“The Most Photographed Barn in America”: Simulacra of the Sublime in American Art and Photography

Authors

  • David Allen Midland Actors Theatre, UK
  • Agata Handley University of Łódź

DOI:

https://doi.org/10.1515/texmat-2018-0022

Keywords:

simulacrum, sublime, DeLillo, Baudrillard, Plato

Abstract

In White Noise (1985) by Don DeLillo, two characters visit a famous barn, described as the “most photographed barn in America” alongside hordes of picture-taking tourists. One of them complains the barn has become a simulacrum, so that “no one sees” the actual barn anymore. This implies that there was once a real barn, which has been lost in the “virtual” image. This is in line with Plato’s concept of the simulacrum as a false or “corrupt” copy, which has lost all connection with the “original.” Plotinus, however, offered a different definition: the simulacrum distorts reality in order to reveal the invisible, the Ideal. There is a real building which has been called “the most photographed barn in America”: the Thomas Moulton Barn in the Grand Teton National Park. The location—barn in the foreground, mountain range towering over it—forms a striking visual composition. But the site is not only famous because it is photogenic. Images of the barn in part evoke the heroic struggles of pioneers living on the frontier. They also draw on the tradition of the “American sublime.” Ralph Waldo Emerson defined the sublime as “the influx of the Divine mind into our mind.” He followed Plotinus in valuing art as a means of “revelation”—with the artist as a kind of prophet or “seer.” The photographers who collect at the Moulton Barn are themselves consciously working within this tradition, and turning themselves into do-it-yourself “artist-seers.” They are the creators, not the slaves of the simulacrum.

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Author Biographies

David Allen, Midland Actors Theatre, UK

David Allen is currently Artistic Director of the Midland Actors Theatre (MAT). He is the author of Performing Chekhov (Routledge, 2000) and Stanislavski for Beginners (1999). He has written several articles recently on Disney simulacra for the European Journal of American Culture, including “Seeing Double: Disney’s Wilderness Lodge” (EJAC 31.2, 2012). He has also written a number of articles on Edward Bond, including “The Children” in Edward Bond and the Dramatic Child (Trentham, 2005) and “Between Brecht and Bond” in The Brecht Yearbook (2005).

Agata Handley, University of Łódź

Agata Handley is Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Philology at the University of Łódź. She is the author of Constructing Identity: Continuity, Otherness and Revolt in the Poetry of Tony Harrison (Peter Lang, 2016) and is currently continuing her research on contemporary British literature. The main areas of her academic interest are contemporary British and Canadian poetry with particular focus on the culture of the English North.

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Published

2018-10-24

How to Cite

Allen, D., & Handley, A. (2018). “The Most Photographed Barn in America”: Simulacra of the Sublime in American Art and Photography. Text Matters, (8), 365-385. https://doi.org/10.1515/texmat-2018-0022