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Pictures Into Words: Images in Contemporary French Fiction (Stages)by Ari J. Blatt
Synopses & Reviews
The explosive proliferation of pictures in advertising and pop culture, mass media, and cyberspace following World War II, along with the profusion of critical thinking that tries to make sense of it, has had wide-ranging implications for cultural production as such. Pictures into Words explores how this proliferation of graphic images has profoundly affected narrative writing in France, especially, as Ari J. Blatt argues, the structure, content, and symbolic logic of contemporary French fiction. By examining a specific corpus of narratives by authors Claude Simon, Georges Perec, Pierre Michon, and Tanguy Viel—books that originate amid, conjure up, and indeed are essentially about pictures—Blatt addresses the most salient questions pertaining to the relationship between literature and visual culture today.
Each of the novels considered here engages the work of several postwar artists, from Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol, Vincent van Gogh, and Orson Welles to Jeff Koons, Joseph L. Mankiewicz, Pierre Huyghe, and Marcel Duchamp. As Blatts cross-disciplinary readings show, despite their gleeful raiding of the visual archive to generate and enrich their stories, many contemporary narratives that tell tales about pictures simultaneously express a cautious skepticism toward vision and visual representation. Pictures into Words examines how such novels, while seemingly complicit with the visual, simultaneously “write back” against the images they exploit, reclaiming some of literatures lost ground in our visually inundated world.
Colonized by the French in 1830, Algeria was an important French settler colony that, unlike its neighbors, endured a lengthy and brutal war for independence from 1954 to 1962. The nearly one million Pieds-Noirs (literally “black-feet”) were former French citizens of Algeria who suffered a traumatic departure from their homes and discrimination upon arrival in France. In response, the once heterogeneous group unified as a community as it struggled to maintain an identity and keep the memory of colonial Algeria alive.
Remembering French Algeria examines the written and visual re-creation of Algeria by the former French citizens of Algeria from 1962 to the present. By detailing the preservation and transmission of memory prompted by this traumatic experience, Amy L. Hubbell demonstrates how colonial identity is encountered, reworked, and sustained in Pied-Noir literature and film, with the device of repetition functioning in these literary and visual texts to create a unified and nostalgic version of the past. At the same time, however, the Pieds-Noirs compulsion to return compromises these efforts. Taking Albert Camuss Le Mythe de Sisyphe and his subsequent essays on ruins as a metaphor for Pied-Noir identity, this book studies autobiographical accounts by Marie Cardinal, Jacques Derrida, Hélène Cixous, and Leïla Sebbar, as well as lesser-known Algerian-born French citizens, to analyze movement as a destabilizing and productive approach to the past.
About the Author
Ari J. Blatt is an assistant professor of French at the University of Virginia.
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