish guy, contemporary, written a novel of 1500 pages? Come on. Give me one Dickens I haven’t read and then maybe I’ll read it, but not this contemporary thing by a Spanish writer.

If you want even more Marías, you can find the same interview on his extensive blog and then take some of the other pages for a spin.  Here is a link to my numerous posts on the books of Javier Marías.

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