Ekphrasis and Laocoön digressions in the novel
Catriona MacLeod

Gotthold Ephraim Lessing’s Laocoön essay of 1766 has long been understood as a pivotal moment in the demarcation of the spatializing properties of the plastic arts versus the temporal or narrative properties of literature. This chapter examines the long afterlife of this essay as it reappears as a discursive ‘foreign body’ (akin to and implicating ekphrasis) within a number of novels of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Going beyond strong critical readings of ekphrases as hostile stand-offs between text and image, however, my analysis of works such as Wilhelm Heinse’s Ardinghello (1787) and Adalbert Stifter’s Der Nachsommer (Indian Summer, 1857), will show how, in case of Heinse, the ventriloquizing of Lessing leads to a dynamic novel that is nevertheless saturated with ekphrastic description. Stifter’s novel allows ekphrasis to spread out from its centre, creating an experimentally sclerotic narrative. These hauntings by Lessing reveal not only the entanglement of the modern novel with theories and histories of representation but also its observational stance on its own and the reader’s mediation.

in Ekphrastic encounters