Transmediality in Symbolist and Surrealist Photo-Literature

Lauren Walden

Published Online: 2017-11-16 | DOI:


The fin de siècle period throughout Europe undoubtedly cultivated the “interdisciplinary principle of la fraternité des arts” (Genova 158). Literature, poetry, visual art and music superseded former hierarchical structures favouring the painterly. Correspondence between intellectuals would cross-fertilise between disparate realms through publishing in interdisciplinary cultural journals that were distributed internationally across cosmopolitan cityscapes. The ability for the photograph to be mechanically reproduced, postulated by Walter Benjamin in 1936, allowed for one of the first transmedial aesthetics, to become known as photo-literature. Previously, reproduction had been confined to the textual realm. Bruges La Morte by Georges Rodenbach was the first ever work of photo-literature to commingle these respective art forms, sixty-five years after the invention of photography in 1827. Rodenbach’s novella was first published in 1892 at the height of the symbolist movement which spanned literature, painting, photography and more. Its pseudo-progeny, Andre Breton’s surrealist text Nadja was published in 1928 depicting the author’s meandering through the Parisian cityscape. In these works, text and image engender a sense of cosmopolitanism through the function of transposition.

Keywords: SurrealismSymbolismPhoto-LiteratureTransmedialityCosmopolitanism

Featured Image Credits: Rue de Bièvre by Dustin Gaffke © Courtesy of Flickr

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