Continuing with the five new books for February 2012, we’re pleased to publish Regarding Lost Time: Photography, Identity, and Affect in Proust, Benjamin, and Barthes, a study by Katja Haustein. That’s a photograph on the cover, of course, by Eugène Atget (1857-1927), whose original plates are now in art galleries. Perhaps this one is furtively a self-portrait, because you can see Atget, caped and cowled by the black cloth over his tripod, in the mirror which rather surprisingly fills the fireplace. He captured this exquisitely grand interior of the Austrian Embassy in 1905, when the still-new ability to photograph the upper classes was revolutionising popular magazines.
Proust was pretty keen on opulent lives himself, and for that matter on France’s expanding print industry, but he was also charged up with the technological spirit of the age. He’s currently Legenda’s most-written-about cultural figure (Dante is the runner-up). I hesitate to say anything about the way work in this field is going, but we do seem to be paying increasing attention to his captivation by recording devices — cameras, especially. In this dawn of ubiquitous digital video, we’re just as haunted by old photos ourselves, and for some reason especially by black and white photos of the dark ages. I felt this myself when working on our W. G. Sebald handbook, where it was with great reluctance that we added captions and picture credits to the illustrations — something Sebald never did in his own novels.
In Katja’s book there are cute portraits of Kafka, Benjamin, and Proust as boys, elaborately dressed up in the photographer’s studio. They hold little staffs, like infants fated to topple empires, and they’re surrounded by fancy bric-a-brac. But is Marcel already going to bed early? Does Franz look anxious yet? I peer down at our proof pages, looking for clues. Well, it’s tempting to say, he wasn’t Kafka yet. But of course that’s exactly who he was.