Luminous moments’ of Domestic Everyday Life: Rethinking Literary Prose as a Visual Art Form
As the physical book increasingly competes with digital platforms, publishers, designers and authors are focusing anew on the distinct qualities a printed novel can offer as an integrated visual and text-based experience. In Europe and America in recent years, there has been a resurgence in novels with visual elements, including photography, drawing, typographic intervention and ephemeral found materials, as embedded aspects of the narrative. Such works are referred to as ‘hybrid’ novels. There is a rich but sporadic history of this form, from Laurence Sterne’s 18th-century volume, The Life and Opinions of Tristam Shandy, Gentleman (1759), to contemporary exemplars such as Jonathan Safran Foer’s, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close(2005).
This research is a practice-led investigation of the hybrid novel today and its future potential, extending the ways in which visual considerations can become developed authoring strategies. The research proposes that understanding and establishing reader expectations is core to the way the form is received and its advancement. Through my practice as a book producer I have tested and extended the potential of the reader relationship, recognising the key role of the reader in the creation of the narrative experience.
A connection is made in the first instance between the approaches of the Imagist movement of the early 20th century, established and promoted by Ezra Pound, and my own focus on a heightened sensation-based reader experience. Pound’s ‘imaging’ through words into poetry becomes images of and with words to achieve something of the same imagined and felt understanding of an idea, object or place. This thesis takes as its starting point Pound's definition of the image created in a poem as that which presents an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time as a ‘luminous moment’.
‘Luminous moments’ of domestic everyday life form the basis of a series of narratives that test and develop this proposition. Through an ethnographic, participatory action research method everyday stories are gathered in response to domestic objects, a method akin to ‘domestic archeology’: a vegetable knife with blunted misshapen blade, handle worn to the shape of the hand, the wood water-washed to a dry husk, a peg bag stretched and lumpy through years of grabbing hands, blown in the wind and rain, its eventual state testament to life and use. The resulting hybrid narratives examine the extent to which one can communicate everyday life as it resonates through the objects that have travelled with us absorbing and holding our ‘luminous moments’ and, crucially, examining how this is contributed to and experienced by the reader.
As concrete poetry united the visual with the literary in the early 1950s, this research critically assesses and advances the emerging potential for a more sophisticated and unified visual prose form that captures and conveys narrative as an enhanced multi-linear reader experience, in the contemporary landscape of printed publishing.
School of Communication
Visual Communication, 2013–
Tracy Tomlinson’s research addresses book design as literary form, developing and extending the ways in which graphic devices can become authoring strategies in the construction of visual prose and achieve an enhanced reader experience. Themes of domestic everyday life form hybrid image and text narratives as a commentary on how we find meaning in everyday life. Material culture and the place of the object as memory icon play an important role in the work. The research aims to offer a multi-linear experience of reading and understanding small but ‘luminous moments’ of everyday life.
Tracy Tomlinson is a designer of experimental books and publications and teaches on the Master of Art and Master of Design Visual Communication programmes at the University of Derby.