The eye and the pen

SCTODAY

Dr Anne Reverseau has received an ERC Starting Grant. This prestigious European funding will help her continue research on the (close) relationships that many writers have had with images, from the end of the 19th century to the present day.

In France, Dr Reverseau completed the most classic of academic courses for a literary scholar, at the École Normale Supérieure,1 followed by a master’s degree in French literature at the Sorbonne. What she calls her ‘switch’ occurred in 2004: ‘I went to the United States for a year to teach French. There, I became passionate about photography and contemporary art. I scoured museums, exhibitions, private viewings. Back in France, I wanted to write a thesis on the relationship between images and literature. That relationship has long been limited to illustrations. Yet beginning at the end of the 19th century, many writers used and manipulated mass reproduced and photographic images.’ 

The advent of ‘image society’

Surrealist writers (André Breton, Louis Aragon, etc.) are known to have been drawn to the image in the broad sense. While writing her thesis, Dr Reverseau was interested in the period preceding the avant-gardists, the early 20th century (1900-20). Her current research goes back even further, to around 1880. ‘This is a pivotal moment in the history of the image. Indeed, it’s the beginning of Kodak technology, amateur photography, mass reproduction of illustrations and photographs in the press. More democratic than engraving or printmaking, the reproduced or photographic image invaded books, newspapers and even the public space: advertising posters, brochures. The image became banal, common, trivial...and this profoundly modified the cultural relationship that the public and artists had with it.’2 The ‘image society’ in which we’re bathed was born. 

Literature and its ‘ecosystem’

After completing her PhD, Dr Reverseau joined KU Leuven. For seven years she worked at the MDRN, the university’s international and multicultural research centre dedicated to European literature from 1900 to 1950. Its researchers, despite their wide range of projects, are united on one point: literature is more than just its pure written dimension. ‘Creative writing works in an ecosystem’, Dr Reverseau says. ‘In addition to writing, the pictorial arts, sound (music, voice,), audiovisual, new technologies and more are involved. Just think of contemporary writers. Many, in addition to writing, practise photography, painting, television or film production – to adapt their work, for example – or record themselves in videos or on social networks. In short, the relationship between images and literature is vast and didn’t just pop up yesterday.’ 

From Leuven to Louvain

In 2018, Dr Reverseau became an FNRS researcher at UCLouvain's Centre for Research on Intermediality (CRI). ‘There are many convergences between CRI’s work and mine. The subtitle of the research project I submitted to the ERC is: "A material intermediality".’ The adjective isn’t trivial. Indeed, from the beginning, Dr Reverseau has been particularly interested in what writers do with material images: conserve, exhibit, transform, share, insert them into texts. ‘The iconographic practices of writers are varied. Paul Eluard collected postcards and André Beucler travel brochures, for example. Some authors cut out images and glued them to the wall or in notebooks. Others added them to their library. Such actions initiated, influenced, even shaped their literary creative process.’

Rethinking the history of literature 

Exploring sources (photographs, writers' homes, correspondence, diaries, etc.) to create an inventory of such practices is the primary objective of Dr Reverseau’s new research programme. But thanks to her ERC Starting Grant,3 she’ll be able to go further. ‘This crucial funding will mainly allow me to hire researchers and PhD students. Ultimately, I want to develop a multidisciplinary centre for research on the relationship between the image and literature, which will occur through publications and organising meetings and colloquia. I’m also committed to making this work accessible to the public, by creating permanent exhibition spaces, for example in the Musée L4 or in virtual museums. This is essential because taking literature out of its writing-only straitjacket implies rethinking the entire history of literature since the end of the 19th century. And it’s important to disseminate this paradigm shift, including through teaching, which I’ll strive to do at UCLouvain.’

Candice Leblanc

(1) The École Normale Supérieure de Paris is one of the most selective university institutions in France. 
(2) In 1880, Georges Eastman invented the photographic film roll, which made it possible to develop several photographs at the same time.  
(3) ERC Starting Grants totalling €1.5 million are intended for young European researchers. 
(4) The Musée L is UCLouvain’s university museum. 

 

A glance at Anne Reverseau's bio

2001:  Admission to École Normale Supérieure de Paris
2004: Teacher Certification in Modern Literature, Paris-Sorbonne 
2004-05: French Lecturer, Rutgers University (USA)
2006-11: Teaching Assistant, then Teacher-Researcher at Paris-Sorbonne and Paris Ouest-La Défense-Nanterre 
2011: PhD in French Literature, Paris-Sorbonne
2011-18:  FWO (Flanders Research Foundation) Postdoctorate at KU Leuven and Member of MDRN (centre for research on European literature from 1900 to 1950)
Since 2018: FNRS Researcher, UCLouvain
2018: Recipient of ERC Starting Grant

Published on October 11, 2018