Barthes for Barthes' sake? Victorian literature and photography beyond poststructuralism

Clayton, Owen (2016) Barthes for Barthes' sake? Victorian literature and photography beyond poststructuralism. Literature Compass, 13 (4). pp. 245-257. ISSN 1741-4113

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Scholars of nineteenth-century literature have been inspired by the multiplicity of connections that existed between writing and early photography. Critics have often argued that writers in Britain, America and elsewhere understood photography to be a profoundly realist practice, and as such that it stood as an analogue of literary realism. As this article demonstrates, such arguments have been enormously influenced by the Art History narrative of photography, as well as late twentieth-century poststructuralism. Roland Barthes' Camera Lucida has been particularly prominent. Yet though it has much to say about the phenomenology of posing, as well as the affective quality of images, Barthes' ‘modest book’ makes assumptions that have been problematized in subsequent photographic scholarship. These assumptions, which include indexicality and medium specificity, support an ideology of photographic realism. This ideology has dominated comparative studies of Victorian literature and early photography, including work on Thomas Hardy and Henry James. One result has been for literary critics to overlook the nuances of particular technologies, such as the daguerreotype, and to treat nineteenth-century photography as if it were a single medium. Another has been a privileging of modernism. This last result has been concomitant with a tendency for literary scholars to view photography solely as art. Important recent work in the history of photography has challenged the Art History narrative, but this has been slow to filter through to literary studies. This article will conclude by noting encouraging signs that this situation seems to be changing.

Keywords:Photography, Roland Barthes, Victorian literature, Henry James, Thomas Hardy, Realism, Poststructuralism, History of Photography, NotOAChecked
Subjects:Q Linguistics, Classics and related subjects > Q320 English Literature
Divisions:College of Arts > School of English & Journalism > School of English & Journalism (English)
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ID Code:23616
Deposited On:03 Aug 2016 09:46

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