Edited By Ruben Moi, Brynhildur Boyce and Charles Armstrong
Proud and Wayward: W. B. Yeats, Aesthetic Engagement and the Hugh Lane Pictures
Poems dealing with the visual arts have often been interpreted as if they exist in a rarefied space, separated from the surrounding cultural and political struggles. They have traditionally been seen as establishing a tension between opposites such as word and image, discursive movement and iconic stillness, and time and space. The resulting dichotomies can be described as engaging in a form of conflict, as in W. J. T. Mitchell’s account of the paragonal struggle between the arts, where they compete for supremacy and mutual domination – a struggle that bears a close resemblance to the Bloomian conception of the anxiety of influence.1 Alternatively, the encounter between word and image can also be seen as involving a more harmonious act of acknowledgment or sharing. Either way, however, the dualities involved risk ossifying into more or less stereotypical and classificatory gestures, limiting the possibilities of the ekphrastic poem – the poem making a representation of a visual representation – to a predictable and narrow set of options. Arguably, a more open-ended and nuanced critical reading is made possible if one allows the ekphrastic moment to interact with its contextual frame.2 There is an analogy of sorts, here, to how Martin Heidegger questioned the subjective/objective duality of traditional aesthetics by placing it within the more encompassing framework ← 129 | 130 → of what he called die Lichtung, or ‘the clearing’.3 Typically, recent critical approaches to ekphrasis have chosen a less philosophical route, stressing how the encounter between poem and artwork takes place within the institutional...
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