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Tout est dit, et l’on vient trop tard.

— La Bruyère

French 250B: Studies in Nineteenth-Century French Literature — Photographic Practices and Literary Seeing in 19th C. France


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Course Description:

Many argue that the emergence of photography in the 19th century produced entirely new modes of seeing. We will consider various modalities of photographic image capture in the 19th century and  their impact on the literary field, leading up to Breton’s definition of Surrealism, in the early 20th century, as a “photographie de la pensĂ©e.”    We will begin with Daguerre and diorama images (at the intersection of painting, the theatre, and photographic experimentation), consider how ideological appropriations of photographic practices (Arago’s report to the Chambre de DĂ©putĂ©s on the invention of the daguerreotype, for example) structure discourses concerning photography and so also the terms of debates   concerning relations between photography and literature (Baudelaire’s critique of photography, etc.).

Other issues that will come up include: time, traces, materiality (Balzac’s “thĂ©orie des spectres”),   memory, framing, ekphrasis, human/machine relations, subjectivity/objectivity, the construction of social (and ethnographic) types, celebrity culture (DisdĂ©ri and Nadar), and the ruin (or as Maxime du Camp put it “la ruine ruinĂ©e”). We will examine how the impact of photographic image practices cuts across genres and literary schools – realism, the fantastic, travel writing, symbolism – with special attention to the prose poem.

Readings will include writings by authors such as Jules Janin, Lamartine, Gautier (Pompéi), Maxime du Camp (Egypte …; Le Nil; Mémoires d’un Suicidé), Balzac (Le Cousin Pons),   Disdéri, Baudelaire, Villiers de l’Isle Adam (L’Eve Future), Zola, Mallarmé,   Rimbaud and Rodenbach (Bruges-la- morte). We will look at images by Daguerre, Fox Talbot, Victor Hugo, Maxime du Camp,  Gustave Le Gray, Disdéri,  Nadar, and Zola,  among others,  as well as portrait of writers such as Baudelaire, Balzac, etc

Section times and locations in the Schedule of Classes