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Ekphrastic Conceptualism in Postmodern British and American Novels

Don DeLillo, Paul Auster and Tom McCarthy


Jarosław Hetman

The relationship between the arts has fascinated people for centuries. Discussing the ancient notion of ekphrasis, this study examines the interpenetration of literary and non-literary art. Traditionally, ekphrasis is defined as a rhetorical device for the poetic description of a painting or a sculpture that has been steadily gaining attention in literary studies since the mid-twentieth century. Taking a close look at the works of Don DeLillo, Paul Auster and Tom McCarthy, the author demonstrates how ekphrasis is useful for reading contemporary novels that feature non-representative, conceptual works of art.
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Chapter Two: Enriching the Novel: Ekphrasis in Don DeLillo’s Prose


Chapter Two:  Enriching the Novel: Ekphrasis in Don DeLillo’s Prose


Don DeLillo’s works are a prime example of the interpenetration of literature and conceptual art in contemporary Anglophone culture for at least two reasons. Firstly, his works offer a wide selection of ekphrastic depictions of conceptual works of art of various subgenres and present them from diverse perspectives. This renders an analytical account of the issue comprehensive and reliable. Secondly, the way in which conceptual works of art function within DeLillo’s novels, although innovative in certain respects, is closer to the well-established tradition of ekphrasis than in the case of Paul Auster and Tom McCarthy, whose works are discussed in the following chapters of this study. According to numerous critical accounts, as shall be shown below, DeLillo’s writing successfully combines qualities characteristic of postmodernist techniques with those developed by the preceding generations of modernist authors. Analyzing DeLillo’s viewpoint on conceptual art helps to understand the more experimental texts by Auster and McCarthy. A logical progression between these authors is based on the following observation: DeLillo is a writer who is also an enthusiast of conceptual art, Auster is a novelist who is known to have engaged in artistic collaboration with a conceptualist, Sophie Calle, and McCarthy had been a conceptual artist before he became known as a writer. This selection shows that there are different degrees of interpenetration between literature and conceptual art, and each of the chapters presents this phenomenon from a different perspective....

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