HENB01392U  English - Elective 2, topic 2: Visual Culture and Literary Study: Origins, Theory and Practice

Volume 2017/2018



In this class, we will study visual culture with the end of understanding what the field can offer to students of literature. Visual culture typically embraces the popular artifacts not within the purview of traditional art history—inexpensive prints, advertisements, and mass exhibitions—and devotes attention to practices of viewership for the ends of considering cultural modes of seeing more generally. We will begin the semester by studying some of the foundational texts of visual culture as a broad field (Mitchell, Foucault, Jay) with an eye toward the applicability of these theories to different humanities and social science disciplines. Then, we move to works that study the influence of technologies of observation and reproduction on historical visuality (Crary, Benjamin, Berger). In the context of these theories, we will begin to think about the influence of technologies of seeing on nineteenth-century literature, dipping into both critical work on print culture (Lehuu, McGill) and primary literary texts (Hawthorne, Whitman, Dickinson). Our next unit will center on ekphrasis, the literary description of a visual work, as a genre that directly tackles the central problem of this class: what do words have to do with images? Word-image theories (Mitchell, Pierce) as well primary texts (Keats, Williams, Carson) will inform our discussions. We will then turn to photography to think through how the medium changed understandings of both visuality and literature, as we delve into theories of photography (Sontag, Barthes, Trachtenberg) and image-texts (Riis, Holdt). We will end the semester with a graphic novel that requires us to read image and text as an intertwined narrative.

Provisional reading list (all subject to change): Vanessa Schwartz and Jeannene Przyblyski, “Visual Culture’s History: Twenty-First Century Interdisciplinarity and its Nineteenth-Century Objects” (2004); David Holloway and John Beck, “Toward a Social Theory of American Visual Culture” (2005); W.J.T Mitchell, “The Pictorial Turn” (1994), “Interdisciplinarity and Visual Culture” (1995);

Michael Foucault, “Panopticism” (1977); Martin Jay, from Downcast Eyes: The Denigration of Vision in Twentieth-Century French Thought (1993); Jonathan Crary, from Techniques of the Observer: On Vision and Modernity in the Nineteenth Century (1990), Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” (1936); Isabelle Lehuu, from Carnival on the Page: Popular Print Media in Antebellum America (2000); Meredith McGill, from American Literature and the Culture of Reprinting, 1834-1853 (2002); John Berger, Ways of Seeing (1973); Selections from Nathaniel Hawthorne, Walt Whitman, and Emily Dickinson; Charles Saunders Pierce, from The Philosophy of Pierce: Selected Writings; W.J.T Mitchell, “Ekphrasis and the Other” (1994); Selections from John Keats, William Carlos Williams and Anne Carson; Susan Sontag, from On Photography (1977); Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida (1981); Alan Trachtenberg, from Classic Essays on Photography (1981); Jacob Riis, selections from How the Other Half Lives (1890); Jacob Holdt, selections from American Pictures (1985); Alison Bechdel, Fun Home: A Family Tragicomedy (2006).

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Lectures
  • 42
  • Preparation
  • 162,75
  • Total
  • 204,75
7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Criteria for exam assesment