This introduction briefly surveys the current expansion of ekphrasis in terms of genres, visual objects, modes of writing, and cues for reader response. Drawing on suggestions from the subsequent individual essays that provide categories for organizing the great variety of ekphrases, such as pictured and picture-less, mimetic and transformed, notional and actual, abbreviated and described, printed and screen, canonical artwork and non-art image, narrative and poetic ekphrasis, the introduction further discusses ekphrastic theories with a specific focus on their relevance to its practices and cultural functions in the present media ecology. Despite its increasing frequency in recent years, theoretical conceptualizations have largely remained committed to traditional paradigms, such as competition (“paragone”) and representation (Heffernan 1993: 1). What appears to be wanting is a revival of rhetorical and performative understandings of ekphrasis that can augment theoretical conceptualizations and bring them into line with the participatory and hybrid practices of ekphrasis today. Increasingly, what used to be a central aim of ekphrasis — the description of an artwork — has been replaced by modes of rewriting the artwork and in the process questioning accepted meanings, values, and beliefs, not just relating to the particular artwork in question but referencing the ways of seeing and the scopic regimes of the culture at large. Since these changes in writing and reading practices tend toward increasing the participation of the reader, a more meta-representational and rhetorical conceptualization of ekphrasis is desirable. From a functional perspective, I argue that the traditional purpose of ekphrasis to interrogate ways of seeing has acquired new urgency in today’s media landscape.

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