The explosive proliferation of pictures in advertising and pop culture, mass media, and cyberspace following World War II, along with the profusion of critical thinking that tries to make sense of it, has had wide-ranging implications for cultural production as such. Pictures into Words explores how this proliferation of graphic images has profoundly affected narrative writing in France, especially, as Ari J. Blatt argues, the structure, content, and symbolic logic of contemporary French fiction. By examining a specific corpus of narratives by authors Claude Simon, Georges Perec, Pierre Michon, and Tanguy Viel—books that originate amid, conjure up, and indeed are essentially about pictures—Blatt addresses the most salient questions pertaining to the relationship between literature and visual culture today.
Each of the novels considered here engages the work of several postwar artists, from Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol, Vincent van Gogh, and Orson Welles to Jeff Koons, Joseph L. Mankiewicz, Pierre Huyghe, and Marcel Duchamp. As Blatt’s cross-disciplinary readings show, despite their gleeful raiding of the visual archive to generate and enrich their stories, many contemporary narratives that tell tales about pictures simultaneously express a cautious skepticism toward vision and visual representation. Pictures into Words examines how such novels, while seemingly complicit with the visual, simultaneously “write back” against the images they exploit, reclaiming some of literature’s lost ground in our visually inundated world.