I’m not satisfied with this at all. I struggled to make myself clear. I knew exactly what I wanted to say, or thought I did, but got bogged down by mot juste matters: which “connective tissue” words to use (“to” or “towards;” etc.) And there is a lot I left out (maybe for the better.)
It became fashionable in my youth to praise artists, particular female ones, for their “generosity of spirit,” a pleasant-sounding expression I confess I still don’t quite comprehend. Likewise, my “serious” writing is regularly described by generous souls as more “compassionate” than it really is. And Nelson looks askance at the latter-day detection of “empathy” and other ameliorative motives supposedly underpinning Arbus’ photographic “practice.” (As she calls it. Yes, alas, Nelson insists on deploying that species of academic jargon and cadence that reduces even genuinely profound observations to the sound of a hollow stick banging an empty drum in a vacant room. Whereas Rosemary Dinnage managed to write a similar book, Alone! Alone! Lives of Some Outsider Women, without so much as a smidge of this lingo.)
Why, I wonder, can’t Arbus have been just a crazy, venal woman who wanted to take neat pictures of weirdos?