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Photographing ghosts: ancestral reproduction and daguerreotypic mimesis in Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The house of the seven gables"


Frank, Michael C (2007). Photographing ghosts: ancestral reproduction and daguerreotypic mimesis in Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The house of the seven gables". Litteraria Pragensia. Studies in Literature and Culture, 17(34):40-57.

Abstract

The years following the introduction of the daguerreotype in 1839 saw the emergence of two alternative discourses on photography: on the one hand, "photorealism," which equated daguerreotypy with a faithful mimesis of the visible and emphasized its unprecedented capacity for representing surface detail; on the other hand, the lesser-known "photo-fantastic." While the latter did not deny the new medium's great mimetic potential, it redefined that potential as the power of making visible the unseen. One of the most interesting examples is Nathaniel Hawthorne's 1851 romance "The House of the Seven Gables." Connecting daguerreotypy with mesmerism – another form of arcane knowledge recently imported to the US from France – Hawthorne ftctionalizes photographic representation as a modern form of magic, able to reveal hidden aspects of reality. The daguerreotypes described in the novel give insight into the secret character of the person photographed, showing the charismatic Judge Pyncheon to be the modern-day equivalent of his ruthless seventeenth-century ancestor Colonel Pyncheon, and thus eventually provide a means to exorcize the ghosts of the past.

Abstract

The years following the introduction of the daguerreotype in 1839 saw the emergence of two alternative discourses on photography: on the one hand, "photorealism," which equated daguerreotypy with a faithful mimesis of the visible and emphasized its unprecedented capacity for representing surface detail; on the other hand, the lesser-known "photo-fantastic." While the latter did not deny the new medium's great mimetic potential, it redefined that potential as the power of making visible the unseen. One of the most interesting examples is Nathaniel Hawthorne's 1851 romance "The House of the Seven Gables." Connecting daguerreotypy with mesmerism – another form of arcane knowledge recently imported to the US from France – Hawthorne ftctionalizes photographic representation as a modern form of magic, able to reveal hidden aspects of reality. The daguerreotypes described in the novel give insight into the secret character of the person photographed, showing the charismatic Judge Pyncheon to be the modern-day equivalent of his ruthless seventeenth-century ancestor Colonel Pyncheon, and thus eventually provide a means to exorcize the ghosts of the past.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:06 Faculty of Arts > English Department
Dewey Decimal Classification:820 English & Old English literatures
Language:English
Date:December 2007
Deposited On:11 Feb 2019 09:01
Last Modified:07 Mar 2019 09:52
Publisher:Univerzita Karlova v Praze * Filozoficka Fakulta, Ustav Anglickeho Jazyka a Didaktiky
ISSN:0862-8424
OA Status:Green
Free access at:Official URL. An embargo period may apply.
Official URL:http://litteraria-pragensia.ff.cuni.cz/front.issue/detail/19

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