Professor David Houston Jones

Professor of French Literature and Visual Culture


Extension: 4228

Telephone: 01392 724228

Prof David Houston Jones

I came to Exeter in 2005, having taught previously at the universities of Bristol, Oxford and Paris VIII Vincennes-St. Denis. My interests span literary and visual culture, from trauma and testimony to visual archives and installation art.  

My recent book Installation Art and the Practices of Archivalism (2016) is concerned with the many installation art  projects which respond to the archive. Some artists explicitly depict the archive (Beckett, Boltanski, Walid Raad), while others are preoccupied with archival materials and practices (Bałka, Godard, Kolbowski, Egoyan). Work like this is part of the pervasive contemporary nostalgia for ‘archival’ media such as analogue photographs and film, a tendency I analyse by reference to five types of archival practice, the intermedial, testimonial, personal, relational and monumentalist. The book produces new understandings of how we archive today: contemporary archiving, I suggest, is a response to the predominance of ‘prosthetic’ memory (Nora), in which cultural memory has gradually shifted away from communities of memory and into archiving technologies themselves.

This work is part of my interest in the ways in which art engages with truth-telling and the provision of evidence, whether medical or legal.

From 2013-15 I was UK principal investigator on the EU INTERREG IV-funded research project 1914FACES2014 on the cultural legacy of facial disfigurement, in particular the way practices derived from art and sculpture come to influence surgical techniques, and vice versa. The unprecedented scale of facial injury, and the radical measures adopted to attempt to mitigate its effects, are the starting-point for an enquiry into the changing understandings of the face from 1914 to the present. I led the Exeter team for 1914FACES2014, based in the Colleges of Humanities and of Social Sciences and International Studies, and coordinated the third project strand, on Representing the Face, working with partners including Changing Faces, the Historial de la Grande Guerre, the Université de Picardie Jules Verne and the Institut Faire-Faces led by the world-leading surgeon Prof Bernard Devauchelle.

In 2011, I published Samuel Beckett and Testimony (Palgrave Macmillan). Here, I argued for the first time that testimony helps us understand Beckett's fiction, and that Beckettian narrative helps us understand testimony. I questioned the association of trauma in Beckett's work with the Second World War as historical event, arguing instead that the idea of testimony has to be understood via philosophical and iconographical traditions.  In particular, I analysed the debt in Beckett's work to the Noli me tangere tradition and depictions of the crucifixion, a debt which engages with the work of Georges Didi-Huberman on understanding the visual documentation of the Holocaust.