Camera Works: Photography and the Twentieth-Century Word

Camera Works: Photography and the Twentieth-Century Word

Michael North

Language: English

Pages: 266


Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

Camera Works is about the impact of photography and film on modern art and literature. For many artists and writers, these new media offered hope of new means of representation, neither linguistic nor pictorial, but hovering in a kind of utopian space between. At the same time, the new media introduced a dramatic element of novelty into the age-old evidence of the senses. For the avant-garde, the challenges of the new media were the modern in its most concentrated form, but even for aesthetically unadventurous writers they constituted an element of modern experience that could hardly be ignored.

Camera Works thus traces some of the more utopian projects of transatlantic avant-garde, including the Readie machine of Bob Brown, which was to turn stories and poems into strips of linguistic film. The influence of photography and film on the avant-garde is traced from the early days of Camera Work, through the enthusiasm of Eugene Jolas and the contributors to his magazine transition, to the crisis created by the introduction of sound in the late 1920′s.

Subseguent chapters describe the entirely new kind of sensory enjoyment brought into modern American fiction by the new media. What Fitzgerald calls “spectroscopic gayety,” the enjoyable diorientation of the senses by machine perception, turns out to be a powerful force in much American fiction. The revolutionary possibilities of this new spectatorship and its limitations are pursued through a number of examples, including Dos Passos, James Weldon Johnson, and Hemingway. Together, these chapters offer a new and substantially different account of the relationship between modern American literature and the mediatized society of the early twentieth century.

With a comprehensive introduction and detailed particular readings, Camera Works substantiates a new understanding of the formal and historical bases of modernism. It argues that when modern literature and art respond to modernity, on a formal level, they are responding to the intervention of technology in the transmission of meaning, an intervention that unsettles all the terms in the essential relationship of human consciousness to the world of phenomena.

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responded to it so extensively because of an affinity for the aesthetic schematization that makes an ordinary face into the photogenic image of a star. It is interesting to reflect, therefore, that even the image that figures in Camera Work as a virtual banner of Cubist abstraction might have had its roots in the sort of cheap commercial photography that Stieglitz dedicated his career to opposing. At the very least, it seems obvious that the advanced painting reproduced in Camera Work was

reproduction, Camera Work could bring its literary contributions into any radical relationship to its visual contents. It was therefore something of a departure for Stieglitz to insist that the Post-Impressionist reproductions and the Stein “articles” that appeared together in a special issue in 1912 were precisely analogous contributions in a single artistic effort. Stieglitz might certainly have believed that Stein enjoyed some special access to the meaning of Picasso's work, since it was

idealization, is imagined primarily as a picture, and its influence in histories of the arts thus remains limited to technical issues such as perspective and to philosophical debates about mimesis.2 Even the notion of mechanical reproducibility made so influential by Walter Benjamin has generally led to a concentration on the dissemination of images, not on the means by which they are originally produced. That a photograph is a method of mechanically rearranging, codifying, storing, and perhaps

it actually were a quality of the person observed, so that instead of “true self-consciousness” there is only “this sense of always looking at one's self through the eyes of others” (SBF, p. 8). Looking “through the eyes of others,” however, is not precisely the same as looking through a veil, since the real threat of prejudice comes from the way it transfers its own ignorant obliquity to its object. As in Conrad's formulation, in which the black mate becomes an empty mask, the black subject in

only in a very limited way.5 Whether the style sheet was or was not circulated widely enough to be a constant guide may matter relatively little in the end, however, since Hemingway actually had little opportunity to put its precepts into practice. Though a very small number of Star stories have been reliably associated with him, it seems that most of these were actually phoned in to be rendered into print by more experienced rewrite men.6 Hemingway did write his own copy for the Toronto Star and

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