Portrait Stories

Portrait Stories

Michal Peled Ginsburg

Print publication date: 2015

ISBN: 9780823262601

Publisher: Fordham University Press

Abstract

What makes stories about portraits so gripping and unsettling? Portrait Stories argues that it is the ways they articulate the relation between subjectivity and representation. While in pre-nineteenth-century stories the portrait is presented as an unambiguous token of its subject’s already established identity, the stories discussed in this book show subjectivity to be inseparable from representation. At the same time, portraiture highlights the way representation is inflected by particular interests and power relations, often determined by gender as well as class. It is thus in relation to representations shaped by social differences and conflicting interests that the subjectivities of sitter, painter, and viewer are produced in these stories. Through close readings of nineteenth-century short stories and novellas by Poe, James, Hoffmann, Gautier, Nerval, Balzac, Kleist, Hardy, Wilde, Storm, Sand, and Gogol, the book analyzes the way power can accrue to the painter from the act of representation as well as the power the portrait itself, as a sign of its subject’s existence, can have over its viewer. The viewer’s relation to the portrait also problematizes the very act of seeing and with it the way subjectivity is constructed in the field of vision. Methodologically, the book takes the portrait’s commitment to representing the ’mere individual’ (for which it has been routinely devalued) as a model for interpretation, practicing close readings that refuse to sacrifice the difference between and within texts for the sake of general truths.