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Inaugural Lecture mw. prof. E. Gualtieri: Literature in the age of the snapshot

When:Tu 12-11-2013 at 16:15

Inaugural Lecture: Ms. prof. E. Gualtieri, 16.15 uur, Academiegebouw, Broerstraat 5, Groningen

Title: Literature in the age of the snapshot

Chair: Moderne Engelse Letterkunde en Cultuurkunde

Faculty: Arts

The study of literature is undergoing a profound structural crisis, we are told. Literature rarely appears as an area of priority for government research funding; falling student demand is forcing Universities to close down foreign literature departments across Europe and the US. Our cultural landscape today is saturated by images, not texts; in such a society, policy-makers claim, textual literacy has become old-fashioned and irrelevant, a luxury for the few. But what would happen to this story if we found out that it is not so easy to keep literature separate from the images that surround us, and that modern literature in particular has both shaped and been shaped by that most popular and accessible of modern mass media – snapshot photography?

With the help of Virginia Woolf, one of the most famous English writers of the twentieth century, Gualtieri will outline an alternative way of thinking about the place and role of literature in a modern society dominated by throw-away, automated images. An avid amateur photographer and the great-niece of the prominent Victorian photographer Julia Margaret Cameron, Woolf published a number of books illustrated by photographs which she personally selected or took. The first of these, Orlando (1928), was a spoof biography of her friend and lover Vita Sackville-West and made Woolf into an international best-selling author. Gualtieri will show how Woolf fashioned that best-seller by using photographs, snapshots and paintings to transform her aristocratic subject into a modern-day ‘everywoman’ and high literary modernism into a popular form.

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