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Mitchell, Ekphrasis and the Other (abstract)

  • W. J. T. Mitchell, "Ekphrasis and the Other." Picture Theory. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1994. 000–000.

    POSITIONING HISdescriptions of ekphrastic experience among a scale of three points ("ekphrastic indifference, ekphrastic hope and ekphrastic fear"), Mitchell identifies the concept with a fundamental tendency in all linguistic expression through imagination and metaphor. The stated goal of ekphrastic hope might be called "the overcoming of others." According to Mitchell, "ekphrastic fear is the moment of resistance or counterdesire that occurs when we sense that the difference between the verbal and visual representation might collapse and the figurative, imaginary desire of ekphrasis might be realized literally and actually." Mitchell leads readers through specific discussions of Williams, Keats, Stevens and especially Shelley, reading the manuscript poem "On the Medusa of Leonardo Da Vinci in the Florentine Gallery" into his argument. Of this poem he says, "If ekphrasis, as a verbal representation of a visual representation, is an attempt to repress or ‘take dominion’ over language’s graphic Other, then Shelley’s Medusa is the return of that repressed image, teasing us out of thought with a vengeance." In discussing this poem Mitchell argues that gender is one among many figures of difference that energize the dialectic of the imagetext. Mitchell (like Murray Krieger) suggest that ekphrastic digressions aim to be all of literature in miniature. Mitchell thinks that ekphrasis is "one of the keys to difference within language (both ordinary and literary) and that it focuses the interarticulation of perceptual, semiotic, and social contradictions within verbal representation." (Jean Jacobson.)

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Michael Hancher
Department of English, University of Minnesota
URL: <http://mh.cla.umn.edu/txtimjj6.html>
Comments to: mh@umn.edu

Created 24 November 1997
Revised 7 May 2000