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Ekphrastic encounters in Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy

This chapter examines the figure of ekphrasis in Thomas Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy, and focuses on the so-called ‘Painter scene’ that appears in the 1602 quarto. This is the most obviously ekphrastic moment in the play, in which its protagonist, Hieronimo, encounters a Painter and commissions a visual artwork based on his plight. Critics of the play have tended to rely upon the traditional conception of ekphrasis as paragone, and argue that the representational contest implicit in this scene ultimately demonstrates the superiority of drama. By contrast, this chapter seeks to question the paragonal model of ekphrasis, and argues that The Spanish Tragedy highlights drama’s interdependence with, rather than superiority to, other forms of representation. The chapter also suggests that the play’s interest in ekphrasis opens up larger questions about borrowing, imitation, and collaboration. The Spanish Tragedy highlights the illusionistic aspects of theatrical representation, and its reliance upon a cunning juxtaposition of various forms of ‘counterfeit’ art.

in Ekphrastic encounters

This chapter considers literary responses to one of the most famous Renaissance images of all: the supposed portrait of Beatrice Cenci (long misattributed to Guido Reni), a major nineteenth-century tourist attraction in Rome. Hawthorne was the writer most obsessively drawn to the portrait, in which he sought to read an original innocence and an innocence regained or redeemed after terrible experience. Beatrice’s portrait therefore presents Hawthorne firstly with what he took to be a type of feminine knowledge; this he aligned with the image as opaque, mysterious, functioning at a level that evades analysis. Hawthorne then proceeds to connect this to the theology of the fortunate fall; that is, to a Christian concept not easily given verbal formulation or summary, one in fact representing a fundamental mystery in time. For Hawthorne, the light of Beatrice Cenci’s face signified the paradox of her having undergone an essential change to her being, though one in which she remained fundamentally the same. The focus of this chapter is Hawthorne’s struggle in The Marble Faun to make sense of this idea – to define just what it is Beatrice Cenci knows; and how she has come to know it.

in Ekphrastic encounters
Raymond Pettibon’s drawing-writing

This chapter focuses on ekphrastic writing in the work of the American artist Raymond Pettibon – mostly pen-and-ink drawings with varying amounts of written texts – in order to explore and question the implicit opposition between the verbal and the visual that underlies many critical definitions of ekphrasis. It demonstrates how Pettibon introduces textual fragmentation and nonlinearity through his complex responses to and paraphrasing of ekphrastic authors, which opens up writing to the contingencies usually associated with drawing. Similarly, Pettibon’s texts are surveyed for typographic, orthographic, and chirographic characteristics, which emphasize writing’s status as simultaneously visual and verbal. The artist’s texts thus appear as though they have been written twice – graphically and verbally – marking them both inside and outside language. This transgressive power of the graphic in writing is traced via Jacques Derrida’s notion of the trait, that stroke or feature crucially linked to the gaze, which marks the space between the visible and invisible. The chapter proposes that this quality makes Pettibon’s work reducible to neither the discourse of language nor that of the image.

in Ekphrastic encounters
Ekphrasis and historical materiality in Shakespeare’s The Rape of Lucrece

In his 1594 narrative poem The Rape of Lucrece, Shakespeare uses ekphrasis to explore a shift in the early modern understanding of history. Of the many changes he made to the Lucrece story, he added a 200-line ekphrasis of a picture depicting the fall of Troy. While appearing at first glance to celebrate the idea of an illusionistic experience that makes the past seem fully alive, Shakespeare’s ekphrasis draws our attention to the fragmented things that supposedly evoke this fantasy – the ‘thousand lamentable objects’. In so doing, Shakespeare explores a new notion of history that is built from material fragments. These fragments are silent, but in a manner that is paradoxically expressive. In Shakespeare’s ekphrasis, Lucrece relates to the image of Hecuba not despite its brokenness and objectness, but rather because of them. The poem in this way constructs an early modern encounter where broken subject meets broken object.

in Ekphrastic encounters
A critical exchange between Émile Zola and Édouard Manet

This chapter explores how Émile Zola’s ekphrastic writings about Édouard Manet’s paintings functioned as a template on which the writer imposed his evolving theories of the naturalist novel. It argues that, while Zola championed Manet in his critical reviews of the artist’s works, he did so in the name of naturalism and the scientific objectivity and analysis naturalism promoted. Moreover, it seems likely that Manet would have read Zola’s 1868 preface to Thérèse Raquin, where the author first mandated his naturalist theories. The chapter asks what Manet would have thought about Zola’s subjugation of painting to writing and his refusal of meaningful content in his art. It proposes that Manet painted Zola’s portrait in 1868 as a response to the critic’s misinterpretation of the painter’s artistic method. Manet’s portrait of Zola also reveals how the artist, in turn, appropriated the writer and his writing to his own artistic agenda, the subsequent manifestations of which culminate in Manet’s final masterpiece, A Bar at the Folies Bergère (1882).

in Ekphrastic encounters
Ekphrasis, readers, ‘iconotexts’

This chapter defines ekphrasis concisely as ‘the verbal representation of real or fictive configurations composed in a non-kinetic visual medium’. It rejects narrower definitions that exclude texts on non-representational visual configurations, including architecture, or restrict the discourse to literary texts representing works of art. But with its emphasis on the text, the concise definition unduly reinforces the consideration of ekphrasis as a form of ‘intermedial transposition’ in contemporary discourse on intermedial relations. An ekphrastic text should be primarily approached as the record of a viewer’s interpretive encounter with a non-kinetic visual configuration, which may not actually contain anything that has been ‘transposed’ from the image. This viewer may be the persona of a poem, a figure in a prose narrative, or an art critic. It is the reader’s task to construct these viewers in the interpretation of any ekphrastic text. But the role of the reader has not received much attention. This includes the question of the immediate mental reception of ekphrastic texts. The critical construct of ‘iconotexts’, suggesting that such verbal texts spontaneously trigger a mental visual image for the informed reader, is problematic, and even in a more general sense the term may be of limited critical use.

in Ekphrastic encounters
Jonathan Richardson’s ekphrastic ‘Dissertation’ on Poussin’s Tancred and Erminia

This chapter considers Jonathan Richardson’s critical ‘Dissertation’ on Poussin’s painting Tancred and Erminia (c. 1633) as both analysis and ekphrastic representation. It focuses on Richardson’s keen interest in the artist’s visual interpretations of, and additions to, Tasso’s great Italian epic poem, Gerusalemme liberata (1581). It becomes clear that both the French painter and the English critic know the Italian poem well; it is far less certain, however, whether the intended English readership would have shared similar first-hand knowledge of either the picture or its literary source. Richardson’s paragone of the two forms is intended to emphasize Poussin’s ability ‘to make use of the Advantages This Art has over that of his Competitor’; problematically, however, the pre-eminence of the visual medium in this specific example can only be attested to by means of a sustained verbal comparison of the painting and its poetic source, which ultimately seems to imply a more complex, symbiotic relationship in the encounter between the visual and literary arts than Richardson initially admits.

in Ekphrastic encounters
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Contemporary art, urban culture, and the fashioning of global Shanghai

Shanghai, long known as mainland China’s most cosmopolitan metropolis, has recently re-emerged as a global capital. Above sea: Contemporary art, urban culture, and the fashioning of global Shanghai offers the first in-depth examination of turn of the twenty-first-century Shanghai-based art and design—from state-sponsored exhibitions to fashionable cultural complexes to cutting-edge films and installations. This book offers a counter-touristic view of one of the world’s fastest developing megacities, one that penetrates the contradictions and buried layers of specific locales and artifacts of visual culture. Informed by years of in-situ research, including interviews with artists and designers, the book looks beyond contemporary art’s global hype to reveal persistent socio-political tensions accompanying Shanghai’s explosive transitions from semi-colonial capitalism to Maoist socialism to Communist Party–sponsored capitalism. Analyses of exemplary design projects such as Xintiandi and Shanghai Tang and artworks by Liu Jianhua, Yang Fudong, Gu Wenda, and others reveal how Shanghai’s global aesthetics construct glamorizing artifices that mask historically rooted cross-cultural conflicts between vying notions of foreign-influenced modernity versus anti-colonialist nationalism, and the city’s repressed socialist past versus its consumerist present. The book focuses on Shanghai-based art and design from the 1990s–2000s, the decades of the city’s most rapid post-socialist development, while also attending to pivotal Republican and Mao-era examples. Challenging the “East-meets-West” clichés that characterize discussions of urban Shanghai and contemporary Chinese art, this book illuminates critical issues facing today’s artists, architects, and designers and provides an essential field guide for students of art, design, art history, urban studies, and Chinese culture.

Chapter 3 investigates the turn of the twenty-first-century global expansion of Shanghai’s contemporary art vis-à-vis the first international iteration of China’s premier contemporary art event, the Chinese Communist Party-sponsored 2000 Shanghai. The chapter theorizes biennialization-as-banalization vis-à-vis contemporary exhibition practices and the promotion of contemporary Chinese art. The chapter argues that the Shanghai Biennial’s curators’ hopes of harnessing the spirit of Shanghai were ultimately supplanted by a generic brand of global contemporary art that neglected the city’s unique historical features and current concerns. This chapter then examines critical responses to the 2000 Shanghai Biennial and critiques of the global positioning of Shanghai’s contemporary art as seen in Ai Weiwei and Feng Boyi’s counter-exhibition “Fuck Off” and in two related works by artists Zhou Tiehai and Yang Fudong.

in Above sea
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Forgotten corners
in Above sea