Writing, Identity, & Queer Studies

In & Out, Either/Or, and Everything In Between


Ann Carson is inventive in Autobiography of Red through Geryon’s visual art. The photographs Geryon takes and the focus placed on them in the chapter titles are examples of excess of language. The photographs are innovative because they describe Geryon in a way language cannot. Throughout Autobiography of Red Geryon has trouble communicating, so his photographs are a way for him to express what he is unable to express verbally. For example, the photograph of the guinea pig lying on her right side on a plate (139). This photograph illustrates Geryon feeling like the guinea pig, on display and the little “beast” everyone is waiting to take advantage of (or in the guinea pig’s case, waiting to be eaten). This is not something Geryon can describe in words, it’s a feeling he has and captures when a fitting moment presents itself.

Geryon’s photographs exemplify his feelings, and the pictures altogether help make up his identity, which he continually searches for, “who am I” (57). The photographs give the reader insight towards aspects of Geryon’s identity beyond his appearance. The photos allow us to see beyond his monstrous looks and see his emotions and self-perception. Herakles’ grandmother said “people think it’s a black-and-white photograph of course nobody knows / how to look at a photograph nowadays” (66). This statement reiterates the purpose of the photographs by saying that people see things as black and white, no one looks beyond the picture for the hidden meaning, or looks beneath perceived appearances of people. Identity is often assumed from appearance, but identity is not one thing or another, it is not black or white, it is complex. The statement from Herakles’ grandmother verbally indicates the purpose of Geryon’s photos, hinting for the reader to look at them for more information about Geryon’s identity by looking deeper than the surface, past his appearance and past the initial photo. The photos Geryon takes are a part of his autobiography and should be paid attention to in order to follow his self-discovery of his identity.


  1. I find your analysis intriguing as I have made similar inferences myself on Geryon’s photography while reading Autobiography of Red. I find it interesting that Geryon never blatantly states why he is taking photos of such obscure things, yet it is common for the reader to assume he is doing so as you stated, to “exemplify his feelings” and help him in his journey of self-discovery. Further, it is interesting how these photographs contribute to his autobiography, but there is never once a photo of himself. He instead finds himself in just about everything else.

  2. westcoastbesttoast

    November 6, 2018 at 2:45 pm

    I love this analysis of the photographs as a way for Geryon to portray his feelings. I do agree that these photographs subtly help readers achieve an deeper understanding of Geryon’s feelings throughout the book. However, while this can depict his feelings, I’m wondering why else would Carson would include the prominence of photographs (or visual art in general)? As Herakles and Ancash are creating a documentary, documentaries are another form of visual art. What is the significance of including such mediums? Which other characters could this (the photographs) be in regards to?

  3. I like how you explore Geryon’s love of photography as a way of searching for identity and self-expression and that one has to look deeper into it to see its true meaning. Photography is often chosen as a medium for self-expression or to convey a message and it is entirely up to the artist how overt this is supposed to be for the person looking at the picture. Different people can also interpret the same picture a different way, which might be completely different from what the photographer intended and I love how Geryon uses this medium to tell a story with his pictures.

  4. I believe that you bring up a really interesting point about how photographs are a way for Geryon to express himself in a non-verbal way. Expanding on this, I wonder if Geryon uses photographs as a way to validate his life experience. When you mention the guinea pig on the plate, and how Geryon related to the guinea pig, it makes me think that photographs serve great significance in his life because they are a tangible form of media that exists. Geryon does not see much representation of himself among his peers and in the life that he lives, and to have a photograph of a moment, says to Geryon that his experience is real and valid. Geryon creates the space for himself to be acknowledged though the photographs that he takes. This in itself is inventive because instead of looking for spaces of illusion, he creates them in his images.

  5. literaryvampire

    November 8, 2018 at 8:28 am

    I feel as though the process of discovering and later expressing self-identity through art is especially important to queer people and prevalent in queer communities. I know that we haven’t touched upon this in class, but I think that Geryon’s experience really exemplifies this, and queer people have historically had to find other ways of existing and of expressing themselves. We have been exploring that through language, but I am sure that art goes hand-in-hand with that. Queerness can be isolating, a feeling that Michael Warner touches on early in “The Trouble with Normal”, and Geryon’s photography is certainly a way of coping with those feelings that are brought on by other characters’ understandings of his identity as well as his own feelings of his identity. I would personally be really interested in charting his art and charting his autobiography throughout the novel as a way to measure his journey with himself and his identity, because you noted that it should be paid attention to in order to follow his journey of self-identity.

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