Frozen in the Glassy, Bluestreaked Air: John Dos Passos’s Photographic Metropolis
The experimental form of John Dos Passos’s first major novel, the episodic, multilinear Manhattan Transfer (1925), has long been understood in connection with the montage techniques of avant-garde cinema. But Dos Passos’s notes and drafts for the book reveal the ahistoricity of this analogy even as they offer up other spectatorial contexts for understanding its experimental form. I draw on new archival work in this paper, which interprets Manhattan Transfer’s serialised mode of narration and characterisation in line with the figuring of female bodies through the photographic apparatus of advertisement and celebrity ancillary to early-twentieth-century Broadway entertainments. By unpacking the image of Dos Passos’s central character, Ellen Thatcher, as a photograph, “frozen into a single gesture”, I account for Dos Passos’s critique of the dominations of the male gaze and the complicity of photographic technologies as mechanisms of social control in the modern city.
ALIX BEESTON is Lecturer in English at Cardiff University. This paper is drawn from her first book, In and Out of Sight: Modernist Writing and the Photographic Unseen, which was published in 2018 by Oxford University Press. Her work appears or is forthcoming in PMLA, Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, Modernism/modernity, Arizona Quarterly, and elsewhere. She is also the author of Object Women, a digital art history project developed in partnership with the George Eastman Museum: www.instagram.com/objectwomen.
DATE: Friday 26 April
TIME: 11.00am – 12.30pm
LOCATION: Female Orphan School, conference room 1 (EZ.G.23), Parramatta South Campus, Western Sydney University
CHAIR: Lorraine Sim (WSRC)
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