Ekphrasis: The Illusion of the Natural Sign
What, in apparently pictorial poetry, do words--can words--represent? Conversely, how can words in a poem be picturable? After decades of reading and thinking about the nature and function of literary representation, Murray Krieger here develops his most systematic theoretical statement out of answers to such questions. Ekphrasis is his account of the continuing debates over meaning in language from Plato to the present. Krieger sees the modernist position as the logical outcome of these debates but argues that more recent theories radically question the political and aesthetic assumptions of the modernists and the 2,000-year tradition they claim to culminate. Krieger focuses on ekphrasis--the literary representation of visual art, real or imaginary--a form at least as old as its most famous example, the shield of Achilles verbally invented in the Iliad. He argues that the "ekphrastic principle" has remained enduringly problematic in that it reflects the resistant paradoxes of representation in words. As he examines the conflict between spatial and temporal, between vision-centered and word-centered metaphors, Krieger reveals how literary theory has been shaped by the attempts and the deceptive failures of language to do the job of the "natural sign". "What is being described in ekphrasis is both a miracle and a mirage: a miracle because a sequence of actions filled with befores and afters such as language alone can trace seems frozen into an instant's vision, but a mirage because only the illusion of such an impossible picture can be suggested by the poem's words. .. We may see it as the poem's miracle, and that seeing is our mirage. This peculiar--and paradoxical--jointly producedexperience of ekphrasis allows it to function as the consummate example of the verbal art, the ultimate shield beyond shields".
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