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Reviewed by:
  • Writing and the Image Today
  • Shirley Jordan
Writing and the Image Today. Edited by Jan Baetens and Ari J. Blatt. (Yale French Studies, 114). New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008. 159 pp., ill. Pb $22.00.

This stimulating volume focuses on the various ways in which, in French and francophone contexts, the culture of the image currently impacts on literature and the act of writing. Countering the anxieties inherent in competitive frameworks, which suggest a downgrading of literature under the pressure of the visual, it conveys instead the sense of a fertile dynamic that is set to continue enriching literature and the image alike. Each of the ten articles in this collection demonstrates how the supple relationships, or frictions, between image and text can produce sharply revelatory responses to a variety of contemporary themes. These include staple concerns in the French and francophone worlds — and indeed elsewhere — such as national and racial identity, globalization, terrorism, the family, class, the emergence of new subjectivities, as well as various facets of ethics and aesthetics. Many of the experimental works studied here are thus connected not only by their inquisitiveness about the properties of media, but by their urgent desire to investigate an unsettled world. The editors have been careful to incorporate a diverse selection of studies whose analyses span a wide range of media and genres, and to highlight the emergence of experimental forms developed through digital reproduction and internet technology. Their volume embraces visual theory (Patrick M. Bray on corrective practices of looking in Paul Virilio and Art Spiegelman); aesthetic interfaces of poetry and photography (Jean-Jacques Thomas on Denis Roche and Jean-Marie Gleize); the use of new media, including interactive web art, both in poetry (Nina Parish on Benjamin Gomez, Éric Sadin, and others) and in unclassifiable multimedia experiments (Sjef Houppermans on Tanguy Viel’s Péplum); writing the visual (Jean H. Duffy on Jean Rouaud’s distinctive use of photography across his Loire-Inférieure quintet; Liesbeth Korthals Altes on [End Page 378] the ethnographic ethics and aesthetics of François Bon’s Daewoo); graphic novels (Baeten on the politically driven hybridity of the Belgian Fréon Collective; Hugo Frey on the subtly achieved critique of skin-colour obsession in Yvan Alagbé’s Nègres jaunes); and the influence of new television genres and viewing practices (Vinay Swamy on Yassir Benmiloud’s darkly ironic take on telereality and fame culture in Allah superstar; Blatt on Didier Daeninckx’s tonic contempt for the small screen in his ‘cathode fictions’). Each article dialogues productively with established and emerging theories of the visual, and the collection clarifies our evolving understanding of terms such as ‘hybridity’ and ‘intermediality’ (the first few pages of Baetens’s article provide a particularly useful mise au point on this score). This volume conveys, then, a sense of tremendous enthusiasm for the possibilities of current intermedial experimentation, as well as an important intuition that the autonomy of all media is on the wane. It constitutes a very welcome addition to the growing literature on verbal–visual interfaces in French studies.

Shirley Jordan
Queen Mary, University of London


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pp. 378-379
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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