In the process of compiling and revising his life's work in the so-called New York Edition, the writer Henry James paused to comment on the relation between the established arts and photography. His ... read more
In the process of compiling and revising his life's work in the so-called New York Edition, the writer Henry James paused to comment on the relation between the established arts and photography. His verdict? He imagines their encounter as a competition in which the popular practice of photography threatens to displace the fine art of literary description as well as traditional visual art forms like painting and illustration.
Our seminar is also concerned with this encounter between the "new" medium of photography and older textual and visual practices. However, the course aims to explore this encounter beyond the diagnosis of a "winner-takes-all" competition. To this end, we will consider theoretical approaches to photography, looking at the ideas of Walter Benjamin, Roland Barthes, Susan Sontag, Rosalind Krauss, and others. Those theories will then be tested by looking at particular photographic forms and practices as well as textual-photographic interactions from the nineteenth century to the present. Key examples of literary interaction with photography that we will examine include Nathaniel Hawthorne's The House of the Seven Gables (1851), James's short stories "The Real Thing" (1891) and "Crapy Cornelia" (1909) and the so-called "Kodak realism" of neorealist authors like Raymond Carver. A particular focus will be on variations of the photo book such as Jacob Riis's How The Other Half Lives (1890) and the Walker Evans /James Agree cooperation Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (1941). We will finish the course by looking at an author whose work has been considered crucial for new forms of literary intermediality: W.G. Sebald.
Required Reading: Please purchase The House of the Seven Gables (any reasonably priced edition). I would also strongly recommend purchasing a print version of How the Other Half Lives and Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (again, any reasonably priced edition). All other texts will be made available via Blackboard.
Recommended Reading: For anyone looking for spring break reading, I highly recommend Miles Orvell's American Photography (2003) as an introduction to photographic practices and the issues that they raise for representation generally.