Museum of Words: The Poetics of Ekphrasis from Homer to Ashbery

University of Chicago Press, 2004 - 249 páginas
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. Over the ages its practitioners have created a museum of words about real and imaginary paintings and sculptures - a museum that James Heffernan explores in this book. Profoundly ambivalent, ekphrastic poetry celebrates the power of the image even as it tries to circumscribe that power with the authority of the word. This contest is typically gendered: the voice of male speech striving to control a female image that is both alluring and threatening, 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 presents a history of struggle between rival systems of representation. Heffernan 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 "colour" 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.

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Chapter One HOMER VIRGIL DANTE A Genealogy of Ekphrasis
Chapter Two WEAVING RAPE Ekphrastic Metamorphoses of the Philomela Myth from Ovid to Shakespeare
Chapter Three ROMANTIC EKPHRASIS Iconophobia Iconophilia and the Ideology of Transcendence
Chapter Four MODERN AND POSTMODERN EKPHRASIS Entering the Museum of Art
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James A. W. Heffernan is a professor of English at Dartmouth College.

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