Photography and the American multimodal novel: Exploring J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst’s S.

Thomas Mantzaris


The emergence of multimodal fiction has resulted in the avid exploration of narrative possibilities in relation to the print book medium. Multimodal fiction is centered on the notion of combining verbal and non-verbal modes of representation in the ways in which the narrative is created as well as communicated to the reader. In this article, I am examining the use of photography in J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst’s novel S. (2013). Existing as distinct physical objects, the photographic images expand the physical space of the codex, and are in dialogue with the other visual strategies in the novel. Challenging literary norms and publishing conventions, S. features a range of creative experimentation across narrative layers. At the core is a fictional novel entitled Ship of Theseus featuring a character also named S, who awakes onboard a floating ship with no recollections of himself. This is layered with the work of a translator/editor and the handwritten annotations of two fictional readers who also augment the original novel with material artefacts. By exploring the function of photography in relation to other visual strategies in the novel, I suggest that the ship functions as a metaphor for the transformations that the print book medium currently undergoes.


Doug Dorst; J.J. Abrams; multimodal fiction; multimodality

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