This is a book project, probably, or maybe just a series of class notes. It’s a work in progress: these aren’t completed blog entries, but drafts for chapters that I am continuously revisiting. I hope the project will grow to about twice its current size, and I hope to finish around 2015. All comments welcome, either here or on Facebook or via my website.
This project follows from another, called “What is Interesting Writing in Art history?.” That one is on a Blogger site. Look for links on this page; they lead to completed texts. If you are new to this project, please have a look at the Blogger site first.
Table of Contents
A preliminary bibliographic survey of writing (in continuous narratives) with images (without captions or call-outs). Terry Pitts’s lists: one on LibraryThing, and others on his Vertigo blog; books theorizing writing with images (Renee Riese Hubert, Surrealism and the Book (University of California Press, 1988); Ofra Amihay and Lauren Walsh, The Future of Image and Text (Cambridge Scholars Press, 2012); Brian McHale, Postmodernist Fiction, section on illustrated fiction (called “anti-illustration”). (The first three thanks to Terry Pitts.)
Text can be image in several ways: concrete poetry and graphical or typographical arrangements are perhaps the most common. In Tan Lin’s sense, text, formatting, and pictures can all be images: but that position requires an adjustment in the concept of reading that I am not pursuing here. There are also books with graphical inventions that function as images, for example Tristram Shandy (especially in the Visual Editions version); Mallarmé, Un coup de dès (with the new critique, and its recent debunking); Jonathan Safran Foer’s Tree of Codes; Robert Walser’s microscripts; Jen Bervin’s Nets; Christian Bök’s Crystallography; and Tom Phillips’s A Humument: A Treated Victorian Novel. I will be minimally concerned with those and other graphical or typographical experiments, because I want to think first about prose that does not draw special attention to its own visuality, but rather poses itself alongside explicitly visual objects. Image, in this project, means mainly photographs, drawings, graphs, charts, maps, video stills, and linked visual media.
3 Novels that Describe Images
A parenthetical chapter on novels and poems that include descriptions (not illustrations) of actual artworks, including Proust’s description of the yellow wall in Vermeer’s View in Delft, Auden, Ashbery’s Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror, Javier Marías’s A Heart so White, and Thomas Bernhard’s Old Masters. This takes up where the final chapter of Part II left off: texts that aren’t really about artworks, and don’t have images physically present in the book. Just outside this theme are novels that describe imaginary artworks (including, I suppose, the passage on Achilles’s shield in The Iliad), and the many novels that describe non-art images (of which I would single out Robbe-Grillet’s Jealousy and Georges Perec’s Life: A User’s Manual as crucial examples). The entire issue of ekphrasis and the tradition of ut pictura poesis are pertinent here as discursive and critical fields that can help articulate what I am pursuing. Nevertheless I will try to continue to articulate reasons why ekphrases differ from actual meetings of texts and images.
4 Novels with Images
The inquiry actually begins here, with novels that include images: Georges Rodenbach’s Bruges-la-Morte (and Will Stone’s version, which is an entirely different book), John Gardner’s Mickelsson’s Ghosts, Kobo Abe’s The Box Man, Wright Morris, Walter Abish’s 99: The New Beginning, Umberto Eco, W.G. Sebald (and his influence, for example on Vicenz Serrano and Lise Patt), Kathleen Hill”s Who Occupies This House?, William Vollmann’s The Rifles and the photographic supplements to Imperial, Ivan Vladislavic’s collaborations, Orhan Pamuk’s Istanbul and Museum of Innocence, Jennifer Egan’s Goon Squad (and website), Christoph Benda, and Minae Mizumura’s A True Novel. What ties these, loosely, in one chapter is their relatively traditional narrative forms, which encounter and accommodate (or ignore) images in various ways.
5 Experimental Writing With Images
This chapter collects the examples I think are most promising. These are novels and poems where the writing presents itself as experimental: Raymond Roussel’s New Impressions of Africa; Andre Breton’s Nadja and l’Amour fou, Yves Bonnefoy’s The Arrière-pays; Louis Aragon’s Paris Peasant; Anne Carson’s Nox; Susan Howe; Christian Bök, Crystallography; Jacques Roubaud’s Great Fire of London; Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge; Hannah Weiner’s Open House; various books, pdfs, and collaborative documents by Tan Lin; Debra di Blasi’s The Jirí Chronicles; Helene Sommer; John Holten’s The Readymades; and Lydia Davis’s Cows.
6 Other Practices…
All this leads into a dozen or more undefinable diffuse practices. First is children’s books: in this context I am not interested in children’s literature, but the forms and experiments in some children’s books are as radical as any in the “adult” literature. Then there are artist’s books with narratives; formatted or designed practice-led PhD dissertations, where the continuous narrative required by the PhD intersects the candidate’s visual practices; e-books that involve hyperlinked images and videos; graphical novels that have enough continuous text so that they are nominally distinct from graphic novels where the text is primarily brief narrative and spoken dialogue embedded in drawn cells; and finally, books with minimal continuous narrative such as Leanne Shapton’s Important Artifacts and… (a novel disguised as an auction catalogue).
Earlier in the project I proposed some ways that images work in relation to nonfiction. But with fiction those formulations are inadequate. This chapter is a work in progress, or perhaps a starting place for future efforts—a list of strategies that have been used in writing with images, and a list of the meanings that are generated.
8 Problems and Possibilities For Writers
Because this project is aimed at the criticism and theorization of the contemporary practice of experimental writing with images—and because its impetus is my own writing, which has meant I read every book with an eye to where writing with images might go next—this book ends with a practical chapter, for writers, summarizing issues raised by the preceding chapters.