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Photographs on the Walls of the House of Fiction

Timothy Dow Adams


English, West Virginia

This essay considers the history of photography in fiction, concentrating on issues of genre. Starting with a survey of nineteenth-century novels which included physical photographs, the essay moves to twentieth-century novels, discussing ways in which the generic rules of written narratives influence the relationship between word and image and the fictiveness of photographs within novels. Unlike earlier writers, who used photographs for illustration of place, postmodern novelists frequently use photographs as documentation, both in support of and in opposition to the written narrative. The last section of the essay uses W. G. Sebalds The Emigrants, an especially complicated novel which combines fiction and nonfiction, biography and autobiography, as a case study.
Abstract

Photography is a record of what we see, or a revelation of what we cannot see, a glimpse of what was previously invisible. W. J. T. Mitchell, What Do Pictures Want? Memory heals the scars of time. Photography documents the wounds. Michael Ignatieff, The Russian Album

The ontological status of photographs has always been ambiguous, their referential power confusing, and their identity vexed. When they appear within works of literature, the situation becomes even more complex because the way we read photographic images has always been influenced by generic rules that govern written narratives. When photographs are
Poetics Today 29:1 (Spring 2008) DOI 10.1215/03335372-2007-022 2008 by Porter Institute for Poetics and Semiotics

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physically present within novels, questions about their status grow still more complicated because images reproduced in a work of fiction are usually read differently from those in nonfiction. In this essay I want to discuss photography within novels by concentrating on issues of genre, considering such questions as these: Why did authors begin to include photographic images within fiction soon after the discovery of photography in 1839? How do the generic rules of written narratives influence the way we regard the relationship between word and image? What does it mean to call a photograph fictional? How did authors understand the purpose of photographs within nineteenth-century novels, and how do writers in the first decade of the twenty-first century use images? Following a brief survey of photography within literature, in which I will discuss these questions, I will turn to an especially compelling case study, W. G. Sebalds novel The Emigrants, first published in English in 1996. I have chosen The Emigrants because Sebalds novel is the strongest example I know of to illustrate Suzanne Seeds (1991: 403) observation that photographs have an ontological function as well as the obviously anthropological, descriptive one they are often narrowed to by iconoclasts. Photographs are an extension not just of our sight, but of our thought. Like human thought itself, they use displacement, metaphor, and analogy; they step back to give us perspective and orientation. They allow us to evolve. While Dickens, Scott, Thackeray, and Hardy were not in competition for accuracy with the line drawings that appeared in their novels, the advent of photography changed the general relationship between fiction and illustration. Many early descriptions of the photographic process emphasized the action of the sun in reproducing nature as if unmediated by humans. This can be seen in some of the names chosen for the process by its inventors: Joseph Nicphore Nipce preferred the term heliograph, while Henry Fox Talbot referred to photogenic drawing, which was impressed by natures hand (Marien 1991: 20). As a result of this emphasis on natures light writing, early photographs within novels were almost always illustrations of picturesque places or romantic atmosphere rather than of characters. There are no photographs of Pierre or Ahab in the works of Melville, and although the autobiographical Hawthorne often slips himself into his own fiction in the form of fictional prefaces that pose as actual ones, no photographs of Hester Prynne or Miles Coverdale appear within his novels.
1. For a history of the discovery of photography, see Newhall 1982, Greenough et al. 1989, and Marien 1991. 2. For a detailed discussion of the relationship between photography and fiction in the nineteenth century, see Rabb 1995 and Armstrong 1999.

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Many nineteenth-century authors imagined that photographic illustrations might compete with their written depictions of fictional characters, though not with their rendering of realistic scenes in nature. Although such writers of the period as John Ruskin, Samuel Butler, Arthur Conan Doyle, Victor Hugo, mile Zola, and Lewis Carroll, to name only a few, were amateur photographers, they chose not to include photographs within their fiction. As Timothy Sweet (1996: 34) notes, The era of the half-tone, beginning around 1885 for magazines and about a decade later for books, saw the emergence of categories of appropriateness for relations between images and texts: fictional literature came to be illustrated with drawings, and factual literature such as news and travel accounts, with photographs. The most likely reason for this avid interest in the photographic process coupled with an absence of the actual product within novels is, as Jane Rabb (1995: xl) writes, that perhaps they felt their presence might imply that the words were insufficient or their readers verbally unsophisticated. Photographs of people directly identified with the text seldom appeared in pre-twentieth-century novels. Typical of many nineteenth-century authors who were faced with the choice of using drawing or photography within their novels, Henry James was not usually interested in any sort of illustration. There are no images of Isabel Archer or Milly Theale in the Alvin Langdon Coburn New York edition of the works of Henry James, despite the presence of Alvin Langdon Coburns photogravures. James believed that illustrations should not be asked to perform the descriptive work of the writer, that they undercut the efficacy of literature, and that using the visual in support of the verbal pandered to a popular audience. Beyond his disdain for illustration in general, his particular dislike for photography was based on his belief that photographers lacked craft and genius, that photography was more mechanical than artistic, and in part on the popular argument that writers of realistic fiction were comparable to photographers who reproduced surface details with fidelity but without insight. In many cases, the presence of photographs within narrative resulted in questions, not about the authenticity of the image but about the genre of the narrative. For example, an early instance of photography within fiction is Andr Bretons Nadja, a novel which has entered the literary canon as a work of fiction, although Breton claimed that Nadja was not intended as a literary work but as a document taken from life (Wareheim 1996: 45). Franoise Meltzer (1987: 125) notes of Nadja, The photographs included are the authors proof, as it were, that his narrative is truth, not story,
3. On the relationship between Coburn and James, see Bogardus 1984.

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though she adds that their value as proof is undercut by the fact that they are often images of handwriting, meant to be examples of sentences created by the fictional characters own hand. While photographic renditions of landscapes, buildings, or even crowds of people grew increasingly common, photographs of fictional characters were once very rare in fiction for the obvious reason that, being fictional, the charactersno matter how much drawn from lifedidnt actually exist; therefore, any photograph that purported to represent a fictional character must itself necessarily be fictional. We might at first imagine that photographs appearing within fiction are automatically fictional or that fictional photographs could only take the form of a prose description of an image that is not reproduced within the text. But the history of photography contains a rich history of physical photographs which are presented as fictional, despite the presence of actual people, because they represent staged scenes, often of an allegorical nature: these include works by celebrated British pictorialists, Henry Peach Robinsons Fading Away and Oscar Rejlanders The Two Ways of Life. Long before the advent of photoshopped or manipulated images, photographs were thought of as fictional either when they were manipulated through the photographers skill in printing and combining or when they were staged so that the pictures they showed were not what they seemed to be. From Hippolyte Bayards pretense that his Self-Portrait as a Drowned Man, complete with prose on the reverse side, depicted his own suicide to such celebrated examples as F. Holland Day portraying himself as a tortured and crucified Jesus Christ, photographs have always had the capacity to present fictional scenes. The idea of calling a photograph fictional in this sense echoes a long-established tradition in painting. For example, in The Elements of Life, a study of parallels between biography and painted portraiture, Richard Wendorf (1990: 16 17) exemplifies fictional painting from Sir Joshua Reynoldss Mrs. Siddons as the Tragic Muse: a painting not of the celebrated stage actress as herself or in a particular role but as a personification of a tragic muse. The same effect, of course, is often created in ordinary snapshot situations, where actual ceremonies are re-created for the purpose of recording them before the camera and everyone is required to smile, no matter what their actual mood before the camera appeared. This reminds us that, in a sense, all posed photographs are fictional, as Harry Berger (1994) suggests with his phrase Fictions of the Pose. As photography moved, soon after its discovery in 1839, from daguerreotypes to halftones through the invention of the dry-plate process around
4. For a thorough discussion of Bayards self-portrait as a suicide, see Sapir 1994.

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1885, as exemplified by the pictorialists (who emphasized painterly photography), and on to the first years of the twentieth century, dominated by photo-secessionists (who preferred unmanipulated, straight images), modernist novelists began to emphasize their revolt from realism by experimental prose that depicted distorted images and inner rather than outer reality. These techniques did not seem to call for photographic illustration at a time when photography was seen less as an art and more as a stunning mechanical process for providing detailed and precise reproductions of the perceived world. Despite the frequent intellectual interactions between modernist novelists and photographers, few literary figures of the period turned to photography for illustration. As Jane Rabb (1995: xlii) explains, photographers were determined to have their medium viewed as a separate, equal art, independent of others, including literature, and resented losing control too often over the final appearance of their pictures in verbal and visual collaborations. By the middle of the twentieth century, photographs of literary characters began to appear primarily in texts with some claim to documentary value, such as travel essays or sketches. As the photo-texts of the 1930s began to be published, the images were at first kept separate from the prose, as in the James Agee/Walker Evans collaboration Let Us Now Praise Famous Men or the Margaret Bourke-White/Erskine Caldwell text You Have Seen Their Faces. However, an early pioneer in conflating words and image, Wright Morris, used his ostensibly nonfictional photographs within his novels in the form of both physical reproductions and prose descriptions of actual pictures. As both a writer and a photographer, he often displayed one of his own photographs within a work of nonfiction, as in The Inhabitants, then in The Home Place (1948), a novel with photographs included, and finally had the same image described in prose by a fictional character within a novel. At times he undercuts the whole distinction between words and images by photographing pages of prose, as in the excerpt from Sinclair Lewiss Babbitt that appears in Gods Country and My People (1968). Where earlier novelists imagined that photographs would compete with their descriptive abilities or add to the verisimilitude of their writing, postmodernist novelists have come to believe the opposite, using photographs as the reverse of representation in a manner suggested by Judy Fiskin (1991: 268): The more accurate the representation, the more sharply felt is the absence of the represented subject. . . . representation cannot keep its promises. Unlike those early writers who incorporated photographs into their novels, imagining that the presence of such realistic images mainly served to further illustrate the narrative, or those writers from the late nineteenth century who worried that photographs would render

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their prose inauthentic, contemporary postmodern novelists have recently begun to include photographs as another way to provide authenticity for the purpose of having something authentic to undercut. Because what we see when we look at a photograph within a novel and how we see are influenced by questions of genre, reading photographs is especially difficult at a time when many postmodernist theorists have suggested that genre is a less than useful construction. In The Ideology of Genre: A Comparative Study of Generic Instability, for example, Thomas O. Beebee (1994: 257) describes what he calls the paradox of genres: they seem real and at the same time indefinable. What do readers in the twenty-first century see when they look at actual photographs embedded within fictional constructions which deliberately complicate their fictiveness by including images that blur distinctions between various generic worlds? Before turning to a detailed analysis of Sebalds use of photographs in The Emigrants, I want to consider, by way of contrast, some other recent examples. Echoing what E. L. Doctorow names as a false document, such writers as Mark Danielewski, Dave Eggers, Lauren Slater, Gordon Sheppard, and Jonathan Safran Foer have incorporated into their texts photographs, medical forms, drawings, and other forms of documentation, resulting in a sort of literary trick in which invented, fictive material pretends to be merely reproduced, nonfictive documentary. Philip Stevick (1976: 11) describes the function of what he calls the mock fact as existing somewhere between parody and put-on, undercutting the very standards by which facts are asserted. Many novels in which photographs are described but never presented have been recently published, such as Salman Rushdies Midnights Children (1981) or Penelope Livelys The Photograph (2004): others, such as Richard Powerss Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance (1985) and Marguerite Durass The Lover (1998), depend in part on the resonance of the images on their covers with the fictional characters within. Other recent writers have begun to include physical photographs of their characters within novels, including Lynn Sharon Schwartzs The Fatigue Artist (1996), Ronit Matalons The One Facing Us (1995), and Carol Shieldss Pulitzer Prizewinning The Stone Diaries (1994). When Shields includes photographs of her fictive characters within The Stone Diaries, instead of adding verisimilitude to the characters, the photographs automatically become fictional because they do not always match her prose descriptions. A comparison of the authors likeness on the back cover with photographs labeled with fictional characters names makes clear what extra textual information has confirmed: some of the pictures are of her own children (Parini 1994). Where the postmodernists used fictive facts to undercut the conventions of traditional novels,

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more recent writers seem intent on producing what Roland Barthes (1974: 44) calls a multivalent text, that is, a text intended to carry out its basic duplicity only if it subverts the opposition between true and false . . . if it flaunts all respect for origin, paternity, propriety, if it destroys the voice which could give the text its organic unity. Barthess words apply to such recent novels as Danielewskis House of Leaves (2000), Foers Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2005), and Sheppards Ha! A Self-murder Mystery (2004), each of which features a combination of prose, documentary materials, and photographs. Readers of House of Leaves are presented with multiple framing devices (forewords, introductions, dedications, exhibits, appendices, and credits) that claim that the narrator, Johnny Truant, has edited the entire manuscripta sort of fictional casebook about a film that, Truant finally suggests, does not actually exist. The text, an elaborate combination of such mock documentary genres as The Blair Witch Project and Nabokovs Pale Fire, includes an introduction printed in a font that appears to be typewritten and a series of documents (footnotes, film notes, alternate chapter titles, journal entries, poems, letters to the editor, and an index). The photographs, which are grouped at the end as part of the appendices, include images which are said to be rephotographed pages of various earlier versions of the text as well as various Sketches and Polaroids which seem to be part of an earlier idea for a nonexistent documentary film about a blue house. Other photographs are included within a category called Collages and in a final section, labeled Appendix III Contrary Evidence. The photographs in House of Leaves are finally just another example of mock documentation, images that, for all of their layers of reference, do not depict any of the characters in the novel. On the other hand, Foers Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is a novel narrated by a child searching for his father, who died in the events of September 11. This novel includes news photographs of actual people, such as Stephen Hawking, a French astronaut, and a tennis player, along with images of some of the characters from the novel, which the narrator, Oskar Schell, has supposedly taken with his grandfathers camera and pasted into a scrapbook. The images of the novels characters, however, are never identifiable because they only depict hands or the back of a characters head. The most celebrated photograph in the text is an image of a man falling or jumping from one of the twin towers of the World Trade Center, a photograph which is repeatedly reproduced in various sizes. In the last few pages of the novel, the falling-man image becomes a sort of reverse childrens flip book, which allows the reader to duplicate the narrators desire to reverse the flow of events, returning to safety the falling figure,

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whom Oskar imagines might be his father. Writing about the events of September 11 through the eyes of a precocious nine year old, Foer, like Art Spiegelman (whose graphic text In the Shadow of No Towers [2004] depicted himself falling through the air) or Don DeLillo (whose novel Falling Man [2007] concentrates on a similar image), uses the images as a way to write about the most horrific and difficult of subjects: to make them palatable to an audience supposedly unable to accept realism or irony. Oddly enough, the net effect of these typographical tricks and photographic manipulations, according to Walter Kirn (2005: 2) in his scathing article in the New York Times Book Review, returns us to the sentimental novel: The avantgarde tool kit, developed way back when to disassemble established attitudes and cut through rusty sentiments, has now become the best means, it seems, for restoring them and propping them up. Canadian novelist Gordon Sheppards 2004 Ha! A Self-murder Mystery uses letters, photographs, musical interludes, interviews, soundscapes, maps, and other forms of documentation to unravel the suicide of Hubert Aquin, a Montreal novelist and political activistjudged by some to have been a terroristin the Qubcois separatist movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Sheppards text is a detective novel made out of a mlange of Aquins own fiction, his suicide note, his prison news releases, bits of screenplays, long quotations from novelists such as Flaubert and Joyce, interviews, newspaper clippings, all rendered by the author into a compelling fictional and nonfictional biography of an artist whose final suicidal act is treated by Sheppard as a work of art. While all of the examples I have been describing are worthy of further consideration, for the remainder of this essay I will be concentrating on the photographs in Sebalds novel The Emigrants. According to Susan Sontags blurb on the back cover, The Emigrants is unlike any book one has ever read. Sontag goes on to describe this novel as an unclassifiable book, at once autobiography and fiction and historical chronicle. In some ways, Sontags assertions are not quite accurate. For despite the unusual way The Emigrants includes within its fictional construct such documents as photographs, postcards, newspaper clippings, notebooks, agenda books, diary entries, calling cards, tickets, paintings, and drawings, we have seen some of these techniques before. Similarly, Sebalds documents include, in addition to photographs, reproductions of handwritten notebooks, which, unlike the text of the novel, are not translated from German into English. The scrapbook approach to documentary, which makes The Emigrants so compelling, is not completely original with Sebald. A similar collection of artifacts appears in the work of diarist Peter Beard, which includes photographs of numerous pages from the original diaries, thousands of lists,

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newspaper clippings, matchbook covers, addresses and phone numbers, sketches, doodles, handwritten notes, snapshots, newspaper and magazine photographs, tickets, cigar bands, to name only a random sampling. All of these representations of physical objects echo James Agees wish for Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (1941: 13): If I could do it, Id do no writing at all here. It would be photographs; the rest would be fragments of cloth, bits of cotton, lumps of earth, records of speech, pieces of wood and iron, phials of odors, plates of food and of excrement. Despite these similarities to other work, the significant difference in Sebalds case is that his book is a novel in the form of four fictional biographies told by a semiautobiographical figure, who both resonates with a similar narrative figure in Sebalds subsequent books and also links the four biographical novellas, thereby making the book, from my perspective, more of a novel than a collection of novellas. The objects in the book are all complicated representations that undercut the traditional documentary value but reinforce if not an accurate memory at least an acceptable one. Poised somewhere between the point of remembering horrors precisely and obliterating unpleasant and guilty memories entirely, The Emigrants is always off balance, deliberately confusing our expectations. Although the novels four biographies are held together by the central narrator, whose life parallels the authors, The Emigrants leaves unspoken not only details about the narrators life, but also direct reference to the subject which lies behind these tales of emigrationthe Holocaust. Sebald focuses on the minutiae of the horror he is documenting, in effect suggesting that piles of impersonal shoes in the context of a memorialized Holocaust, such as those one sees in the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, do not express the depth of atrocity so poignantly as does an intimate awareness of a single shoe out of any context, with the horror left unspoken and for that all the more affecting. In the context of our unimaginable vast and pervasive modern atrocities, any attempt at memorialization must itself be unspeakably vast and pervasive. To commit such things to memory devoid of experience is a disservice, but it is at least reassuring that for the most part we seem unwilling or unable to forget. Numerous commentators on The Emigrants have tried to explain the various genres it encompasses. A wide range of terms has emerged, including travel writing, meditative essay, documentary, scrapbookall genres in which photography might more naturally be at home than in fiction (see Long and Whitehead 2004: 4). Sebald himself often named prose as his natural form without making further distinctions between fiction and nonfiction, answering those who needed help with classifying the genre of his books by explaining that facts are troublesome. The idea is to make it

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seem factual, though some of it might be invented (Atlas 1999: 282). At first glance, the idea of including photographs with a documentary feel in a novel whose subtext is the erasure of memory might seem perverse. But on closer examination of some of the actual images that appear within the text, we can begin to see why Sebalds scrapbook approach to biography is so unsettling and finally moving. The images are often unsettling because what they illustrate is almost always ambiguous; nevertheless, they are also often moving because they represent emotions such as trauma and nameless dread, feelings which are hard to depict in photographs. The autobiographical narrator, who is researching the lives of four emigrants before writing their biographies, spends most of his time physically retracing the journeys of his subjects. In so doing, his memoriessome of which we witness as they are being created, some of which are actually combinations of the memories of other peoples memoriesbegin to interfere with his attempts to document the past, even as his own personal past simultaneously grows more distinct. When the narrator, as a visiting student, checks into a hotel during his first trip to Manchester, he is particularly pleased by the teas-maid, an electrical device which combines the functions of an alarm clock, a light, and a tea-maker (see figure 1). Sebalds teas-maid of a book is an odd yet highly functional construct, in which various genres coexist. The teasmaid, worked by decanting boiled water into a pot, which, once it grew sufficiently heavy, triggered an alarm and light to announce that the tea was ready: this parallels Sebalds genre mixture, both simultaneously performing more than one function. Sebalds genres, though theyre interrelated and designed to wake us up as we struggle to know whether we are reading fiction or nonfiction, also provide stimulation and illumination and yet catch us off guard by sometimes providing more weight than is at first obvious. Although The Emigrants is a novel, the author includes cameo appearances, beginning with Nabokov, whose actual photograph appears, following a description of an apparently fictive friend who is said to resemble the author of Speak, Memory. Another cameo occurs when Sebalds narrative self actually appears within the text in a photograph so hazy and indistinct that its resemblance to the author photograph printed at the books end cannot be established (see figure 2). As Sebald said in an interview, Although I try to stay as anonymous as possible in the text, at the same time Im anxious to declare my position (Green 2007). The Sebald-like narrators fictive Uncle Kasimir describes the scene as existing at the edge of the darkness, which is a long way away, though he adds, I never quite know from where (Sebald 1996: 88). Standing at odd angles to the

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The narrator of The Emigrants is pleased by the teas-maid, an electrical device that combines the functions of an alarm clock, a light, and a tea-maker. From Sebald 1996: 154.
Figure 1

sea and the land, the narrator is both distinct and indistinct, and like his own story, which is always there but seldom shown, Uncle Kasimir, who is the fictive photographer of the image, is absent from the picture. Sebald blurs distinctions between his physical descriptions of characters in prose and their photographic representations by various devices. He thus tends to combine precision with ambiguity in the same sentence in a manner that parallels the shrouded nature of the narrators image on the beach. For example, he describes the subject of his first biography, Dr. Henry Selwyn, as someone who was tall and broad shouldered but seemed stocky, even short (ibid.: 5). Selwyn is later said to be spending his attention on thoughts which grew vaguer and more precise (ibid.: 11). Paul Bereyter, the subject of the second biography, is depicted as a person who was always in good spirits and seemed so cheerful but who was in fact desolation itself (ibid.: 42). Often the author is somewhat ambiguous about who is narrating the various layers of the four biographies. In the narrative about his great-uncle Ambros Adelwarth, the Sebaldian narrators Aunt Fini tells him a story that Uncle Kasimir told her, which begins: I dont know much about Ambros (ibid.: 87). Some of the photographs of the more minor characters are fairly generic

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Sebalds narrative self appears in The Emigrants (1996: 89) within a photograph so hazy and indistinct that its resemblance to the author photograph printed at the books end cannot be established.
Figure 2

and could actually represent almost any family members. According to Carol Bere (2002: 189), however, approximately 90 percent of the photographs in The Emigrants are authentic in that they came from the collections of some of the people who served as living models for their fictional counterparts in the book. For example, the Sebaldian narrator describes a family photograph album that once belonged to his mother, an album which includes photographs of some of his relatives who had emigrated to the United States (1996: 7076). The text incorporates one such image from this album, and the narrator identifies a few of the faces in the picture. Because none of the people in the image are described in sufficient detail to allow the reader to attempt to match words and image, we have no way of knowing how authentic the photograph really is. On the other hand, the narrator asserts that the painting on the wall in the photograph is actually of his hometown in Germany, though that painting has now disappeared. Thus the author reverses the normal idea that photographs are more representational than paintings, calling into question again the reason for including photographs within a novel.

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An obvious difference between a painting and a photograph involves the fact that a photograph has difficulty with selectivity, with leaving out anything thats before the camera. This is what Roger Scruton (1984: 588) is getting at when he remarks that the photograph lacks that quality of intentional inexistence which is characteristic of painting. Because photography has long been celebrated for its ability to depict things precisely, for its automatic profusion of detail, Sebald often seems to be undercutting this precision by deliberately selecting images that are vague. It is sometimes difficult to be certain exactly what we are seeing; in image after image, we are presented with deserted streets, fogged-in buildings, ambiguous scenes, and vague architectural details. In his book-length study of Sebald, Mark McCulloh (2003: 7) notes that, while some photographs and other images are interspersed throughout the text to confirm a detail of appearance or to document an event, they often serve another function: to assist the reader in visualizing a dream or dream-like encounter of the real, to capture again for a moment what has passed, or is passing, away. An especially complicated set of images depicts the character called Paul Bereyter, who may actually have been one of Sebalds primary schoolteachers. The narrator claims that, some years after he was Bereyters student, he became fascinated with his former teacher. This was mainly because of the teachers eventual suicide, caused in large part by Bereyters inability to accept the long-term results of the Nazi persecution of the Jews. Wanting to go beyond his personal memories of the teacher, the narrator imagines him outside of the classroom before stopping himself with the admonition, It is in order to avoid this sort of wrongful trespass that I have written down what I know of Paul Bereyter (1996: 29). The autobiographical narrator provides us with a diagram of his classroom followed by a photograph of students in a classroom that matches the diagram and includes Bereyter in the background. Of this photograph the author writes, He taught a pack of children scarcely distinguishable from those pictured here, a class that included myself (ibid.: 47). Sebalds deliberate ambiguity prevents us from being sure whether he means that Bereyter taught many other such groups of children in the same classroom or if he means to suggest that we can see in this photograph both the teacher and the narrator as a young boy. Claiming to have come across a family photograph album of his former teacher, the narrator provides several images that resemble the man in the schoolroom, including what is suggested to be an image of him as a member of the German armys motorized artillery in the Second World War. Again there is a clear likeness between the face in this army picture and the other images of the teacher, and yet the image of Paul Bereyter leaning out of the window of a

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military vehicle also seems very familiar, something we might have seen in a silent film featuring Harold Lloyd or in Woody Allens Zelig. Sebald presents a bare-chested picture of the teacher, which is said to have been captioned in his own handwriting with the following words: one was, as the crow flies, about 2,000 km awaybut from where?and day by day, hour by hour, with every beat of the pulse, one lost more and more of ones qualities, became less comprehensible to oneself, increasingly abstract (ibid.: 56). Just as the narrators photo by the sea is precisely at the edge of the darkness, so the sense that photographys power of precision can be undercut by a lack of geographical detail occurs frequently in the novel. And so we have, in a semiautobiographical narrative, a somewhat imagined biography of an actual person from the authors life, documented with photographs which seem to demonstrate, on the one hand, the actual existence of the teacher and, on the other hand, the increasing abstract nature of the person depicted, a man who might be anywhere. The narrator wants to rely on the power of photography to document without losing the power of the memory to create. He uses family photographs, in the case of his teacher and others, with an aim clearly explained by Annette Kuhn (1996: 472) in an essay called Remembrance: In order to show what it is evidence of, a photograph must always point you away from itself. Family photographs are supposed to show not so much that we were once there, as how we once were: to evoke memories which might have little or nothing to do with what is actually in the picture. The photograph is a prop, a prompt, a pre-text; it sets the scene for recollection. An especially good example of the way an inauthentic photograph provides a deeper sort of accuracy occurs, according to Sebald, in a group photograph of a large Jewish family, where the children appear in Bavarian costume. That one image tells you more about the history of German-Jewish aspiration than a whole monograph would do, said Sebald in an interview ( Jaggi 2001: 3). According to the author, who was often asked why so many photographs figure in his novels, They act as a token of authenticitybut they can be deduced, forged or purloined. And of course that in turn throws up one of the central problems of fiction writing, which is that of legitimacy and the arrival at the truth on a crooked route (Green 2007). In describing the convoluted path his fiction follows, Sebald is also describing the inherent complications of both collective and personal memory. Autobiography is memory, writes Daniel Goleman (1985: 96), its author is the self, an especially potent organization of schemas. But the sense of self behind autobiography, both fictional and nonfictional, relies on a kind of narrative memory which is influenced by both what is remembered and what

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makes the story fit together. Autobiographers are always authors, narrators, and protagonists of their own stories and as such the most reliable of witnesses. On the other hand, autobiographers can never see themselves from an outside perspective. As Jerome Bruner (1993: 46) puts it, The task of autobiographical composition consists, of course, in combining witness, interpretation, and stance to create an account that has both verisimilitude and negotiability; this phrase echoes the following lines from Robert Lowells poem about photography, Epilogue: heightened from life, / yet paralyzed by fact. Sebalds deeper subjectthe effects of the Holocaust on the lives of German emigrantscalls for verisimilitude, especially considering the history of Holocaust denials, but his narrator also needs negotiability because he is constructing lives out of both memory and imagination. Sebalds motivation in including photographs and other documents within his fictional construct stems from a larger truth about memory. On the one hand, his autobiographical character is aided by documents and images in remembering details about his four biographical figures, but on the other hand, he comes to realize that sometimes the images themselves distort his memory or create false memories. John Berger (Berger and Mohr 1982: 89) argues that still photography differs from memory because, while remembered images are the residue of continuous experience, a photograph isolates the appearances of a disconnected instant. And in life, meaning is not instantaneous. Meaning is discovered in what connects, and cannot exist without development. Without a story, without an unfolding, there is no meaning. In Here Is Where We Meet (2005), Bergers recent fiction, a character named John, provides the reader with a Sebaldian sense of memory, travel, melancholy, especially in the scenes in which his long-dead mother returns physically to Lisbon to carry on conversations with her son, sometimes in the voice of her seventeen-year-old self. In dealing with personal history, a characters distorted or combined memories are sometimes as important as more accurate ones. The semiautobiographical narrator, attempting to retrace the actual steps of the painter Max Ferber, his final subject, becomes angry over the lack of memory that marked Germans, and the efficiency with which they had cleaned everything up (1996: 225). Trying to get to the stories behind his four emigrants, he comes to realize that the photographs and documents dont always tell an accurate version and that there is a difference between narrative and historical truth. Frequently the actual documents begin to
5. For a classic discussion of the relationship between author, narrator, and character in autobiography, see Lejeune 1989.

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Figure 3

Sebalds great-uncle Adelwarths travel diary. From Sebald 1996: 132.

fail: a glass slide shatters while he is viewing it, insects eat through some of his uncles manuscripts, his narrators remember some details with great specificity but are vague about others, and one narrator asks for shock treatment mainly to erase painful memories. Sometimes photographs are as valuable for what they do not show as for what they do. For example, a telling detail is what is not visible at the center of an overhead photograph of Manchesterthe former Jewish Quarter. Like the images, the documents are sometimes frustrating. Looking at his great-uncle Adelwarths travel diary, for instance, is complicated by the fact that the words are in more than one language, the entries are ambiguously dated and physically difficult to read (see figure 3). In addition, his uncle was to a degree a participant in the general cover-up that allowed Sebalds generation of Germans to avoid understanding the history of Jewish oppression. The final biographical subject, Max Ferber, points out to the narrator that a particularly damning piece of evidence, a newspaper photograph of a book burning in Wrzburg in 1933, is a fake, actually depicting another event that has been doctored to include a plume of smoke (ibid.: 183 84). The author includes both the fake photograph and the exposure of

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its deception because he wants to rebalance the evidentiary relationship between words and image. What actually happened is of paramount importance, but what happened in the faulty memories of survivors and their children is also important. As Siegfried Kracauer argued, a photograph is the very opposite of a literal record. . . . A language of depth replaces that of surface because the power of the medium includes the ability to open up new, hitherto unsuspected dimensions of reality (quoted in Clarke 1997: 21). Autobiographies and biographies have as one of their goals the production of an accurate, recognizable portrait, though at the same time the impossibility of judging the accuracy is built into the process. Despite the natural parallel between biography and portrait, autobiography and self-portrait, all portraits are in a sense self-portraits. Autobiographers are always seeking ways to illustrate the autobiographical act, which consists in part of reconciling the gaps between the story of a persons self and the way that person has lived, between the self and the life. Because the narrator of The Emigrants is producing both biography and autobiography, he is similarly attracted to the autobiographical act of creation and re-creation, as illustrated by his recurrent visits to the painting studio of a fictional character called Max Ferber in the English translation and Max Auerbach in the original German. The semi-fictional painter is modeled on an actual painter, Frank Auerbach, whose actual charcoal portrait is reproduced in the German text but not in the English versions (McCulloh 2003: 43). And although a photograph described as being an image of a young Ferber/ Auerbach is reproduced in the text, readers have no idea exactly who the young boy in the picture was in actuality. In Sebalds semi-fictional portrait of the painterwhich is also a self-portrait, given the many similarities in the life stories of Ferber and the authorFerbers portrait-making act is described in detail. Working in paint and charcoal with an actual model, Ferber constantly applies paint and then erases it with a dust-encrusted cloth, so that, as the portrait slowly appears and disappears on his canvas, the amount of dust and paint particles on the floor of his studio begins to pile up. After describing this process in detail, the narrator notes: When I watched Ferber working on one of his portrait studies over a number of weeks, I often thought that his prime concern was to increase the dust (1996: 161). As the passage of time increased the physical dust of history, Sebalds books and his method of creating them attempt to preserve and produce the debris of the past at once, simultaneously revealing and concealing stories, lives, guilt, and horror. This impulse to show and yet to hide is at the heart of both the autobiographical and the photographic processes. We

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find it described in the following words from Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance (1985: 32122), a novel by Richard Powers based on the photographer August Sander:
The strange persuasion of photographs rests on selective accuracy wedded to selective distortion. The reproduction must be enough like the original to start a string of associations in the viewer, but enough unlike the original to leave the viewer room to flesh out and furnish the frame with belief. Photography seems particularly suited for this precarious hybrid. . . . Because the process mixes mechanical control with the surprise of light, and because the product mixes technical exactitude with veiling and distortion, the viewers response is a cross between essayistic firmnessthis, then, the dossier, the factsand the invitation of fictionWhat can we make of it?

The way photographs appear within The Emigrants serves as a metaphor for memory: they combine specific details with a limited time frame and a vague sense of location, they provide fragmented images that supersede other memories, they appear enigmatically out of order, and even as they establish evidence, they also document coincidence and undercut the process of coming to terms with repressed memories. Paul John Eakin (1992: 229) tells us that the art of memory recalls us not to the life we have lost but to the life we have yet to live, an especially poignant notion when we recall that few of Sebalds narrators live a full life, dying early, instead, as did Sebald himself at the age of fifty-seven. Sebald, like many postmodern writers, found the ambiguity and illogicality of genre to be his advantage. Thomas Beebee (1994: 283) writes: Constellations are an imaginary way of representing real relationships between stars. Generic distinctions are imaginary in a similar way. When the somewhat imaginary concept of genre is applied to the constellations created by the photographs within the different sections of The Emigrants, another genre problem emerges. While their power to enhance atmosphere, create an enigmatic mood, or document is ultimately haunting, many of the images are themselves of ordinary genres: amateur snapshots, class pictures, family images, postcard images, architectural images, and photographs of diagrams, journals, and handwriting. By proposing in this essay that one way to think about how to look at real photographs in fictional narratives is by imagining both word and image in terms of genre, I want to argue that the instability of genre and the difficulty of overcoming the almost magical power of photographs to represent are mutually reinforcing. While we might agree in general that photographs are to nonfiction as paintings are to fiction, the examples of photographs within fiction considered in this essay, and standing for many other examples, suggest that despite their physicality, photographs may

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operate along various lines. Already used by writers in different eras for vastly different purposes, they can also be used by postmodern writers for very different effects. Where Foers Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close seems finally somewhat artificial and less than progressive in the long history of the novel, Sebalds The Emigrants strikes many readers as overpoweringly authentic, hardly an example of trickery, and the beginning of a new way of writing. Despite the fact that Sebald makes clear within the text that the documentary power of photography is both invaluable and suspect, no controversies have arisen over his novels basic truth value. At a time when such ambiguous Holocaust-related texts as Binjamin Wilkomirskis Fragments or Elie Wiesels Night join James Freys A Million Little Pieces in a complicated debate about the reasons why authors chose one genre over another and the publishing world vies with television hosts to argue for or against a black and white distinction between fiction and nonfiction, Sebalds works continue to provide an especially authentic feel, despite their open admission of generic confusion.
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