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Analog Fictions for the Digital Age

Analog Fictions for the Digital Age: Literary Realism and Photographic Discourses in Novels after 2000

Julia Breitbach
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 248
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  • Book Info
    Analog Fictions for the Digital Age
    Book Description:

    Both realist, post-postmodernist aesthetics in the twenty-first century and the legacy of analog photography in its recent digital incarnation depend on an aesthetics of trust and a sense of contingent referentiality. Julia Breitbach's innovative study demonstrates how current photographic discourse may be used as an illuminating critical idiom for the analysis of recent forms of literary realism, thus proposing a photographic hermeneutics for the study of literature. Along with a thorough critical investigation of both fields, Breitbach offers a pioneering theoretical exploration of analog and digital photography based on recent "thing theory," which she then applies to in-depth analyses of realist aesthetics in selected post-millennial novels by Don DeLillo, Michael Ondaatje, and Ali Smith, yielding fresh perspectives on the remediation between photography and literature in the twenty-first century. An original contribution to the study of contemporary Anglophone literatures with an interdisciplinary appeal, this study will be of interest especially to scholars and students in Anglophone literary studies, comparative literature, cultural studies, and media studies. Julia Breitbach is Assistant Professor in the Department of American Studies at the University of Constance, Germany.

    eISBN: 978-1-57113-840-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
    Julia Breitbach
  4. Introduction: Toward a Photographic Reading of Literary Realism
    (pp. 1-28)

    In “The Real Thing,” Henry James’s famous short story on the arts in the age of photography, a peculiar paragone takes place. Vying for the attention of the narrator-protagonist, a painter-cum-illustrator, and urging him to employ them as models are, on the one hand, Mr. and Mrs. Monarch, impoverished aristocrats who pride themselves on being “the real thing” yet miserably fail to inspire the artist’s imagination. That they have successfully modeled for photographers (“We’ve been photographed—immensely,” James 2003b, 510) further disqualifies them, the narrator finds. The allegorical connection is clear: too real, too literal, and too perfect in keeping...

  5. 1: Photography in the Digital Age: Critical Contexts and the Question of Realism
    (pp. 29-47)

    With the rise of digital photographic practices in the 1990s an intense scholarly discussion set in, prompted by the need to come to terms with, to understand, and to label a new technology. An early and frequently cited touchstone in this context is William J. Mitchell’s (1992) book-length study The Reconfigured Eye: Visual Truth in the Post-Photographic Era. Published at the onset of digital image processing as a widespread practice, The Reconfigured Eye bestows great enthusiasm on a still-nascent technology and is to no small extent concerned with technological exegesis and the practical details of computer-based image production. The book’s...

  6. 2: This Thing in the Text: Photography, Thing Theory, and the Return to Realism in Literature
    (pp. 48-71)

    Things are a time-honored interest of Western culture and its philosophical, historical, and social debate—from the Kantian/transcendental “Ding an sich” and its repercussions in the works of Nietzsche, Adorno, and Heidegger, to Michel Foucault’s poststructuralist critique in Les mots et les choses (1966) or the postmodern sociology of Jean Baudrillard in Le système des objets (1968). In more recent years, things have triumphantly reemerged in the wider field of cultural studies. The angles and disciplines from which scholars tackle the phenomenon are manifold. Anthropology, the field traditionally associated with material culture studies, has seen publications such as Daniel Miller’s...

  7. 3: Liminal Realism: Don DeLillo, The Body Artist (2001)
    (pp. 72-114)

    In his 2001 review of The Body Artist, John Leonard calls Don DeLillo a “poster boy for postmodernism.” Offering a whirlwind tour through the writer’s oeuvre, Leonard writes: “[DeLillo] is the wised-up child of randomness and incongruity; the Geronimo of vandalism, bricolage, and mediascape pastiche; the conspiracy theorist of corporate power, government secrecy, malign systems, and the ‘whole enormous rot and glut and glare’ of pop culture and consumer violence; the hang-glider on waves of paranoia” (2001, 14). Such assessment can be called representative of DeLillo’s canonized status as an eminent postmodernist and astute commentator on contemporary America. For the...

  8. 4: Domestic Realism: Ali Smith, The Accidental (2005)
    (pp. 115-162)

    Scottish short-story writer and novelist Ali Smith is often described as a “literary writer.” The epithet refers to, on the one hand, Smith’s extraordinary sensitivity for narrative style and voice and to her self-reflective wit in foregrounding and recasting literary conventions, genres, and traditions. Her short-story collections, for instance, carry titles such as Other Stories and Other Stories (1999) and The Whole Story and Other Stories (2003), and her 2007 novel, Girl Meets Boy: The Myth of Iphis, rewrites a tale from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. On the other hand, Smith’s work is also considered “literary” for its meticulous attention to how...

  9. 5: Poetic Realism: Michael Ondaatje, Divisadero (2007)
    (pp. 163-205)

    This study has asked in which ways contemporary fictions refer to and engage the topical remediation of analog and digital photography, and to what literary purposes they might be using this specific discourse. In answer to this question, I have suggested a shared concern with an aesthetics of trust and the extension of belief—from analog to digital, and from the photographic to the literary medium. I have used the precarious yet tenacious truth status of photographic representation—innate to both analog and digital technologies—to elaborate on the idea of a “contingent referentiality” (Klaus Stierstorfer), which distinguishes the semiotics...

  10. 6: Conclusion: The Way We Write Now—A Case for Realism(s)
    (pp. 206-212)

    At the alleged end of the photographic age—spurred on by the specter of the digital—we have come full circle to fundamental questions about the nature and cultures of analog photography: its (photo)realism, its rhetoric, its claims and disclaimers. In a digital environment, the analog calls attention to itself. For its apparent datedness as a “residual” discourse—lagging behind the latest fashions and technologies—the analog seems to have reemerged as a hot topic, paradoxically, by way of its nontopicality. The a-chronological persistence of the analog model—which continues, as has been argued in this study, as an authoritative...

  11. Works Cited
    (pp. 213-232)
  12. Index
    (pp. 233-240)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 241-241)