Black and Blue

The Bruising Passion of Camera Lucida, La Jete, Sans soleil, and Hiroshima mon amour

Black and Blue

Book Pages: 216 Illustrations: 113 illustrations, including 18 in color Published: September 2012

Author: Carol Mavor

Art and Visual Culture > Art Criticism and Theory, Photography, Media Studies > Film

Audacious and genre-defying, Black and Blue is steeped in melancholy, in the feeling of being blue, or, rather, black and blue, with all the literality of bruised flesh. Roland Barthes and Marcel Proust are inspirations for and subjects of Carol Mavor's exquisite, image-filled rumination on efforts to capture fleeting moments and to comprehend the incomprehensible. At the book's heart are one book and three films—Roland Barthes's Camera Lucida, Chris Marker's La Jetée and Sans soleil, and Marguerite Duras's and Alain Resnais's Hiroshima mon amour—postwar French works that register disturbing truths about loss and regret, and violence and history, through aesthetic refinement.

Personal recollections punctuate Mavor's dazzling interpretations of these and many other works of art and criticism. Childhood memories become Proust's "small-scale contrivances," tiny sensations that open onto panoramas. Mavor's mother lost her memory to Alzheimer's, and Black and Blue is framed by the author's memories of her mother and effort to understand what it means to not be recognized by one to whom you were once so known.


Black and Blue is only partly, though brilliantly, about the colours of its title. It’s avowedly indebted to novelist-philosopher William H. Gass’s extraordinary 1976 essay On Being Blue: A Philosophical Inquiry, and shares that book’s super-subjective love of lists and tendency to intuitive digressions.... Black and Blue has a poetic logic of mourning, and its rage to make too much sense.” — Brian Dillon, Art Review

“It is impossible to make sense of and represent catastrophes—Hiroshima, the Holocaust, loss of memory, death—and these are all approached in an oblique way that makes one ponder the concept. This reviewer would answer in the affirmative Mavor’s indirect question when she seems to wonder if she ‘effectively’ ‘combines catastrophe with frivolity as the text moves between the public and the private, in an effort to make sense.’ This well-maintained tension is the underlying thread that makes the reader watch, read, and think more deeply. Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates, graduate students, researchers, faculty, general readers.” — E. A. Vanborre, Choice

"In her chapters on La Jetée and Sans soleil she aligns a series of ostensibly unrelated circles. . . . Such associations are not only evocative, efficiently subtending history’s temporal habits and causal relations, they also train the reader to look as thoughtfully and creatively as Mavor does." — Jane Blocker, Art History

“The overall effect is hypnotic, aided by the stunning visual affect of the book, tis elegant typesetting and the variety of the images that litter the text. . . . a joy to read . . . a veritable feast for the eyes.” — Lucy Scholes, TLS

“Mavor succeeds in producing a truly hybrid work: image and text, art criticism and self-analysis come together almost seamlessly, culminating in an impressively phenomenological approach to the subject of memory. . . . [H]er keen attention to etymology and intellectual history succeeds in opening the text, the field of play: the films she discusses function just as Proust’s madeleine, describing but not finally demystifying Mavor’s memory, involuntary in its movement between present and past, research and experience, art and life.”  — Andrew Marzoni, Rain Taxi

Black and Blue is an unabashedly first person, nonprescriptive account from one such reader-viewer, one that seeks to combine 'catastrophe with frivolity' in its quest to reveal something of the link between private and public affect by staging a struggle between them.” — Dylan J. Montanari, Los Angeles Review of Books

Black and Blue is a thought-provoking belletristic work. At times the style reaches the heights of Mavor’s beloved Barthes and Farber. Also, many of the contemporary artists discussed will be unfamiliar to readers within film studies, and will no doubt provide additional ways of thinking and angles of inquiry. It’s also worth noting that Black and Blue is beautifully presented, with ample screenshots taken from the films, and colour plates of the other artworks Mavor discusses.” — John A. Riley, Scope

“[A] beautiful book, a book that asks art historians and cultural theorists to weigh the merits and limitations of affect as a methodological approach to the image broadly. This passion, Mavor shows everywhere, may be at times blinding but it also has the illuminating force of the sun.” — Peggy Phelan, Photography and Culture

“As I read this book, I lost myself in the writing, floating through a dream of images of rolling marbles, landscapes of ash, on the smile of an auntie in an old photograph, of a blue washcloth in a bathtub. The artwork that colors the text is charged with emotions of motherhood, of death, of race and of coming to terms with events in life out of our control. I wandered back and forth between the essays recalling black milk, black rain and black ink, carried away in the melancholy mixed with delicacy.” — Jessica Cline, New York Public Library

“Carol Mavor does not write conventional works of art and literary criticism. Yet (or perhaps because of this) she can open up image and text in fascinating ways. . . . Black and Blue will be seen as a moving dramatization of the art of memory and forgetting and a Proustian and surrealist re?guring of post-war French culture. I was moved.” — Max Silverman, French Studies

“I cannot do adequate justice to Mavor’s synaesthetic work and can only encourage you to experience it for yourself.” — Catherine Rodgers, Modern Language Review

"Mavor is a learned scholar whose encyclopedic knowledge allows her to unearth deft connections between texts and figures whose distance from each other may have seemed immense." — Anderst, Film Criticism

"Carol Mavor has developed a unique way of responding to images and to their uses by artists and writers: with appetite and fastidious delicacy, she brings the full sensorium synaesthetically into play. Black and Blue is a highly wrought montage, an original attempt to open up the meanings of visual objects in relation to experience, and a startlingly daring account of a symbolic field. It resonates with—and pays tribute to—such key art historical works as Aby Warburg's Mnemosyne Atlas and William Gass's prose poem, On Being Blue." — Marina Warner, author of Stranger Magic: Charmed States and the Arabian Nights

"In Black and Blue, Carol Mavor lives with the wounding memories of Hiroshima, the Holocaust, and the regime of hate in American racial history. She looks at herself through a kaleidoscope of texts and images whose pain her own writing seeks to alleviate. The reader witnesses conflicted emotions circulating within a gallery of figures defining the melancholic tenor of critical and creative labors of the last three decades. As a testament and a symptom, Black and Blue belongs to a growing number of first-person accounts that have coped with the years 1939–46 and after, including those by Sarah Kofman (Rue Ordener, rue Labat) and Jean-Luc Godard (Histoire(s) du cinéma), in which the 'author' deals with his or her own relation with the past, from a highly autobiographical standpoint. What makes Black and Blue stand out is its movement to and from a theoretical critical canon, through an impressive body of films, texts, and images, which literally punctuate the book." — Tom Conley, author of An Errant Eye: Poetry and Topography in Early Modern France


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Carol Mavor is Professor of Art History and Visual Studies at the University of Manchester. She is the author of Reading Boyishly: Roland Barthes, J. M. Barrie, Jacques Henri Lartigue, Marcel Proust, and D. W. Winnicott; Becoming: The Photographs of Clementina Viscountess Hawarden; and Pleasures Taken: Performances of Sexuality and Loss in Victorian Photographs, all also published by Duke University Press.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Abbreviations xi

Introduction. First Things: Two Black and Blue Thoughts 1

Author's Note I. A Sewing Needle inside a Plastic and Rubber Suction Cup Sitting on a Watch Spring; or, An Object for Seeing Nothing 17

1. Elegy of Milk, in Black and Blue: The Bruising of La Chambre claire 22

2. "A" is for Alice, for Amnesia, for Anamnesis: A Fairy Tale (Almost Blue) Called La Jetée 53

3. Happiness with a Long Piece of Black Leader: Chris Marker's Sans soleil 77

Author's Note II. She Wrote Me 111

4. "Summer Was inside the Marble": Alain Resnais's and Magurite Duras's Hiroshima mon amour 114

List of Illustrations 161

Notes 169

Index 191
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5271-6 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5252-5
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