Museum of Words: The Poetics of Ekphrasis from Homer to Ashbery
As ancient as Homer's lines on the shield of Achilles and as recent as John Ashbery's "Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror, " ekphrasis is the art of ... Show synopsis As ancient as Homer's lines on the shield of Achilles and as recent as John Ashbery's "Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror, " ekphrasis is the art of describing works of art, the verbal representation of visual representation. Over the ages its practitioners have created a museum of words about real and imaginary paintings and sculptures. In the first book ever to explore this museum, James Heffernan argues that ekphrasis stages a battle for mastery between the image and the word. Profoundly ambivalent, ekphrastic poetry celebrates the power of the silent image even as it tries to circumscribe that power with the authority of the word. The contest between the two is typically gendered: the voice of male speech striving to control a female image that is both alluring and threatening, the pressure of male narrative seeking to overcome the fixating impact of beauty poised in space. Moving from the epics of Homer, Virgil, and Dante to contemporary American poetry, this book treats the history of ekphrasis as a history of struggle between rival systems of representation. The book also shows how this struggle changes. Poets ranging from Ovid to Shakespeare use verbalized depictions of rape to show the violence men do under the "color" of their words; romantic poetry at once salutes and questions the transcendent beauty of visual art preserved in the newly born public museum. In the modern and postmodern eras, poets contend with all the words generated by museums themselves to regulate our experience of visual art. Readable and well illustrated, this book is a major contribution to our understanding of the relation between the arts.