Love calls us to defenseless things: How ekphrasis enriches the arts
This dissertation explores ekphrasis both as practice and as literary/aesthetic critical theory. It identifies its Greek origins, as well as advances its definition from the Oxford English Dictionary (1715) as “a plain declaration or interpretation of a thing,” to Heffernan's postmodern definition: “a verbal representation of visual representation.” It discusses Lessing's seminal ideas, particularly his call for separation between painting and poetry. Hagstrum's “pictorialist” tradition and “cross-artistic correspondences” are addressed. More recent critical debate on ekphrasis is discovered in Krieger who echoes Lessing's “classical good sense.” W. J. T. Mitchell, Heffernan, Hollander and Shapiro further advance ekphrastic theory. Mitchell's idea for “a second phase of fascination,” what he calls “ekphrastic hope” emphasizes the goal of this dissertation.
In order to apply practice to theory, four of William Carlos Williams ekphrastic poems are explicated: “Portrait of a Lady,” “The Peasant Dance,” “Haymaking” and “The Corn Harvest.” These poems show how a poet like Williams uses ekphrasis to emphasize his own poetic theories. Since this is a creative dissertation, I wrote forty ekphrastic poems in response to paintings, sketches, and photographs ranging from the Fifteenth Century to the Present. Essays on the art or artists set the work in an historical context.
Ekphrasis enriches the arts because it “makes us see” as Mitchell reminds us in Picture Theory. This dissertation demonstrates how the struggle between the static image of space and the poet living in time resolves itself through the creative spark generated between art and artist. Ekphrasis uses the concrete thing as an agreed upon presentation, but not necessarily as an agreed upon representation. This dissertation joins word and image without privileging one over the other.
Ekphrasis expands the arts by juxtaposing the image and word in order to ask the questions: What does this art suggest to you, what are your associations to it—the comparisons of this next to that, or this is like that, or this produces that and invites others into the discussion.
0377: Art history