Parish N (2013) Portraits and Neologisms: Understanding the Visual in Henri Michaux's 'Voyage en Grande Garabagne'. In: Harrow S (ed.) The Art of the Text: Visuality in Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Literary and Other Media. Literature and Literary Criticism: General Criticism and Critical Theory. Cardiff: University of Wales Press.
Henri Michaux wrote many different types of travel narratives during his lifetime. These texts explore the tensions between real journeys and imaginary journeys and thus the condition of visual or verbal representation itself. Although Michaux was an established artist and had provided visual content for many of his literary works himself, this is not the case for ‘Voyage en Grande Garabagne. There had been plans for an atlas including images to accompany the text, thereby placing it in an ethnographic tradition, but these plans never came to fruition. Visual elements, such as portraits, are present in this text, however, which provide a visual structure and add to the sense of otherness created in this depiction of other lands. Neologisms also participate in the text’s alterity and trouble the reading process. In ‘Voyage en Grande Garabagne’, Michaux attacks the hierarchy of traditional Western signifying systems. His evocation of faces and invented words subvert the textual status quo and make the reader aware of something else creeping into the text. In this essay, I argue that the absence of the visual in this text actually reinforces the creative powers of language and signs to create beyond reference.
text and image; Henri Michaux; imaginary lands