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The homeless fight back

The politics of homeless resistance

Series:

Sean Parson

Chapter 5 turns to the activism and politics of anarchist homeless activists in resisting the city’s attempts to exclude the homeless. I turn to two important political theorists to make sense of the resistance of Food Not Bombs: Jacques Rancière and Eduardo Glissant. Rancière’s short piece “Ten theses on politics” provides a powerful understanding of the way that disruptive actions and resistance expand political space, while Glissant’s idea of right to opacity examines the complex relationship of violence, power, and visibility. The chapter argue that the homeless have a right to opacity from the state, and state surveillance, and that the homeless should only be as visible as they want to be. This means that public occupations, political protests, and public meals are legitimate forms of visibility, which respect the right of the homeless to be opaque, while programs such as San Francisco’s Matrix plan are a coercive form of violence.

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The graphics of ekphrastic writing

Raymond Pettibon’s drawing-writing

Tilo Reifenstein

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.

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Stephen Cheeke

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.

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‘Fabulously counterfeit’

Ekphrastic encounters in Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy

Richard Meek

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.

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Ekphrastic encounters

New interdisciplinary essays on literature and the visual arts

Edited by: David Kennedy and Richard Meek

This book offers a comprehensive reassessment of ekphrasis: the verbal representation of visual art. In the past twenty-five years numerous books and articles have appeared covering different aspects of ekphrasis, with scholars arguing that it is a fundamental means by which literary artists have explored the nature of aesthetic experience. However, many critics continue to rely upon the traditional conception of ekphrasis as a form of paragone (competition) between word and image. This interdisciplinary collection seeks to complicate this critical paradigm, and proposes a more reciprocal model of ekphrasis that involves an encounter or exchange between visual and textual cultures. This critical and theoretical shift demands a new form of ekphrastic poetics, which is less concerned with representational and institutional struggles, and more concerned with ideas of ethics, affect, and intersubjectivity. The book brings together leading scholars working in the fields of literary studies, art history, modern languages, and comparative literature, and offers a fresh exploration of ekphrastic texts from the Renaissance to the present day. The chapters in the book are critically and methodologically wide-ranging; yet they share an interest in challenging the paragonal model of ekphrasis that has been prevalent since the early 1990s, and establishing a new set of theoretical frameworks for exploring the ekphrastic encounter.

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Ekphrasis/exscription

Jean-Luc Nancy on thinking and touching art

Johanna Malt

The chapter explores the double quality of the image via the work of the contemporary French philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy, notably through his notions of ‘exscription’ and touch. In Nancy’s thought, signification and presence, the readable and the visible are articulated in a relation of mutual touching and withdrawal that is lateral, metonymic, and works in both directions. And if this is what W. J. T. Mitchell might term an ambivalent account of ekphrasis, it is not a relation of indifference. Rather, the signifying surface and its non-signifying other are turned towards one another in a non-appropriating embrace. If ekphrasis is a writing-out, it is only in so far as all writing exscribes. And if the image is written out in ekphrasis, the image in its turn exscribes something within it – that which is not reducible to signification. Each mode is inaccessible from within the other, but, in Nancy’s thinking of ekphrasis, they press up against each other at the surface where they meet.

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Cooking up a revolution

Food Not Bombs, Homes Not Jails, and resistance to gentrification

Series:

Sean Parson

On Labor Day in 1988 two hundred hungry and homeless people went to Golden Gate Park in search of a hot meal, while fifty-four activists from Food Not Bombs, surrounded by riot police, lined up to serve them food. The riot police counted twenty-five served meals, the legal number allowed by city law before breaking permit restrictions, and then began to arrest people. The arrests proceeded like an assembly line: an activist would scoop a bowl of food and hand it to a hungry person. A police officer would then handcuff and arrest that activist. Immediately, the next activist in line would take up the ladle and be promptly arrested. By the end of the day fifty-four people had been arrested for “providing food without a permit.” These arrests were not an aberration but part of a multi-year campaign by the city of San Francisco against radical homeless activists. Why would a liberal city arrest activists helping the homeless? In exploring this question, the book uses the conflict between the city and activists as a unique opportunity to examine the contested nature of urban politics, homelessness, and public space, while developing an anarchist alternative to liberal urban politics, which is rooted in mutual aid, solidarity, and anti-capitalism.

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Coda

Theses on homelessness, public space, and urban resistance

Series:

Sean Parson

In the Coda, the lessons and theoretical positions of the entire document are condensed into four short theses, which can start a conversation around the role and politics of a radical homeless urban politics within the context of the twenty-first-century capitalist political economy and the rise of Trumpism in the United States.

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Close encounters of the third kind

Hamo Thornycroft’s The Mower and Matthew Arnold’s ‘Thyrsis’

Jane Thomas

This chapter applies the idea of a non-hierarchical, creative exchange of meaning to Hamo Thornycroft’s 1884 sculpture of The Mower, and its accompanying epigraph from Matthew Arnold’s 1866 elegy for the poet Arthur Hugh Clough: ‘Thyrsis’. The chapter argues that sculpture and epigraph, taken together, constitute a third intermedial artwork in which the compromised relationship between the aesthetic act and the desire to apprehend the ‘real’ is manifested through a complex series of textual and, more importantly, genre citations – including classicism, naturalism, realism, pastoral elegy and Romantic lyric. These coalesce and interrogate each other in this most ‘realistic’ and ‘democratic’ of Thornycroft’s sculptures to date, establishing a competitive and a co-relational dialogue that is enacted on and by the body of the artwork. Placed in the context of social, industrial and political developments in the later decades of the nineteenth century, sculpture and epigraph combine to reveal ethical, ideological, and moral dimensions that might otherwise remain hidden in what Stephen Cheeke has described as ‘the sensuous field of the visual’ and the logocentric pretensions of the verbal.

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Bolt cutters and the politics of expropriation

Homes Not Jails, urban squatting, and gentrification

Series:

Sean Parson

Chapter 6 looks at the response from the Jordan administration on Food Not Bombs’ sister organization, Homes Not Jails, which illegally housed the homeless in abandoned buildings. In interviews with people involved in both Food Not Bombs and Homes Not Jails, I was often told stories of police leniency with the squatters, something that was unheard of for Food Not Bombs’ actions. This differential treatment concerns the political nature of space and the city’s desire to hide the homeless from public view. Because the city wanted to push the homeless into private space, Homes Not Jails, by illegally housing the homeless in abandoned houses, ended up unintentionally working to help the Jordan administration achieve part of his public space goal. This chapter argues that city agencies react to autonomous political projects differently depending on whether they erupt in what the state defines as public or private space.