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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 Four: Tom McCarthy’s Novel as a Conceptual Work of Art


Chapter Four:  Tom McCarthy’s Novel as a Conceptual Work of Art


Tom McCarthy, born in 1969, is an author at least one decade junior to the two novelists discussed in the previous chapters, and his literary accomplishments so far are understandably smaller. His major claim to distinction in fiction is C, a novel shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2010. The relatively young English author has however been gaining critical acclaim in recent years. Tom LeClair, for instance, who has written extensively about American postmodernist fiction, and incidentally was the first scholar to interview Don DeLillo, has named him the new Thomas Pynchon (Burn 2012). The renowned British writer Zadie Smith has argued that his debut novel, Remainder, together with Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland marks the future of Anglophone novel. Praise, however, is counterbalanced by skepticism, as Leo Robson (2010) denounces the inferiority of McCarthy’s style in comparison with writers like Coetzee, Tóibín, Parks and Banville, and attacks the self-confidence with which the young London-based author criticizes the condition of Anglophone novel.

McCarthy’s opposition to his well-established contemporaries, including those enumerated by Robson, results from differences regarding the most basic views on literature, but also, if to a minor degree, it carries a tone of resentment stemming from the circumstances in which Remainder was launched. The novel was rejected by a number of publishers, who, as McCarthy repeatedly claims, were motivated by either a cynical will to promote ‘middle-brow’ literature (interview...

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