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Moving Daguerreotypes, Myths of Reproduction, and Edgar Allan Poe

Lauren's Chapter

Lauren—

First off, let me just say that I think this is excellent. I know I heard you present most of this, but your paper really comes together, and you present a clear narrative and intellectual interrogation of so much. You write and transition from one idea to another very well and I feel like I’m in capable hands. One of the many things that I admire about this essay is the magnitude of scholarship that has gone into it. You present here a tremendous amount of data that you’ve brought together and then reflected on with a great deal of care, and it shows. The notes in of themselves are incredibly informative, and are convincing displays of hard work. The story of the daguerreotypes is of course fascinating, but I also love the way that you read these objects and their reception. For instance, your point about the “actuality? of the time Poe would have to be sitting for his daguerreotype vs. the way it was talked off (p2) is smart and insightful. Similarly, you find effective gaps in the way Poe’s dress is talked about and explain clearly and succinctly what these gaps tell us about the construction of Poe’s image (pun!).
I have, of course, line edits, and comments on specific parts of the paper, but I wanted to bring your attention to a couple of particular things:

a) I hate to say this, but one of the most significant areas that I think needs work might stem from all the work that you’ve done. What I mean is this: I feel that a lot of your essay centers around the way that others have talked about Poe, about aura, about sculpture, about press photographs etc. Some of this is obviously unavoidable, since I understand that you’re doing some important (sorry for this next word) metacommentary. However, I feel that there are a lot of names in here that aren’t really individualized to any extent. The strongest examples of this are Barthes and Benjamin who’re really invoked in a timely way, but not that effectively. You tend to use inline quotes a lot, which is fine, but which also detracts from cohesive, rounded, and “complete? understanding of ideas. For example, on page 8, Barthes is brought up quickly, quoted minimally, and explained almost not at all. I think that, in general, you need to spend some more time with these thinkers. Elaborate for us, if you will, what these thinkers are trying to say about important concepts, how they see these concepts, and how you see them. It will allow, I think, for a stronger presentation of your own voice and ideas that feels like is being absented here. I want to stress, I don’t think that you’re actually letting other people do the talking—this essay feels, to borrow one of your concepts, original. However, by not setting up quotes and analyzing them/their authors effectively, you, inadvertently I feel, give off the impression of doing less “thinking? than you actually have done.

b) In general, you’re composing a very complicated essay here and depend on a matrix of complex notions. To make this even more effective than it already is, I feel that you need to explain your concepts a little bit more. In my line edits, I question your fleeting assertion on the “cinematic? nature of the reception of Poe’s daguerreotypes. I understand that this is part of the paper that you have not yet written out completely, but it still warrants a beat or so more—just a line or so to explain what it means to receive something cinematically. Similarly, I’m not exactly sure why Dimmock’s letter to the editor is “odd? or, for that matter, how you understand Barthes’s concepts of connotation and denotation to work (and to what end) in Poe. I feel that point a) might address this, but I do think that your work seems hurried somehow, and that a careful and insightful explanation of what you mean will address this impression of haste. The good news, I feel, is that it would result in more pages!

c) Your writing, as I’ve mentioned, is top-notch, and you effectively deploy v. complicated ideas. However, in a couple of places, you use long, complicated sentences that seem to be a little inverted in their syntax. I feel like there’s an argument to be made for doing this—your ideas are complex, and therefore your sentences must reflect this complexity. However, I think that simpler and more direct sentences, though not always prettier, are always clearer, and though concealing your subject is an interesting approach, it can very easily lead to confusion. I also feel that there are (a very few) moments in which you resort to “gradspeak? whereby we tell our audience what we think we’re going to argue, instead of presenting them with the confidence that our analyses will do the work. Like I said re: Becky’s chapter, I think we need to work on moving away from those moments altogether.

All in all, I thought this was really wonderful, and I am truly impressed. This bodes so well for your dissertation at large, which I am (now more so than ever) excited to read. Well done!

Comments

Dear Lauren,

This is such a compelling essay on so many levels—I love the questions you ask about photography/cinema and about origins/reproductions, I enjoyed reading the multiple stories you describe here, your written voice is very eloquent and appealing (both persuasive and friendly in tone—this is hard to do!), and the connections you make are relevant and intriguing.

On the issue of invoking critics, which Maddy brings up in her post . . . I’m ok with just using a couple quotes from theorists to elaborate on your ideas, though I agree that perhaps some more explanation of where you stand on the quoted material would be useful. For me, the difficulty was that Benjamin and Barthes (and Doane) seemed to stand somewhat apart from the Poe daguerreotypes, and I’m wondering how you might bring all of the points you make about these thinkers and the Poe issue into closer conversation with each other. To make a clumsy example, both Benjamin and Doane discuss two things happening at once (Benjamin talks about both getting closer to and moving away from objects, Doane talks about both historicity and instantaneity), and this also seems to relate to the contradictory history of the pictures (are they original/reproductions, Poe/Not-Poe, all at the same time). How exactly might all of these issues relate? Instead of framing the Poe section with references to theorists, maybe integrating the theorists more throughout the essay would work. I’m guess I’m just curious if there might be some way to organize your writing so that we as readers can see just a bit more clearly the complex intersections you are making here.

There were a couple places where I got a little confused about who was doing what in the movement/discussions of the Poe daguerreotypes.

A few more specific comments . . .

2/ I wasn’t sure what you meant by “an ideal American,? and I wasn’t sure what Poe’s “redemption? referred to.

I think this idea—“perceived daguerreotypes of Poe cinematically?—is completely brilliant and I want to hear more!

6/ I want to hear more about this “lives and afterlives? idea—it comes up a couple times and could be fleshed out in detail, I think.

7-8/ This is where I’m getting confused about the historical names and information. Perhaps a bit more stepping back, talking about significance, and bringing us back to your argument would be helpful.

11/ I love the word “mutates? here—I wonder if you could do more with that. I also love this information on portraiture, it would be great to hear more about why you think the portrait is important. There seems to be something about intimacy at work with portraiture (I believe Lauren Berlant has written on intimacy, if you want to go in that direction).

I don’t want to overwhelm you with “I’d love to hear more about X? statements—there’s just a lot here that I’m really excited about! There are places where I think a sentence or two more of your thoughts would suffice to strengthen the arguments you make. Thanks so much for sending this out, I think this is incredibly important work and I very much look forward to reading more!

Becky