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  • Photo-Text Topographies: Photography and the Representation of Space in W. G. Sebald and Monika Maron

    Silke HorstkotteGerman, Leipzig

    Abstract This essay considers the role of layout in intermedial photo-texts, argu-ing that the scrapbooking of visual material and printed text constitutes an integral aspect to these texts rhetoric and semantics. Through a close reading of novels by W. G. Sebald and Monika Maron, I show how photographic inserts can be used to connect distant or incommensurate spaces: the represented space inside the photo-graph; the space of representation (of the photograph itself ); and the extratextual space of the reader. However, the establishment of such a connection crucially depends on the imagination of the beholder of photographs, and the more skeptical photographic readings in Marons novel illustrate that photos can also be used to block off incommensurate times and spaces. The meaningful layout pattern estab-lished by both authors is broken up in the English translation of their works, and the essay closes by considering the problematic nature of translated photo-texts.

    Layout and Spatiality

    An important, yet often overlooked, aspect of photography in fiction con-cerns the visual layout of texts that incorporate photographs. Are photo-graphs relegated to a specific section, such as the middle or end of a book, as in Peter Henischs Die kleine Figur meines Vaters (2003 [1975]), or are they inserted into the body of the text, as in the fiction of W. G. Sebald (1990,

    1. While an article by Noam Elcott (2004) discusses the layout of text and photography in W. G. Sebald, no systematic study of this crucial issue exists to date.

    Poetics Today 29:1 (Spring 2008) DOI 10.1215/03335372-2007-017 2008 by Porter Institute for Poetics and Semiotics

  • 0 Poetics Today 29:1

    1992, 1995, 2001; English translations 2000, 2002a, 2002b, 2002c)? Do they take up whole pages, as in Jonathan Safron Foers Extremely Loud & Incred-ibly Close (2005)? And if not, how is the printed text arranged around the photograph? Do the photos conform to the typographic frame; are they narrower or wider? Furthermore, are the images captioned, as in Monika Marons Pavels Letters (1999, 2002), or uncaptioned, as again in Sebald? And if they are, is there any suggestion as to the origin of the captions? Over and beyond the visual presence of photography in fiction, I suggest, the semantics and rhetoric of photo-text interactions depend on the pre-cise positioning of photographs in what I call a photo-text topography, indicating a spatial dimension which the photos introduce into the lin-earity of verbal narrative. In the following essay, I will therefore attempt to theorize the self-conscious presentation of a spatial dimension, the representation of space, and the framing of space in literary photo-texts by analyzing two very dis-tinct photo-text topographies: W. G. Sebalds The Emigrants (1992, 2002b) and Monika Marons Pavels Letters (1999, 2002). The essay proceeds in three steps. It begins by considering the different uses of photographs as supplementary or as integral elements in an intermedial narration. In a second step, I show how Sebald systematically exploits the ambiguity of the photograph between proof of the stories authenticity, on the one hand, and the photographs as part of an elaborate play with interdiscursive (intertextual, intermedial, and intericonic) allusions, on the other, which reveals the notion of authenticity to be a hoax. In the third part of the essay, Sebalds use of photographs as integral elements in an intermedial narration is contrasted with Marons more antagonistic model of image-text relations. These contrasting attitudes toward photography, I argue, are dependent on the photographs positioning in layout. Let me begin by considering the spatial implications of using photo-graphic inserts in a literary text. It has often been observed that photogra-phy connects things across time by folding the time of the photograph into the time of the spectator. For instance, Ulrich Baer (2002: 43, 1) remarks that (looking at) photography raises the uncanny impression . . . that a slice of the past has been shuttled into the present and may even force us to abandon or substantially revise the notion of history and time as inherently flowing and sequential. When a photograph is inserted into a narrative text, however, it may also connect distant or incommensurable

    2. The term photo text (without a hyphen) was introduced by Jefferson Hunter (1987) in order to refer to collaborative work of writers and photographers. I am using the hyphen-ated expression in a slightly wider sense for all literary texts that include reproduced photo-graphsregardless of the photos provenance.

  • Horstkotte Representation of Space in W. G. Sebald and Monika Maron 1

    spaces: represented space; the space of representation, i.e., of the photo-graph itself; and the extratextual space of the reader/spectator. The layer-ing of space involved in photographic representations can thus relate in different ways to the storyworld evoked in the textual narrative as well as to the printed text. As I will argue below, this raises questions about the perception and readability of photography in fiction and about the identity of the narrative agent(s) responsible for photographic inserts. Especially when photographic images and printed text are mixed in a scrapbook for-mat (i.e., when photographs are not sectioned off from the narrative) but both are arranged in a bimedial layout, interplay between visual and ver-bal discourses abounds, and the formatting of the two parts in relation to each other becomes crucial for readers interpretive processes. The scrapbooking of printed text and visual material is a relatively new phenomenon and one that, to my knowledge, has not yet been dealt with systematically. In theory and practice, photographic and other visual illustrations have traditionally been accorded a strictly subordinate status to the dominant text (cf., e.g., Boehm 1995, Reulecke 2002); while more recent integrative theories of image-text relations, such as W. J. T. Mitchells (1994: 83) concept of the imagetext, are often preoccupied with the paragone, or rivalry between the component arts, and have at best only touched upon the topographic aspect of bimedial artifacts (cf. also Kibdi Varga 1989, Wagner 1995, 1996). Not surprisingly, in biography and his-toriography but also in literary photo-texts, reproduced photographs are often sectioned off from the body of the verbal text, typically on insets of high-gloss paper. Thus, the photographs in Carol Shieldss The Stone Diaries (1995) are clearly separated from the verbal narrative, being printed on separate, unnumbered pages in the middle of the book (between pp. 176 and 177). This arrangement reveals the status of photographs in The Stone Diaries as supplementary to a dominant narrative: the images add some-thing to the narrative without being themselves integral to it. Similarly, Mark Z. Danielewski relegates the photographs in his House of Leaves (2000) to an appendix, again indicating their supplementary status in relation to the body of the novel. A more complex case of photo-text interaction is posed by the literary work of Sebald, which has attracted increasing critical attention over the past few years (McCulloh 2003, Grner 2003, Long and Whitehead 2004, Denham and McCulloh 2006). The numerous reproduced photographs in Sebalds fiction do not function as supplementary illustrations once the reader recognizes their integral role in the narrators elaborate play with

    3. The term storyworld is here borrowed from David Herman (2002).

  • Poetics Today 29:1

    interdiscursiveintertextual, intermedial, and intericonicallusions. In this play with references and quotations, the photographs position in layout crucially determines their rhetorical function, both because of the photos rapport (or tension) with the text printed around the photo-graph and because photography and text are often arranged to simulate such bimedial forms as the captioning of newspaper photographs or the seventeenth-century emblem book. Sebald can thus be said to treat pho-tography and verbal discourse as equal parts in a bimedial iconotextan integrative genre in which, according to Peter Wagners (1996: 16) defi-nition, the verbal and the visual signs mingle to produce rhetoric that depends on the co-presence of words and images (my emphasis). Considering Sebalds visual layouts, Noam Elcott (2004: 205) has noted that more than text or image alone, their rapport in layout dictates the ambivalent posi-tion of photography in Sebalds oeuvre. The photographs nonsupple-mentary, and therefore autonomous, role is also highlighted by a conspicu-ous lack of corresponding textual commentary: photographs in Sebalds books are generally uncaptioned and rarely referred to explicitly in the narrative. In a recent article on the convention of captioning, Elizabeth Chaplin (2006: 51) pointed out that this non-captioning has significant consequences for the photographs status in relation to the written text: for when the caption goes, photograph, written text and layout each take on a new significance in relation to each other, and the increased visual autonomy of both photograph and layout affect the readers engagement with and interpretation of the text. The most startling combinations of visual and verbal material occur in Sebalds collection The Emigrants (1992, 2002b). In these four stories, as we shall see, the precise location of reproduced photographs crucially deter-mines their semantics as well as their often complex and contradictory interplay with the verbal narrative. Moreover, Sebald draws further atten-tion to formal concerns by using layouts that represent bimedial forms: for instance, by printing a line of