“Photographic Fictions” argues that the discussion of fragmentation and totality, parts and wholes that photography provoked in the work of nineteenth-century writers and photographers is important for how we think of the novel form in the age of photography. Victorian writers and photographers consistently represented photography as a process that both dismembered the body and rendered photographic subjects anonymous and interchangeable. Moreover, critics routinely argued that photographic form was itself fragmented and incoherent. However, rather than focus only on what Georg Lukács argued is the novel's tendency to “disintegrate into disparate, heterogeneous parts” (Theory of the Novel), this essay explores the mechanisms by which both photography and the novel stage their own totality. In doing so, I follow theorists of the novel such as Michael McKeon and Terry Eagleton as well as Lukács (especially in his later work), who represent the novel form in terms of an abstract totality. In the context of Victorian visuality, I argue that it is precisely the abstract nature of photographic representation—its tendency to homogenize details and identities—that made possible the productions of art photographers such as Oscar Rejlander and Henry Peach Robinson, who transposed bodies and even body parts into different scenes and visual narratives. Ironically, then, the very qualities that seemed to disqualify photography as an artistic medium (fragmentation and abstraction) turn out to be the enabling conditions of a certain kind of literary narrative and literary form.
Daniel A. Novak; Photographic Fictions: Nineteenth-Century Photography and the Novel Form. Novel 1 May 2010; 43 (1): 23–30. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00295132-2009-058
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