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  • Shimmering in a Transformed Light. Writing the Still Life
  • Michèle Hannoosh
Lloyd, Rosemary. Shimmering in a Transformed Light. Writing the Still Life. Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 2005. Pp. 173 pp. & 18 illustrations. ISBN 0-8014-4296-6

In this fine study, Rosemary Lloyd concentrates on the written still life in a remarkably wide range of works from the early nineteenth century to the present in both French and English-language texts. The literary still life is seen to function as a privileged, seemingly gratuitous moment of excess, in which the plot pauses in its forward movement and the text reflects on itself, bringing out, through an apparently simple, even banal arrangement of objects and the "quiet" moment of contemplation which it provokes, a complex commentary which the narrative might otherwise obscure, repress, or ignore: questions of gender, of contingency, of textuality and materiality, of subjectivity and objectivity, of the strangeness which haunts the ordinary. In its banality and familiarity, the still life draws us in, only to offer us a different way of viewing that familiar world. Indeed Lloyd emphasizes the unsettling, subversive, and revelatory quality of the still life, its capacity to jolt the reader or viewer out of the habitual and unexamined ways of thinking which the comforting familiarity of the objects seems otherwise to invite. The framed, closed world of the still life, its easy perceptual accessibility, may in fact suggest something much less contained – the presence of death, of course, as the association of the pictorial still life with the vanitas and memento mori traditions suggests, but also disorder, chaos, and the unrepresentable. Moreover, as an "intensification of the act of looking" (49), the experience of still life concentrates and provokes questions about representation, perception and interpretation.

After an introduction which discusses the written still life as a special example of verbal-visual relations, Chapter 1 focuses on accumulations of objects – collecting, cataloguing, listing, and their various functions: the solidity and stability of objects in contrast to exuberant bounty and excess, or bewildering and troubling disorder. Chapter 2 analyses the relation between realism and still life: the detail, and a focus on objects in and for themselves, are central to both, and realist writers have exploited this connection in productive ways. The realist still life thus becomes an occasion to reflect upon the nature of the real and its representation in the text; but it is also a way to comment on that reality, to draw out its alternative, often multiple, meanings. In Chapter 3, Lloyd examines examples of the "suggestive" still life, which, following Mallarmé's dictum, conveys not the object but the effect it produces. In this, light plays a central role, making objects visible but also bringing out their power of suggestion: change and impermanence, aspects of character, emotions, desires, and anxieties, the relation between inner and outer worlds, such are the effects conveyed by physical objects in the examples explored here. Chapter 4 investigates the uses of the still life in the self-representation of the author, as the mirror of an inner world: this moves the genre beyond the realm of the pure object to one in which the subjectivity of the artist is transmuted into, and conveyed by, the still life. Chapter 5 deals with the use of still life by women writers as a means of raising questions about the relation between viewer and viewed, subject and object: by exploiting the power of still life to transform itself from observed object into observing subject gazing back at the viewer or reader, women artists and writers convert the dominant representation of women from observed objects into seeing subjects. In such cases the still life may or may not be overtly [End Page 392] relevant to the plot, but in a deeper sense is crucial to it, revealing "an implication about gender that the text everywhere else urges the reader to discover but that the writer refuses to make explicit" (126). The capacity of the still life to represent space and, paradoxically, time is examined in Chapter 6: the specificity of time and place associated with particular objects is usually outweighed, in the written still life in particular...


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pp. 392-393
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