It is common to claim that the recent surge in scholarship on ekphrasis has been stimulated by the pervasive presence of the image in what is broadly—if vaguely—referred to as “new media.” However, also in the “old” medium of print and its primary embodiment, the codex, images now circulate with unparalleled intensity. The rich presence of images in contemporary fiction galvanizes anew the question of ekphrastic practices and word-image interactions: what is the “visual-textual” contract in the case of novels in which images are reproduced? What patterns of mobility are there between image and text? How exactly does the narrative engage with the image that is embedded in it? These questions inform my analysis of how ekphrasis is reshaped in a highly unorthodox novel, Important Artifacts and Personal Property from the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris, Including Books, Street Fashion, and Jewelry (2009) by Leanne Shapton. Accentuating its own visuality, the novel systematically sets words against the reproduced pictures, playfully testing the limits of ekphrasis. Above all, Important Artifacts raises the question of the logic that binds the succession of images and the related ekphrastic moments. My reading is inspired by Liliane Louvel’s (2011) concept of a “picture gallery novel”, Tamar Yacobi’s (2013) work on “double exposure”, and Emma Kafalenos’s (2012) concern with narrativization of sequences of images. I propose to supplement their work with the concept of assemblage as a productive way of speaking about “pictured” ekphrasis.
Testing the Limits: Leanne Shapton’s Ekphrastic Assemblage
Danuta Fjellestad is professor of American literature at Uppsala University. Her publications include, among others, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Gravity’s Rainbow: A Study in Duplex Fiction (1986) and Eros, Logos, and (Fictional) Masculinity (1998), articles on autobiography, intermediality, and multimodal novels, as well as several collections of essays that she has edited or coedited, the latest being The Futures of the Present: New Directions in (American) Literature (2017). She is currently completing a book project on “Culture of Bookish Surplus, or Multimodal American Fiction Today”.
Danuta Fjellestad; Testing the Limits: Leanne Shapton’s Ekphrastic Assemblage. Poetics Today 1 June 2018; 39 (2): 337–357. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/03335372-4324493
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