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The Short Story and Photography, 1880's-1980's: A Critical Anthology.

The Short Story and Photography, 1880's-1980's: A Critical Anthology.
Ed. by Jane M. Rabb. Foreword by Eugenia Parry. Albuquerque: University
of New Mexico Press. 1998. xviii +269 pp. $19.95.


This anthology presents stories by E. W. Horning, Rudyard Kipling, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Thomas Hardy, Thomas Mann, William Faulkner, Bing Xin, Daphne Du Maurier, Italo Calvino, Eugene Ionesco, Julio Cortazar, John Updike, Guy Davenport, Michel Tournier, Raymond Carver, and Cynthia Ozick, and extends Jane Rabb's engagement with the relationship between writing and photography earlier explored in her anthology Literature and Photography: Interactions, 1840-1900 (1995). In this later collection Rabb suggests that 'the capacity of photography for both documentary reality and moral and psychological ambiguity may explain why so many of [these] stories involve mysteries' (pp. ix-x), and more contentiously proposes that the preference for shifting perspectives and inconclusive endings by contemporary writers reflect 'the profound moral and ethical uncertainties rampant throughout the world since -- and partly owing to -- the birth of photography' (p. x). It is difficult to see how the birth of photography can be held responsible, even partly, for the moral and ethical uncertainties of the modern world even if photography's capacity for picturing such conditions is demonstrable in certain genres, such as the photographing of war, natural disasters and their consequences, famine, and social deprivation in urban and rural communities. In all these scenarios, the photographer's gaze is a telling witness to these uncertainties whose responsibility is in bringing them to light. In this anthology the use of a photographic image seems to justify the reprinting of some banal stories, as in Horning's use of a doubly exposed negative which leads to the blissful union of a young couple, or Hardy's 'An Imaginative Woman', a run-of-the-mill tale of a wife with a taste for poetry whose gunsmith husband denies the legitimacy of their last child on the basis of his wife's assumed infidelity with a poet whose photographic image she has fallen for. Thomas Mann's 'Gladius Dei' is a bleak account of a saturnine young man's revolt against the commercial vulgarization of art as a commodity, particularly in the photographic reproduction of a sensuous portrait of the Madonna whose spirituality is subordinated to a fleshly image of a beautiful temptress. 'The Photograph' by the Chinese writer Bing Xin uses the photograph as an agency of memory and nostalgia in a subdued tale of cultural displacement, while Kipling's story of a colonial worker's death in the heat of an Indian summer exploits the supernatural idea of the eye's resemblance to a camera with a film where the retina of the dead man retains the last image it viewed. Du Maurier's 'The Little Photographer' has its antecedents in Poe's 'The Purloined Letter': in this case a Marquise has a holiday affair with a local photographer and when he refuses to recognize the affair is over, she pushes him over a cliff to his death. She appears to have got away with murder until the dead man's crippled sister turns up with some 'private' prints of the Marquise with which the sister will blackmail her thereafter. For reasons which have more to do with narrative and point of view than with photography per se, Faulkner's 'Evangeline' is full of interest as Faulkner's first attempt at what would become Absalom, Absalom!, and whilst the last section of the story is close in mood and tone to the novel, much of the opening treats the materials of the story with a certain irony in the verbal jousting between the unnamed narrator and a companion who stirs his interest in Sutpen's Hundred. Photography plays its part here in the image that Charles Bon carries with him to the American Civil War, a photograph which turns out to be not that of Judith Sutpen, but his octoroon wife in New Orleans.

The most interesting of these stories deal with the mechanics, aesthetics, and ideology of photography such as Italo Calvino's 'The Adventures of a Photographer', Julio Cortazar's 'Blow Up', Michel Tournier's 'Veronica's Shrouds', and Cynthia Ozick's 'Shots'. Calvino's story has a bachelor who, despite his original distaste for the 'snap shot' records of family life, becomes an obssessive recorder of his mistress's every mood and posture to the point where the relationship ends, and he reaches his true and final goal, 'the photographing of photographs [. . .] the true course he had obscurely been seeking all this time'. If this entails an implicit denial of the relationship between world and picture, it speaks to the compulsive-obsessive drive of the photographer evident in the stories by Cortazar, Tournier, and Ozick. Throughout this anthology Parr's headnotes to each story provide helpful contextual, bibliographical, and critical data. Parr reiterates the view that the last fifty years has been a golden age of the short story, and if proof were wanted it may be found here in John Updike's superb 'The Day of the Dying Rabbit' and Raymond Carver's 'Vewfinder', brilliantly contrasting narratives of the way the camera is used to attempt permanent possession of moments in family life.
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Author:Kelly, Lionel
Publication:Yearbook of English Studies
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 2001
Words:840
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