Ekphrasis: The Illusion of the Natural Sign
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"Since he published his wonderful 1967 essay on ekphrasis, or the literary depiction of visual art, Krieger has been wrestling with the larger implications of the genre for a theory of how it manifests itself. In this thoughtful and thought-provoking book, he forcefully grapples with the ancient paradox that words in time can seem to create images in space....This work of abundant intelligence patiently unfolds the many puzzles and contradictions of ekphrasis, from the shield of Achilles to post-modernism."--Virginia Quarterly Review.
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. Heargues 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."