Public Lecture on "Walter Benjamin’s History of Photography" by Jeremy Tambling

Photograph by Germaine Krull (1897 – 1985)

What claims does Benjamin (1892-1940) make for photography as the invention of 1839 which altered the balance in the dispute witnessed in the nineteenth-century between art and technology which played a part on either side? What does he mean in saying that photography enables an ‘optical unconscious’? And how does Benjamin’s famous essay help us think about photography today - its place, and its functions? This paper considers photography in comparison to painting, here drawing on the work of Maurice Merleau-Ponty (1908-1961), and its ambiguous relation to affect and to memory, here drawing on Roland Barthes’ Camera Lucida (1980), and will ask about its relation to the city and urban experience, where for Benjamin photography acts like a detective, and has the power of criminalising.

About the Speaker

Jeremy Tambling has been Professor of Comparative Literature at the University of Hong Kong and Chair Professor of Literature at the University of Manchester, UK. He is author of over twenty books on literary and cultural theory. His latest publications include a monograph Histories of the Devil: from Marlowe to Mann and the Manichees (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016) and an edited volume The Palgrave Handbook of Literature and the City (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016).

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