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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 Three: Conceptualizing the Novel: Ekphrasis in Paul Auster’s Poetics


Chapter Three:  Conceptualizing the Novel: Ekphrasis in Paul Auster’s Poetics


As has been argued in Chapter Two, the relationship between conceptual art and contemporary novel enriches the writing of Don DeLillo while expanding and updating the well-established literary device of ekphrasis. The aim of this chapter is to show that the interpenetration of conceptual art and literature goes even further in the novels of another contemporary American author, Paul Auster. Roughly a decade junior to his friend and colleague, Auster was a comparative literature major at Columbia University when the intellectual, political, and artistic turmoil of the 1960s broke out. He spent his formative years as a writer in Paris of the early 1970s, just as conceptualist art was fading46. Auster moved there to be able to participate in the seminars conducted by Roland Barthes, and even though he never had the chance to become a student of the renowned co-founder of European post-structuralism, he became deeply influenced by what turned out to be the foundations of postmodernist thought. The present chapter ventures to explore the features that Auster shares with conceptualism and study the ways in which his poetics was affected by what proved to be one of the most significant artistic movements of the twentieth century.

The argument is divided into three parts: the first one analyzes the critical accounts on Auster’s fiction in search of features that render his writing compatible with the thematic and methodological findings of conceptualism. The...

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