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Total Intermediality?

A review by Jeff Thoss
 
Schwanecke, Christine: Intermedial Storytelling: Thematisation, Imitation and Incorporation of Photography in English and American Fiction at the Turn of the 21st Century. Trier: WVT, 2012.


Christine Schwanecke's Intermedial Storytelling combines intermediality studies and cognitive narrative theory to develop a typology for the analysis of prose narratives which thematise, imitate or incorporate the medium of photography. The book constitutes a valuable and rigorous study regarding text-image relations including numerous meticulous close readings. However, the discussions of specific texts occasionally apply the concepts rather liberally, leading to the question whether all that is mentioned can justifiably be subsumed under the heading of intermediality.

 

> German Abstract     > Table of contents          
 

"What is the use of a book without pictures or conversations?" In this pictorial age, Alice's famous question has increasingly occupied novelists who have seen it as their task not only to include (as they have always done) conversations in their narratives, but, above all, images. Christine Schwanecke's Intermedial Storytelling wishes to account for the recent spate of English-language novels that deal with one type of picture, the photograph, by − as the book's subtitle indicates − thematising, imitating or incorporating the visual medium. Drawing upon intermediality studies and cognitive narratology, Schwanecke develops a flexible typology for the analysis of prose narratives relating to photography and offers meticulous readings of twelve texts. However, while her book manages to give a detailed presentation and description of text-image relationships, it also raises questions about the practice of intermediality research as such.

Intermedial Storytelling starts off with an extended theoretical part that provides a largely straightforward overview and synthesis of intermediality studies, cognitive and inter- or transmedial narrative theory as well as photography theory. Schwanecke's main intervention into the current state of research comes at two points: For one, she coins the term 'photoreme' (mental photographic universals) in analogy to 'narrateme' (mental narrative universals); it refers to speaking about instances in a text where some tangible reference to the medium of photography is made and "the system of 'photography' is […] actually realised in the reader's mind" (p. 45). While this may solve the issue of how to identify intermedial references on a cognitive level, it does not, however, necessarily account for the specific features of a text apt to elicit these 'photoremes', features which only become evident in the discussion of actual examples later on.

Christine Schwanecke's second major proposal concerns typologies: taking issue with Irina Rajewsky's fine-grained differentiation of categories such as 'evozierende', 'simulierende' and '(teil)reproduzierende Systemerwähnung', she argues that when it comes to intermedial references a distinction between "explicit thematisation and implicit imitation" suffices (p. 50). Still, Schwanecke does come up with a fully-fledged typology: For one, she distinguishes between cases of 'thematisation' that are primarily content-related and cases that are "increasingly structural" (p. 48). In addition, she differentiates cases of 'iconic imitation' that are sporadic and unobtrusive from cases where photography is continually imitated in a marked fashion. For the category of 'media combination' or 'incorporation' of photography, she likewise singles out two subtypes, hybridisation based on semiotic heterogeneity and hybridisation based on semiotic homogeneity. These six types are then placed on a scale that indicates increasing modification of a typical prose narrative's semiotic and material structure. This model evidently constitutes the study's cornerstone. Admittedly, it does not lack complexity in comparison to the type of classification the author rejects. However, its success can only be determined on the basis of its application.

This is where Intermedial Storytelling's second, analytical part comes in. Its structure is straightforward: a chapter is devoted to each of the three main categories and a subchapter to each of the six types. The author discusses two mostly well-known novels per type, from Don DeLillo's Mao II to Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. It might be surprising that Schwanecke spends as much time dealing with the thematisation as with the imitation of photography in prose narratives, as the 'mere' thematisation of other media has often been sidelined in intermediality studies. However, the analyses convincingly show that there is merit in treating medially inconspicuous texts such as DeLillo's Mao II or Paul Auster's Leviathan from an intermedial perspective as these do contain extended reflections on text-image relationships. In contrast, Schwanecke overemphasizes the unique narrative potential of plurimedial works such as Foer's Extremely Loud or Leanne Shapton's Important Artifacts […] in a chapter that also omits mention of the French tradition of the roman-photo or the genre of the artist's book.

Of particular interest is the middle chapter, though, which deals with the imitation of photography. Traditionally, intermediality research has been plagued by the question of how implicit intermedial references – which do not 'name' the medium they are referring to – can be recognised with certainty. This issue is handled well by Schwanecke, who proceeds with care and attention to textual detail when identifying where a particular novel alludes to a 'photoreme'. Yet, frequently, once it has been established that a particular text does in one part or another imitate photography, the analysis moves on to assimilate more and more textual elements whose 'photoremic' quality is not really obvious or of a more metaphorical nature to an intermedial reading. The problem, then, is not where intermediality begins, but where it ends.

For example, in her discussion of Salman Rushdie's The Ground Beneath Her Feet, Schwanecke calls the novel's storyworld "distorted" – e.g., Kennedy survives the Dallas assassination – and links this to the protagonist's (a photographer) experience with "scale distortion" using mirrors (p. 105). This connection seems tenuous and one could debate whether giving the storyworld a timeline different from our own actually qualifies as "distortion" in any vaguely photographic or even visual sense. Likewise, in the section dealing with Beryl Bainbridge's Master Georgie, the author writes that "similar to the converging lines in a photo, threads of action merge in a decisive point of each chapter" (p. 120). One has to wonder whether this is not too impressionistic and largely based on a metaphorical application of the concept of vanishing point to literary texts.

Generally, it appears that whenever there is talk of perspective, darkness, illumination or even fragmentation, of words that are in one way or another related to photography, Schwanecke is quick to subsume them under the novels' intermedial dimension. Thus, one is often left with the impression of 'total intermediality' operating in these texts, a term that the author actually reserves for her last example, Shapton's Important Artifacts. This does not really affect the typology presented in Intermedial Storytelling, which stands the test of practice and arguably proves to be more intuitive than Rajewsky's. It is rather a question of to which textual elements or phenomena one applies these types, and where one overextends the concept of intermediality to the point where it loses any distinctiveness. Despite this caveat, Intermedial Storytelling is a valuable study for those interested in narratology, intermediality studies and their intersection.

 

 

Christine Schwanecke. Intermedial Storytelling: Thematisation, Imitation and Incorporation of Photography in English and American Fiction at the Turn of the 21st Century. Trier: WVT, 2012. 220 pages, paperback, € 25,00. ISBN: 978-3-86821-395-9

 

Inhaltsverzeichnis

 

PART I: PHOTOGRAPHIC AND VERBAL INTERRELATIONS IN NARRATIVE LITERATURE
AT THE TURN OF THE 21 ST CENTURY ... 1


1. TOWARDS A SYSTEMATISATION OF THE INTERACTION BETWEEN LITERATURE
AND PHOTOGRAPHY FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF NARRATIVE FICTION ... 3 

1.1 Photography in literature - subject matter and objectives ... 4
1.2 State of research ... 7
1.3 Corpus and methodological aspects ... 9
1.4 Line of action ... 10


2. ESTABLISHING A THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK FOR THE ANALYSIS AND
INTERPRETATION OF PHOTOGRAPHIC AND VERBAL INTERRELATIONS IN
NARRATIVE FICTION AT THE TURN OF THE 21 ST CENTURY ... 12

2.1 Outlining the general context o f this study ... 12
2.1.1 Defining the concepts 'medium' and 'intermediality' ... 12
2.1.2 Localisation o f this analysis I: The phenomena examined in this study
within the broad field o f the general interrelations between artefacts ... 18
2.1.3 Localisation o f this analysis II: The phenomena examined in this study
within the realm o f 'intermediality' ... 19
2.1.4 Opportunities, problems and possible expansions o f this approach ... 23
2.2 Defining the two media which constitute the intermedial novels
under observation: 'Literary text' and 'photography' ... 25
2.2.1 Defining and contextualising photography ... 26
2.2.2 Defining and contextualising literary texts ... 34
2.2.3 The possible uses o f photographic and narrative universals
for the analysis o f intermedial novels ... 44
2.3 Systematising the ways in which literary and photographic features
are combined in novels which intermedially relate to photography ... 46
2.3.1 General categories by means o f which intermedial novels
can be distinguished ... 46
2.3.2 'Thematisation' and 'imitation' o f photography: Intermedial references ... 49
2.3.3 'Incorporation' o f photographs - Media combination ... 51
 


PART II: ANALYSING AND INTERPRETING PHOTOGRAPHIC
AND VERBAL INTERRELATIONS IN NOVELS AT THE TURN OF THE 21 ST CENTURY
ON THE BASIS OF INTERMEDIAL THEORY AND COGNITIVE NARRATOLOGY ... 57


3. INTERMEDIAL REFERENCES I: THEMATISATION OF PHOTOGRAPHY ... 60

3.1 Uprooted individuals and institutions - the novelist and the photographer
in the postmodern age ... 62
3.1.1 Photographs and novels as instruments and commodities -
a criticism o f postmodern consumerist culture intermedially conveyed
in Don DeLillo's Mao II ... 63
3.1.2 Postmodern identity and reality between facts and fictions - explicit
references to photography and literature in Paul Auster's Leviathan ... 70
3.2 Family (hi)stories: Intermedial references to photography as tools for
metamnemonic and metahistoriographic reflection ... 78
3.2.1 Explicit intermedial references to photographs at the interface between
past and present: The family archive in Behind the Scenes at the Museum ... 79
3.2.2 A re-'vision' o f the past: Explicit intermedial references to photographs
as triggers o f historiographical research and reflection in The Photograph ... 87
3.3 Photographs thematised ... 94

 
4 . INTERMEDIAL REFERENCES II: (ICONIC) IMITATION OF PHOTOGRAPHY ... 97

4.1 'Who am I?' - Positioning the self between narration, focalization,
and photography by implicit intermedial means ... 98
4.1.1 'In-between-nesses' and 'double vision': Sporadic evocation of
photography by photographic narration in Salman Rushdie's The Ground
Beneath Her Feet ... 99
4.1.2 Torn between the 'album' and the 'lexicon', and what and how do we
'see'? - Photographic focalization in Rachel Seiffert's The Dark Room ... 108
4.2 Quasi-hybridisation and aesthetical experiments in neo-Victorian novels ... 116
4.2.1 Smothering life in darkness and revealing Victorian double standards:
Intermedial techniques o f glossing over facts in Beryl Bainbridge's
Master Georgie ... 117
4.2.2 Bringing life to the light and celebrating Victorian photography:
Ultimate 'light writing' in Gail Jones' quasi-hybrid novel Sixty Lights ... 124
4.3 Photography imitated ... 131

 

5. INCORPORATION OF PHOTOGRAPHY ... 134 

5.1 The sporadic integration o f photographs - a means o f meta-reflexively
questioning the documentary value o f photographic and verbal life-
(and death-)writing ... 138
5.1.1 'Resurrection': The rehabilitation o f lives by plurimedial means in
Aleksandar Hemon's The Lazarus Project ... 138
5.1.2 'Life turned into stone': Narrative fossilisation processes in
Carol Shields' The Stone Diaries ... 146
5.2 Narrating with photos: The merging o f visual and verbal media
as a means o f dealing with the unspeakable trauma o f loss ... 155
5.2.1 Lost lives: The plurimedial coming to terms with trauma and
repression in Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close ... 156
5.2.2 Lost loves: The plurimedial inquiry into the mechanisms and rites of
modern relationships in Leanne Shapton's Important Artifacts and Personal
Property from the Collection o f Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris,
Including Books, Street Fashion, and Jewelry ... 167
5.3 Photographs incorporated ... 175

 

6. CONCLUSION ... 179  

6.1 The formal manifestations o f intermedial storytelling ... 180
6.2 The implications o f intermedial storytelling for the interpretation
o f the novels ... 184 

 

7. REFERENCES ... 189 

7.1 Primary literature ... 189
7.2 Secondary literature ... 190

 

Allumfassende Intermedialität?

 

Christine Schwaneckes Intermedial Storytelling verbindet Intermedialitätsforschung und kognitive Erzähltheorie, um eine Typologie zur Analyse von Erzähltexten zu entwickeln, die das Medium Photographie thematisieren, imitieren oder integrieren. Das Buch stellt eine wertvolle und gründliche Untersuchung im Bereich der Text-Bild-Beziehungen dar, die zahlreiche akribische Einzelanalysen beinhaltet. Bei der Erörterung einzelner Beispiel werden die Analysekategorien jedoch gelegentlich recht großzügig angewandt, was zur  Frage führt, ob alles, was hier erwähnt wird mit Recht unter den Begriff der Intermedialität gefasst werden kann.

 

 

© bei der Autorin und bei KULT_online