Conference Abstracts

Daisy Dunn (UCL/Warburg Institute) – ‘Integrating Ekphrasis from Classical Text to Renaissance Image: Achilles Tatius Re-mastered’
Daisy Dunn is an AHRC funded third year PhD student at University College London, working in affiliation with the Warburg Institute of Art. She holds a BA in Classics from the University of Oxford and an MA in the History of Art (Venetian Renaissance) from the Courtauld Institute of Art. Her doctorate subsequently straddles Classics and Art History in equal measure. Alongside her doctoral studies she works to promote the study of Greek and Latin in schools as Executive Officer of the Joint Association of Classical Teachers. 

Achilles Tatius’ ancient novel, Leucippe and Clitophon, has been both criticized and celebrated for its extended passages of description, especially its ekphraseis agalmaton (ekphrases of art objects). The novel is particularly noteworthy as an example of a text in which ekphrases are integral to the narrative; any notion that they are merely digressive, inset flourishes certainly doesn’t hold its ground here. In this paper I adopt a comparative approach to reading one of these novel’s ekphrases, first in the context of its surrounding text, second in the context of a famous painting from Renaissance Europe, which is thought to have been inspired by it. I am interested to explore how this ekphrasis agalmaton involves itself in Achilles Tatius’ text to the point of impacting upon events in the narrative proper, and how this function may be echoed in its sixteenth-century reception. Moving from art-inspired text, to text-inspired image, my focus, then, is the integrity of ekphrasis to its context, be that textual or visual. This paper will demonstrate a parallelism between the function of the ekphrasis in the ancient novel’s narrative and the function of the ekphrasis-inspired Renaissance painting upon its intended audience. It seeks to go beyond traditional comparative practices of matching word to image to highlight the full range of effects that can be achieved by an ekphrasis when it is re-integrated into the context in which it occurs.

Stanislaus Kuttner-Homs (University of Caen) – ‘Beyond the Veil: Ekphrasis as Literary Empowerment in the De signis of Niketas Choniates’
After a Byzantine Literature ‘Master’ devoted to the prosaic ekphrasis from the XIIth C. to the XVth C., Stanislas Kuttner-Homs presented a ‘Master’ in museum curating and management and worked as assistant curator of the Collection of the Musée d’art contemporain of Lyon, France. He has served as co-organizer of workshops on ancient literature at the Ecole Normale Supérieure de Paris and is regularly invited by the Damon (Switzerland) and the School of Metrics (France), international annual symposia dedicated to metrics and aesthetics. He has been engaged in several artistic projects, as actor (Demodocos Theatre, Les Equilivristes) and as manager (recital of the Iliad in French hexameters by Philippe Brunet, Lyon, 2011). Currently he is Ph.D. student in Byzantine literature at the University of Caen (France) under the supervision of Pr. Corinne Jouanno.

Confronted in 1204 with the Crusaders’ destruction of Constantinople’s antique art works, Niketas Choniates (1155 ?-1217 ?), historian, orator and theologian, composed a catalog, called De signis by subsequent historians, of ekphrasis of these lost art works. Displaying an aesthetics of constraint and high literary standards, this text was used as a source by numerous scholars, both historians and art historians (Reinach, Grecu, Cutler, Dagron, Papamastorakis) and even quirte recently furnished valuable information for the project ‘Byzantium 1200’ (, the virtual reconstruction in three dimensions of the Constantinople’s monumental landscape. The light that I wish to cast on this text is less historiographical than literary: I shall draw on Gilbert Dagron’s ideas concerning the way Byzantines related to statuary, and on Martin Steinrück’s works showing the continuing existence of two distinct literary traditions – the catalogic style and the periodic style – to underline the self-referential and theoretical aspects of some passages of the De signis. In fact, we can find rather subtle reading of these two formal traditions in Aristotle’s Rhetoric and Poetics. Niketas embodies these conceptions in an ekphrasis that represents not a real statue but the figure of Rhetoric, invented for his prosopopeia. What is at stake, for Byzantine men of letters and for modern criticism, is the assertion of the possible existence of a literature sub specia aternitatis, i.e. without distinction from the Classics, and more specifically for this paper, the attempt to understand how an exercise of style can demonstrate the possibility and even be a sign of the autonomy of medieval Greek literature.

Beatrice Wilford (KCL) – ‘Adaptation as Ekphrasis: Derek Jarman’s Edward II
Bea Wilford is currently writing a PhD on medieval allegory and embodiment in the English department at King’s College London. She took her BA in English literature from Cambridge University and her MA in Medieval English literature from UCL. She is working on a side project that examines medievalisms in Derek Jarman’s work. In January, the exhibition she is co-organising on visual medievalisms (entitled Medievalist Visions) will open in the Weston Room, at the Maughan Library. And she runs a bi-weekly medieval film club in King’s, this term looking at ‘realism’ in medieval films.

This paper will argue that the adaptation of a play onto the screen is a form of reverse ekphrasis, as it offers a permanent visual record of the written word. It will use Derek Jarman’s 1992 film Edward II as an example of a film that troubles the relationship between the moving image and spoken word through persistent anachronism. The film is an intervention in the history of sexuality, and its irreverent re-imagining of a literary source undermines conventional trajectories of past to present and text to film by forming a visual affront to readers’ expectations of the play’s adaptation. Jarman’s early nineteen-nineties film adaptation of Marlowe’s fifteenth-century play exposes the difficulties of writing histories of sexuality. Instead of reading the play as offering a window onto the past, Jarman represents it anachronistically; he matches blank verse with contemporary fashions, pop-stars, and gay-rights protestors. Jarman is faithful neither to Marlowe’s supposed sources, nor to the text itself. Discarding the trappings of ‘realism’, and much of the play, he inserts select extracts of the text into a postmodern scenario, acknowledging the past only as is it filtered through a sketchily-imagined present. This distortion of the perceived progression of time between the text, its events, and this retelling confronts our complacent ideas of a representable past. Jarman is thus able to undermine arguments that attempt to uncover the truth of past events and sexualities and undercuts the accumulation of readings of the past as natural (heterosexual), promiscuous, or filthy. He does not position the text or source as ‘pre-homosexual’, but uses it to represent the political uncertainties of his own time. In this way, a text represented on film breaks open the frame/source material binary, unruffling our sense of time, and our understanding of the time of our sexual identities.

Angelina Ayers (Sheffield Hallam) – Experiments in Ekphrasis: A Poem, a Painter and an Electric Fan
Angelina has been writer in residence at Bank Street Arts since April 2010, where her brief has been to collaborate with artists in order to explore the scope of ekphrasis in contemporary practice, designing projects that take traditional aesthetics of ekphrasis and push against the old hierarchical structures, to establish new relationships between art and text, artist and writer, where the text is in action with the art, rather than subordinate to it. She is currently studying poetry in the MA Writing at Sheffield Hallam University. Amongst her published work is a forthcoming poem in the Poetry Review. She is collaborating with Sheffield artist Paul Evans on his Seven Wonders Series (

Susan Harrow (2010) suggests new ekphrastic poetics are texts and artworks in process that reflect on their “modes of being and becoming” in relation to one another. They elude old dualities to “develop more tentative, speculative, creative responses”. With this in mind, I would like to present an experiment I conducted as writer in residence at Bank Street Arts, with abstract artist Mark Rowan-Hull, and experimental composer Stephen Chase. In abstract art, the narrative, rather than describing the story depicted by an image, becomes the story of process, the narration of the act of creating the artwork.  This suggested to me that as writers wanting to create something in response to this, we should expose our own processes. The experiment at Bank Street used improvisation.  We each were translating our experience of the others’ outputs into our own mediums.  Chase’s musical paraphernalia included violin bow, electric fan, corrugated piping.  He used Blu-Tack to adhere microphones to my paper and Rowan-Hull’s canvas.  I wrote in response to the sounds, colours and patterns being generated around me.

We created a temporal performative artwork designed to break down hierarchical traditions of visual art as source.  We were working simultaneously, in action with one another, with no-one able to claim primacy. I would like to focus on the relationship between my poetic outcome and Mark’s painting, the way these outcomes reflect, document, and obscure process.  I will suggest a parallel between representational and non-representational art, and certain poetic forms, using poems such as “Ozymandias” and “Self Portrait in a Convex Mirrror” to set out ideas, before looking at my own poetry in relation to Rowan-Hull’s canvas.  I’d like to explore the friction between art and artifice, how poem and painting went through a process that is both evidenced and concealed in the finished work.

Rebecca Roach (Oxford) – ‘Through the Keyhole: Writers, Rooms and Representation’
Becky Roach is a DPhil student at New College Oxford, co-convenor of the American Literature Graduate Seminar Series and conference administrator for the upcoming conference “The Condemned Playground: Aldous Huxley and his Contemporaries”. She is also editorial assistant on the forthcoming book Moving Modernisms, in association with Laura Marcus and David Bradshaw. Her thesis looks at the interview as a literary form from the latter half of the nineteenth century through to the present day on both sides of the Atlantic, a brief which provides her ample excuse to read pretty much anything she likes.

In 2007 The Guardian launched a series entitled “Writers’ Rooms”, which took, each week, a new author’s place of work as its subject. The series stretched to well over a hundred subjects and rooms, proving immensely popular with readers. Consisting mainly of a large photograph of the (empty) author’s room, the image was accompanied by a short piece of text in which the writer discussed the personal significance of the room’s features. The series itself offers an intriguing site for considering not only representation across media, but also the affective impact of such representation. The images, by acclaimed photographer Eamonn McCabe, offer themselves up as simultaneously accurate documentation of life, as autonomous art objects and as portraits of the absent body of the writer-subject. The text is similarly manifold in its relation to representation. It offers an autobiographical narrative of the personal, affective qualities represented in the room. Yet, these features are filtered through specific reference to the photograph. In doing so, the narrative encourages the reader to consider the representation of the room, rather than the room (or subject) itself.

“Writer’s Rooms” offers a portrait that refuses to separate into text, body, room and photograph. This paper will draw on the historical precedence of such representations of the writer and study (particularly popular in late nineteenth century author interviews in magazines such as The Strand), as well as exploring the implications of the contemporary online presence of “Writer’s Rooms,” in order to explore how this series can contribute to larger discussions around ekphrasis as a multi-media comparative mode. Significantly, it will also consider the relationship between ekphrasis and affect through consideration of the framing of reader/viewer response.

Joanne Brueton (UCL) – ‘“Toi et Sartre vous m’avez statufié”: Space, Art and Resistance in Jean Genet and Louise Bourgeois’
Joanne Brueton read Modern and Medieval Languages at St John’s College, Cambridge, and is now in the first year of her PhD at University College London.  Her doctoral thesis examines representations of subjective and aesthetic experience in Jean Genet, and seeks to explore how far a geometric figuration is at play in his construction of selfhood.  Her other research interests include literary theory, visual arts, and authors including Hélène Cixous, Samuel Beckett, Georges Bataille, and Frank O’Hara.  She teaches an undergraduate course at UCL on Twentieth Century French literature entitled ‘Explorations of self and form in the contemporary period’, which focuses on Surrealist poetry, Duras and Gide, and spent last year as a lectrice at Paris IV and Paris 8. 

On receipt of Sartre’s gargantuan 692 page study Saint Genet: Comédien et Martyr in 1952, Jean Genet wrote to Cocteau in condemnation of what he felt was an artistic petrifaction: “You and Sartre, you’ve turned me into a statue”. Genet’s resistance to Sartre’s ekphrastic treatment of him as a work of art to be verbally monumentalised, points to the complex relationship Genet had towards literary norms of static representation.  As the author of essays on Giacometti’s sculptures, Leonor Fini’s portraits, and Cocteau’s etchings, Genet did not shy away from artistic commentary; rather, he sought at this intersection between image and word a chance to disrupt visual and verbal hermeneutics in an effort to question what is at stake in aesthetic discourse.

This paper will explore Genet’s engagement with representation in his posthumously published work Un Captif Amoureux, a text which grapples epistemologically with the purpose of art and reality amidst the Palestinian revolution.  I want to examine his shifting spatial modalities through an analysis of the geometric leitmotifs within the text, specifically the lines, cells, and square frames which add a deeply visual dimension to his work.  Using artist Louise Bourgeois’ geometric sketching and writings as a counterpoint, I ask what the impact of spatializing text or textualizing space has on producing meaning.  As Genet and Bourgeois’ texts become almost auto-ekphrastic, such that they describe the image on the page they are actively inscribing, meaning slips from being contained in language to occupying the interstice between words.  Underpinned by a theoretical engagement with Jacques Rancière’s argument that “words and images are only compatible at the price of mutual cancellation: the black lines are neither poem nor form”, and with Derrida’s ‘parergon/ergon’ distinction, I want to argue that it is precisely by drawing our eye to the abyss between the object and the frame that both Genet and Bourgeois create a new politics of resistance towards any totalizing representation.  As Genet and Bourgeois move freely between space and language, ‘representation’ is recalibrated into a form of mobility that grapples endlessly with the politics of fixity.

Pauline Eaton (Birkbeck) – ‘Marie NDiaye and J.M.W. Turner: A Dialogue Between Textual Narrative and Visual Image in La Naufragée
Pauline Eaton is in the third year of her PhD studies at Birkbeck, University of London. Her topic is the representation of motherhood in the work of Marie NDiaye and she recently delivered a paper at the Society of French Studies annual conference on the use of sound and silence in the depiction of maternal experience in NDiaye’s novel Rosie Carpe.

Marie NDiaye is a contemporary French writer whose work includes novels, theatre and film screenplay. Her commissioned short story La Naufragée (Paris: Éditions Flohic, 1999)sets 37 pages of text alternately with 37 colour plates taken from 27 of J.M W Turner’s paintings. The reader might expect, given this equal weighting, to discover at the very least a clear narrative or allegorical link between paintings and story if not an actual re-representation of the paintings in the text. However the text makes no direct reference to the content of the paintings and as these predate the text there can be no (intended) reverse ekphrasis. The story itself relates the fate of a mermaid ‘shipwrecked’ in France who becomes the unwilling inspiration of an English painter. Within a setting where myth and reality inhabit the same world – this siren sings in a fish market – the text asks painful questions about belonging and alienation, art and its creation, racism, brutality and the nature of power within relationships.

My paper analyses what the paintings in this short and as yet little commented work add to the text and argues that Marie NDiaye has reworked the concept of ekphrasis so that her narrative does succeed, in a certain sense, in describing and enhancing the visual images while the pictures in their turn infiltrate and explicate the text. There is a two-way flow. Ideas barely hinted at in the narrative acquire stronger dramatic force when the pictures and the subjects of the pictures are taken into consideration by the reader, and the text exposes in a diffuse, subtle and brilliant way the mystery of human perception and the violence of human experience that might be said to be the subject of the visual images.

Natalia Font (Exeter): ‘Interrogating the Ekphrastic Ambivalence: Angela Carter and Marosa di Giorgio’
Natalia is a PhD candidate at the University of Exeter where she is also a Teaching Assistant of Hispanic Studies. Her thesis, “Visual Elective Affinities: Angela Carter and Marosa di Giorgio”, concerns a comparative and interdisciplinary study of the works of the English writer and the Uruguayan poet, and the extent to which they engage with visual representations. She explores not only their ekphrastic texts but also how their literary iconology and verbal imagery is born in the intersection with visual works of art. Before starting her PhD in England, she was a Teaching Assistant of English literature at The University of the Republic in Uruguay where she collaborated in several conferences on transatlantic exchanges between Uruguayan and English writers. Currently, she is preparing the co-edition of the first book of essays on the work of Marosa di Giorgio in English.

In this paper I intend to pose questions on the contemporary skepticism that surrounds ekphrasis and that circumscribes it either to the realm of the utopian, the idolatrous or the fetishistic. Inspired by the “visual turn” of art history, W.J.T. Mitchell questions the validity of ekphrasis by means of denying its rhetoric and structural particularities: “ekphrastic poems speak to, for, or about visual works of art in the way texts in general speak about anything else”. Nonetheless, I would argue that there is room for a debate on considering ekphrasis to be more than a merely thematic issue affecting texts at their semantic level only. As a mode of composition and of intermedial connection, ekphrasis allows for the emergence of iconicity and for the intersection of the visual and the textual in a dialogical and productive representational milieu. On one hand, I will show how di Giorgio’s texts achieve iconicity by way of appropriating modes of composition of certain paintings or of pictorial styles, usually addressing their representational foundations and not necessarily describing the subject matter of the compositions. On the other hand, by studying Angela Carter’s “Come Unto These Yellow Sands” I show my doubts regarding the notion that the sole purpose of ekphrasis is ventriloquism of the image or verbal imperialism. Carter created a parodic and alternative version of Lessing’s understanding of media that plays with those ideas of the image as a timeless, mute and frozen narrative only to subvert them by the never-ending intrusion of humor and irony. Furthermore, Carter embraces the imagetextual heterogeneity of media whilst, at the same time, undermining Mitchell’s idea of ekphrasis as utopian.

Additionally, both writers interact with another technique of ekphrastic inspiration that I would call “counter-ekphrastic” as it opposes the ekphrastic “method”. Instead of conveying a verbal re-creation of a picture, sometimes they merely rely on the presence of a painting—invoked by a title, a striking reference or by naming the artist—precisely as a medium to avoid verbal description and to enhance the visual. If ekphrastic texts are defined as speaking to or for visual representations, these brief iconic references represent an alternative to the textual unfolding of characters and situations in the manner of fully accounted ekphrasis and by so doing they challenge the paragonal submission of one medium to the other.

Kate Symondson (KCL) – ‘Abstract Literature: Conrad’s Innovations in Representation’
Kate is currently researching for a PhD in English Literature at King’s College London, under the supervision of Professor Max Saunders. Her thesis focuses on innovations in representation in the early twentieth century. She looks at what she identifies as the realisation of the abstract aesthetic in the works of Joseph Conrad, E. M. Forster, Virginia Woolf, and James Joyce. She is now in her second year, and hopes to finish in the autumn of 2013.

Joseph Conrad’s mode of description is unusually obscure. Critics have tended to regard the mistiness of his visual renderings as indicative of a hidden truth, and seek, therefore, to reveal the texts’ latent depths. Monet once described the critics who misunderstood the Impressionists’ preference for obscurity as: ‘Poor blind idiots. They want to see everything clearly, even through the fog!’ Literary critics have likewise been guilty of this desire for elucidation, for visual clarity. The intellectual developments of the late nineteenth century, however, demonstrated that truth was not absolute, nor did it lie fixed and irrefutable beneath the chaos of existence. Human experience was, for many, undetermined, governed only by unfixed rules and relativity. To regard Conrad’s ambiguous style of writing to be the mark of a greater truth concealed beneath the text is to subscribe to the very intellectual traditions that he, and contemporary luminaries, were in the process of rejecting. A new methodology is needed.

Abstract representation in the plastic arts was developed in response to the various reconceptions and refigurings of reality and “truth”. With reference to concurrent works of various abstract painters (via PowerPoint), I demonstrate that to properly regard Conrad’s obscurity, it needs to be termed “abstract.” Conrad’s innovations in storytelling ought to establish him as a protagonist in the development of the abstract aesthetic, usually only associated with the pictorial arts. By using the theoretical and interpretative techniques associated with the study of abstract art, the inscrutable, incomprehensible aspects of Conrad’s writing are illuminated as expressive of the newly relativistic existence. The destabilization of “Truth” inspired a mistrust in the capability of language for full and true expression. Conrad’s literature enacts this uncertainty of meaning, as his conflation of conventionally opposed binaries – light and dark, good and evil, us and them – denies a communication based upon fixed terms and concrete language. Conrad developed this ostensibly obscure aesthetic as a means of expressing the visible world in terms of its relativity, its indeterminacy, its uncertainty. Through my illustration of the paradigmatic intersections between the plastic arts and literary language, this paper will demonstrate that both the aesthetics and theories of the two mediums are inextricably bound.

Claudia Tobin (Bristol) – ‘Nothing is really statically at rest’: DH Lawrence, Cézanne and the Still Life’
Claudia Tobin is a PhD candidate in English and History of Art at the University of Bristol. Her research on the still life in modernist art and literature explores the aesthetics of vibration, colour and rhythm across different media. She also works on various curatorial and research projects including the Tate Britain’s forthcoming exhibition, Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde; a monograph on the twentieth-century German exile artist, Walter Nessler; and contemporary artists at The Piper Gallery, London and Quest Gallery, Bath.

The still life is often considered a minor genre, yet D.H. Lawrence celebrates Cézanne’s still lifes as the works in which the painter avoids ‘cliché’ and achieves an intuitive perception, or to use Lawrence’s term, the ‘real appleyness’. Lawrence directs us to the potential for movement within stillness which dynamises this genre of painting and particularly appeals to the writer’s narrative impulse. The dialectic of stillness and movement is central to theories of aesthetics and ekphrasis and I shall explore the ways in which Lawrence picks up on the heightened nature of these conflicts within the ‘still life’ as manipulated by the modern painter. I shall consider how far Lawrence’s appreciation of Cezanne’s impulse ‘to fight the cliché, which says that the inanimate world is static’, corroborates Lawrence’s own project and vitalist aesthetic.

Through analysis of Lawrence’s critical writings I will suggest that Cezanne’s reanimation of the still life genre offers the writer an aesthetic model, which resists the polarities of stillness and movement and opens up a revolutionary mode of perception and consciousness, born out of attentiveness and foregrounding sense experience.Lawrence’s preoccupation with Cezanne’s ‘apple’, the subject of many of his ‘still lives’ resonates with modernist concerns about modes of attention, and I shall propose that the genre offers a paradigm which is significant to modernism and theories of aesthetic appreciation in the early twentieth century. I will also gesture towards the ways in which modern writers such as Virginia Woolf and Rainer Maria Rilke tap into a shared fascination with Cezanne’s ‘still lives’. Drawing on the small body of critical work relating to Lawrence’s aesthetics and Cezanne, I will probe Lawrence’s sense of the ‘shiftiness’ of ‘stillness’ and highlight related tensions between uneasiness and attraction in the responses of modern writers.

Dr. Lynsey McCulloch (Coventry) – ‘The Images Move in a Dance: Animated Statuary and Ekphrastic Motion in the Early Modern Masque’
Lynsey McCulloch completed her PhD – entitled ‘Animated Statuary in Early Modern Drama’ – at Anglia Ruskin University in 2010. She has recently submitted the manuscript of her first full-length book (Reinventing the Renaissance: Shakespeare and his Contemporaries in Adaptation and Performance, co-edited with Sarah Annes Brown and Robert Lublin) to Palgrave MacMillan. Her current research interests include the intersection of art and literature, the early modern sculptural frontispiece and the reworking of written texts as dance pieces. After teaching English Literature for several years at Anglia Ruskin University, she has taken up a new teaching position in the English Department at Coventry University.

In Thomas Middleton’s phenomenally popular 1634 drama, A Game at Chess, the real-life marriage negotiations between seventeenth-century England and Catholic Spain are allegorised as a chess match. The 1623 attempt by Prince Charles to marry the Spanish Infanta is subject to mocking satire by Middleton but the text is not simply a historical soap opera; using the extended metaphor of chess, the dramatist attempts a stunning visual experiment. English and

Spanish royalty are represented as sculptural chess pieces – with the White Knight as an analogue for Charles – and the play also contains a masque in which several statues are animated: ‘The images move in a dance’. The spectacle of vivified statuary is not unprecedented in the period. Shakespeare, Jonson and many other playwrights employ the device. Middleton departs from those writers, however, in his employment of dancing rather than straightforwardly moving or speaking statues. In doing so, he references the early modern court masque – a form generically positioned between drama, art, architecture, music and dance – and investigates ekphrasis at its most diverse and its most theatrically kinetic. This paper extends Middleton’s discussion to consider how the medium of theatre and the complicating factor of dance movement affect ekphrastic writing. It asks whether Leonard Barkan’s Neoplatonic appraisal of literary sculpture as ‘essence’ is complicated by the material conditions of stage performance and whether the enargeia – or liveliness – of Renaissance ekphrasis found its model of best practice in the figure of the motive statue.

Isil Cihan – ‘In the Light of New Ekphrastic Poetics: A Reading of My Name is Red
After studying English Language and Literature at Hacettepe University, Ankara. Isil Cihan received her MA in Translation at Bogazici University, Istanbul. She graduated from the programme with a thesis entitled The Turkish Cosmopolitan Magazine as Translation: An Analysis of Representations of Women. She worked as a researcher in the same department. Currently, she is a PhD student in the Comparative Literature programme at King’s College London being supervised by Dr Rosa Mugicnat. Her research interests include translation criticism, gender studies in translation, and Turkish literature.

Whilst ‘[t]raditionally, critics envisage ekphrasis as writing on art, a top-down suggestion that implies that the battle for mastery is already won (by the writer) contemporary ekphrastic poetics is revitalizing our understanding of the vivid, volatile relations between words and pictures’ (Susan Harrow: 2010 258-259). Written by 2006 Nobel Prize laureate Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk, My Name is Red suggests a new reading in the light of the new ekphrastic poetics. The paper intends to discuss the word-image relationship in My Name is Red. The novel takes place in sixteenth century Istanbul, which was then the capital city of the Ottoman Empire. The sultan requires his artists to prepare a secret book that contains Western style pictures in it. However, that was problematic at the time as painting except for miniature was forbidden in the Ottoman Empire, which had adopted Islamic tradition. A miniature did not stand for itself but only ornamented and completed writing. In other words, the word was superior to the image and the image served the word. However, being of an interdisciplinary nature, the novel searches for a way to collapse the word-image hierarchy (2011: 144). The paintings are narrated and the narrative is pictorialized. The two interlace and the boundaries blur. In that aspect, the statement of one of the major characters of the novel is striking: ‘Poetry and painting, words and colo[u]r, these things are brothers to each other, as you well know’ (2001: 134). Pamuk’s relationship with painting is also interesting. Having aimed to become a painter in his childhood and youth, he later on changed his mind for private and social reasons and decided to become a writer. Yet, the traces of his devotion to painting are visible in his works.

Dr. Sheetal Majithia (NYU Abu Dhabi) – ‘Postcolonial Ekphrasis and the Politics of the Rushdie Affair’
Sheetal Majithia is an Assistant Professor of Literature at NYU Abu Dhabi.  She received her B.A. in English and Middle East and Asian Languages and Civilizations from Columbia University (1994) and her Ph.D. in Comparative Literature, with concentrations in feminist, gender, and sexuality studies and in South Asian studies from Cornell University (2009). Previously, she was an Andrew W. Mellon Teaching Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania and a Visiting Assistant Professor of World Literature at the School of Humanities, Arts, and Cultural Studies at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. Her research and teaching areas include theories of modernity; globalization; comparative post-colonial literature, film, feminist, gender, and sexuality studies; cultural studies; and South Asian studies. She is the author of “Of Foreigners and Fetishes: A Reading of Recent South Asian American Fiction” in the South Asian Magazine for Action and Reflection. She is at work on a project on the relationship between melodrama and modernity.

Deepa Mehta’s film Midnight’s Children, a forthcoming adaptation of Salman Rushdie’s novel of the same name, prompts the exploration of how ekphrasis, in this case, the translation of visual tropes into the literary and again then into film, provides a model to examine the politics of representation that ground recent debates on the sacred and secular in postcolonial modernity. The global political fury over representations of sacred icons and personages in Rushdie‘s Satanic Verses (1988) and Saleem’s Story (1998), Rushdie’s banned screenplay adaptation of Midnight’s Children (1981), highlights the new importance of literary and visual representations as contestatory sites for re-evaluating the licenses and limits of secularism as a guarantor of pluralism, human rights, democracy, and critique.  Rushdie’s narrative preoccupations with film, painting, and photography dominate his work, constituting an imaginary field in which ekphrasis, serves to represent the mutually constitutive nature of the secular and sacred; rational and irrational; real and  fantastical; affective and corporeal.  I argue that ekphrasis indexes Indian mythological film traditions and Bollywood melodrama in Midnight’s Children and Satanic Verses, work not only to frame scenes formally through a use of cinematic terms but also to offer a basis for undestanding how circulation and consumption of these formal elements serve as “practices of the imagination” and exercises of public culture and political society.  In both novels, cinematic melodrama’s moral binarism is troped in the doubling and mirroring of the main characters Saleem and Gibreel who articulate a sense of vernacular modernity through melodramatic strategies of excess, coincidence, and impersonation.  The novels and the debates they engender suggest a politics of re-imaging co-existence, community, and citizenship presently disavowed by state secular politics.

Dr. Andrew Miller (University of Copenhagen) – ‘Dabydeen’s Turner: Reframing the Aura’
Dr. Andrew Miller completed his PhD through the Institute of English, German and the Romance Studies at the University of Copenhagen in 2010. His principal area of research is the ekphrasis of photography in modern poetry; however, he has recently had articles accepted on the subjects of Visual Dictionaries, American War Poetry and the poems of Herman Melville. He is an instructor of English at Copenhagen University.

The issue of ”re-framing ekphrasis” takes on another level of significance when we consider the relationship that exists between photographic reproductions of traditional works of art and poets who write to describe those works. It is a well-established fact that such modern ekphrases as William Carlos Williams’ “Pictures of Brueghel” and W.H. Auden’s “Musée des Beaux Arts” were written by way of photographic reproductions, but this fact has been largely forgotten (some might even say suppressed) in favor of considering these poems as celebrations of the paintings themselves. Indeed, most famous modern ekphrases are panegyrics of what Walter Benjamin terms so famously “the aura of traditional art” even while these poems approach these works by way of images of mechanical (more often than not digital) reproduction.  My paper will examine passages from David Dabydeen’s long poem “Turner” (2002) in order to indentify how Dabydeen’s post-colonial agendas are enhanced by his use of photographic reproductions. My argument is that, by including paratextual images such as close-ups of Turner’s painting Slave Ship (1840) and writing ekphrases of these images, Dabydeen’s poem challenges what Benjamin terms “the cult of authenticity” in Western art. In this way, the poem may be considered to reframe J.M.W. Turner’s painting and by consequence traditional perspectives of race, art and the conception of the artist.

Dr. Alison Fisch Katz (Jerusalem College of Engineering) – ‘In Pursuit of a Full Aesthetic: Ekphrasis in Tess of D’Urbervilles’
Alison Fisch Katz completed her PhD at the University of Leeds, UK, and is currently Head of Academic Studies in English at the Jerusalem College of Engineering, Israel. Her research interests include meta-cognition, word/image relations and religion. Currently she is working on a monograph that examines the practice of ekphrasis in Hardy and his contemporaries, as well as a documentary film on Judeo-Christian iconography, “Heaven’s Scent”. Her previous publications include articles in The Thomas Hardy Journal, Word & Image, and Literature & Theology.

Grounded in Lessing’s injunction for the separation of visual and verbal representations, ekphrasis has traditionally been described as a confrontational relationship between a whole host of hierarchical oppositions such as word and image, space and time, presence and absence, subject and object. However, despite the fact that no one has been able to obviate the basic opposition of time and space between the arts, I would posit that ekphrasis came into being for precisely the opposite reason: an attempt to conflate these dualisms in the pursuit of absolute knowledge. In the ‘lingering semiotic desire for the natural sign’, Murray Krieger claims in his 1992 study Ekphrasis: The Illusion of the Natural Sign that despite the ‘arbitrariness and temporal succession’ of language, the aspiration of ekphrasis is to transform the arbitrary sign employed by the verbal arts into the natural sign employed by visuality. The genre of ekphrasis thus argues for just the opposite claims of those stated in Lessing’s Laokoon. Instead of delimiting word and image within individual insulated spheres with separate properties and ‘rights’, ekphrasis is conceived as a dialectical field of interpretive activity whose indeterminacy is necessary in order to achieve a full aesthetic.

In this paper I interrogate the ekphrastic idiom in Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles (1891) and relate it to the aspirations of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood whose theories on art engaged Hardy intensely. The seemingly incompatible convergence of natural and arbitrary symbols in their art conflated the distance between object and subject, sight and insight – a conjunction that is, I submit, also achieved in the figure of Tess. Within her embodiment Hardy tests the boundary between public and private perception, causing it to collapse – and places in its stead an ekphrastic dialectic which at once humanizes and apotheosizes her.

Nina Shiel (Dublin City University) – ‘The Senses and Sensuality of Ekphrasis from the Painting to the Pixel’
Nina Shiel is a PhD researcher in Comparative Literature at Dublin City University, Ireland. Supported by the Irish Research Council (Humanities and the Social Sciences), her project focuses on ekphrasis in the digital contexts, particularly in prose narratives of the virtual. She is the postgraduate representative and web/social media assistant in the Executive Council of the Comparative Literature Association of Ireland (CLAI). She has presented at the annual meeting of the American Comparative Literature Association 2012 and organised a panel on Digital Transitions at Transitions 2012: The First International CLAI conference.  

In literary studies, ekphrasis is most often understood as referring to the mutually antagonist relationship that rises when written word seeks to represent a work of visual art. The written description is inspired by the acts and processes of looking and seeing. However, in terms of bringing to life of the visual in the mind’s eye, the evocation of the visual in ekphrasis can also employ references to other senses: hearing, taste, smell, touch, even the kinetic sense. The sensory experience creates thought and inspiration. In her work about ekphrasis as used in the Classical rhetoric, Webb has showed that much of verbal representation of the visual employs mental associations, memories and past experiences of the listeners/readers. This psychological process must also appeal to senses other than vision alone in order to (re-)create a powerful, affective, immersive experience of the original. Ekphrasis becomes not only a sensory, but a sensual, intimate experience.

This paper will suggest that an essential aspect of ekphrasis is the three-way communication between the visual, its verbal representation and the eventual reader/listener, who (re-)creates in his/her mind’s eye the original visual based on his/her own mental schemata. The verbal representation seeks not only to evoke the forms and colours of the visual, but to transfer a subjective set of emotions and associations in the ekphrasis to be experienced by the reader/listener. Specific examples of the senses and sensuality of ekphrasis will be compared from two different genres: Moira Egan’s poetry, which focuses on ‘traditional’ visual art such as painting and sculpture, and excerpts from recent prose narratives representing the digital visual in the form of immersive computer-generated graphics. Both types will be shown to appeal to more than one sense, and to fashion, by means of words, an emotional, sensual experience of the original visual.

Christine Fouirnaies (Oxford) – ‘Soul Mirrors and Dead Ends: Ekphrastic Portraits in The Idiot, The Picture of Dorian Gray and The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge
Christine is a PhD student in English at The University of Oxford. Her research focus is auto/biographical literature that utilises visual pictures. Her primary research interest has long been the relationship between visual and literary art. Most recently, she has studied the use of photographs in current autobiographical literature in Denmark and their relationship to electronic media and databases. She has also compared the use of photographs and biographical authority in André Breton’s Nadja and Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, and last year she gave a paper at the LINKS conference on “Post-Mortem Identities” comparing the representation of death and national identity in Juan Rulfo’s novel Pedro Páramo and José Guadalupe Posada’s skeleton cartoons. Before turning her eye to literature she wrote a thesis on the role of pictures in the construction of Iraq as a security threat. 

This paper explores the role of ekphrastic portraits in the narratives of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot (1868), Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891) and Rainer Maria Rilke’s The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge (1910). Special for this study of ekphrasis is its spotlight on portraiture. My concern is therefore not only the dynamics of ekphrasis, but also the peculiarities of portraiture. I argue that the ekphrastic portraits in all three novels function dialectically, oscillating between offering absolute subjectivity and withdrawing it. Ekphrasis and portraiture somewhat fulfill their respective etymological promises “to tell in full” and “draw forth” by delivering the absolute presence of an individual. The ekphrastic portraits in the novels can claim to be not ordinary mirrors, but mirrors of the soul, displaying an absolute subjectivity that is true and essential, immediate and eternal. However, both ekphrasis and portraiture have characteristics that are averse to principles of absolute being, presence and subjectivity. I demonstrate how ekphrastic portraits also can become vacuums in the narrative, sites of alterity and aporia where subjectivity is opaque and obscure, sometimes even obliterated. The ekphrastic portraits oscillate between promising presence, likeness and permanence and intimating absence, otherness and mortality. They act both as markers of absolute subjectivity, as magical mirrors of the soul, and as dead ends bringing an end to life, being and meaning. This dialecticism of the ekphrastic portraits adds an ambiguous and mysterious aura that in different ways nourishes the different themes of the novels.

Reframing Ekphrasis Programme

We are delighted to invite you to the first King’s College London Comparative Literature Graduate conference. Please email to register stating your name and the days you will be attending. Attendance is free and all are welcome!

“Reframing Ekphrasis”
King’s College London Comparative Literature Conference
8-9 November 2012

Keynote Speaker: Dr. Stephen Cheeke (Bristol) –
‘Transfiguration: Nineteenth-Century Ekphrasis’

Thurs. 8  November: 12.30 – 4.30, Room S8.08, King’s College London, Strand Campus

12.30 – 1.00: Registration and coffee

1.00 – 2.30: Panel 1: Classical to Early Modern Ekphrasis

– Daisy Dunn (UCL/Warburg Institute) – ‘Integrating Ekphrasis from Classical Text to Renaissance Image: Achilles Tatius Re-mastered’

– Stanislaus Kuttner-Homs (University of Caen) – ‘Beyond the Veil: Ekphrasis as Literary Empowerment in the De signis of Niketas Choniates’

– Beatrice Wilford (KCL) – ‘Adaptation as Ekphrasis: Derek Jarman’s Edward II

2.30 – 2.45: Break

2.45 – 4.15: Panel 2: Ekphrasis in Practice

– Angelina Ayers (Sheffield Hallam) – ‘Experiments in Ekphrasis’

– Rebecca Roach (Oxford) – ‘Through the Keyhole: Writers, Rooms and Representation’

– Joanne Brueton (UCL) – ‘“Toi et Sartre vous m’avez statufié”: Space, Art and Resistance in Jean Genet and Louise Bourgeois’

Friday 9 November: 9.00 – 6.00, River Room, King’s College London, Strand Campus

9.00 – 9.30: Registration, opening remarks, coffee

9.30 – 11.00: Panel 1: Ekphrasis at Play: Dialogues, Dialectics and Abstractions

– Pauline Eaton (Birkbeck) – ‘Marie NDiaye and Turner: A Silent Yet Complex dialogue Between Visual Image and Textual Narrative in La Naufragée

– Natalia Font (Exeter) – ‘Interrogating the Ekphrastic Ambivalence: Angela Carter and Marosa di Giorgio’

– Kate Symondson (KCL) – ‘Abstract Literature: Conrad’s Innovations in Representation’

11.00 – 11.15: Break

11.15 – 12.00: Keynote Speech – Dr. Stephen Cheeke (Bristol) – ‘Transfiguration: Nineteenth-Century Ekphrasis’

12.00 – 1.00: Lunch (own arrangements)

1.15 – 2.45: Panel 2: Ekphrastic Stasis and Movement

– Claudia Tobin (Bristol) – ‘Nothing is really statically at rest’: DH Lawrence, Cézanne and the Still Life’

– Amanda Cornwall (University of Oregon) – ‘Ut pictura poesis in George Elliot’s Middlemarch

– Dr. Lynsey McCulloch (Coventry) – ‘The Images Move in a Dance: Animated Statuary and Ekphrastic Motion in the Early Modern Masque’

2.45 – 3.00: Break

3.00 – 4.30: Panel 3: Postcolonial Ekphrases

– Isil Cihan – ‘In the Light of New Ekphrastic Poetics: A Reading of My Name is Red

– Dr. Sheetal Majithia (NYU Abu Dhabi) – ‘Postcolonial Ekphrasis and the Politics of the Rushdie Affair’

– Dr. Andrew Miller (University of Copenhagen) – ‘Dabydeen’s Turner: Reframing the Aura’

4.30 – 6.00: Panel 4: Subjectivity, the Senses, and Ekphrasis

– Dr. Alison Fisch Katz (Jerusalem College of Engineering) – ‘In Pursuit of a Full Aesthetic: Ekphrasis in Tess of D’Urbervilles’

– Nina Shiel (Dublin City University) – ‘The Senses and Sensuality of Ekphrasis from the Painting to the Pixel’

– Christine Fouirnaies (Oxford) – ‘Soul Mirrors and Dead Ends: Ekphrastic Portraits in The Idiot, The Picture of Dorian Gray and The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge

6.00: Wine reception

7.30: Dinner at Bedford and Strand Restaurant, Bedford St

Ekphrasis is a literary mode that spans the entire breadth of literature, from Achilles’s shield to Auden’s ‘Musée des Beaux Arts’. Defined by James Heffernan as “the verbal representation of graphic representation,” the referential scope of ekphrasis has expanded and contracted according to critical taste. In the light of the increasingly complex way contemporary scholars have come to view visual literacy and culture, ekphrasis once again demands reconsideration. The “visual turn” in criticism, alongside the upsurge of interest in digital and material cultures, has enlarged the boundaries of what representation entails, and has questioned its stability. In an age of interdisciplinarity, could ekphrasis provide a model for comparison that moves beyond binary encounters between discrete categories, such as national literature, art history, and the classics? Rather than sublating image to word, might we resituate ekphrasis as a multi-media negotiation of meaning and form?

In this conference, we are interested in questioning not only the nature of ekphrasis, but also the supposedly essential nature of representation. What dualisms, such as literature/visual arts, subject/authority, are implicit in traditional modes of ekphrasis, and how might other creative forms, like music, subvert this? What kinds of power structures or hierarchies are embedded in ekphrasis, and how might we negotiate these, especially in the light of post-colonial and transnational theory? What type of gaze does ekphrasis entail, and is this related to anxieties about the form? What other art forms might be included in ekphrastic poetics that would contribute to interdisciplinary modes of thinking, such as architecture, performance art, or digital media? How far can ekphrasis provide a self-reflexive model for comparison?

Potential topics for papers might include, but are not limited to:

– Literature as a translation of the visual
– Ekphrasis and the Modern Languages
– Ekphrastic hierarchies: word/image, dominant/submissive, etc.
– Taste and aesthetics
– Relations of space and time in ekphrasis
– Stasis and movement
– The reverse: art depicting literature
– Anxieties of ekphrasis
– Ekphrasis in the digital age reproduction
– Music and ekphrasis
– New media and ekphrasis
– Icononology and iconoclasm
– Metapictures
– Architecture and ekphrasis

We invite proposals for 20 minute papers exploring any aspect of ekphrasis as an inherently comparative mode. Please send abstracts of 300 words plus a short biography to Deadline for abstracts is 31st July 2012. We will inform participants of acceptance by 15th August 2012.

Organising Committee:
Zoë Roth
Anne Mulhall
Jane Maxwell
Isil Cihan