Fall 2020 Undergraduate English Courses

359:410 Photography and Literature

02   TTH5   CAC   05722   WALLACE   HC-S124

For a very long time now, perhaps since the beginning of fiction and photography, practitioners of the literary and photographic arts alike have held closely to a show-and-not-tell ethic of representation. This course will explore the sometimes happy, sometimes tense relationship between the literary arts (i.e., fiction, memoir, poetry) and photography’s capture (and imagining) of the visual world. Beginning in the early nineteenth century with the invention of the daguerreotype, we will trace photography’s early notice by American writers such as Nathaniel Hawthorne and Edgar Allen Poe and consider the visual aspirations many such writers, and many to follow, set out for themselves under a very old heading refitted for the photographic age: ekphrasis. The relationship of photography to the written word, then will be our chief concern and conversation but not apart from deep reflections on the cultural meaningfulness of photography in the modern era. We will cover literary works ranging in time and form from Hawthorne (The House of the Seven Gables) in the nineteenth century to Toni Morrison (Jazz) in late twentieth century. We will also consider collaborative works of writers and photographers like James Agee and Walker Evans (Let Us Now Praise Famous Men) and critical reflections on photography including works by Susan Sontag (On Photography and Regarding the Pain of Others), and Roland Barthes (Camera Lucida). Shorter works that treat photography’s inescapable links to imperialism, pornography, lynching, and scenes of political violence like Abu Ghraib will round out the course’s final investments in contemporary cultural studies.