Violent images : ekphrastic writing in Claude Simon and Peter Weiss / Robert Caspar Buch
Includes bibliographical references
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Electronic version from ProQuest
Both Peter Weiss's Die Ästhetik des Widerstands and Claude Simon's novels are characterized by a continual appeal to ekphrasis. The violent experiences of the Spanish Civil War, World Wars I and II, and of anti-fascist resistance around which their works revolve are repeatedly arrested into frozen and hyper-precise images. Combining close readings of how these mises en image work with a theoretical investigation into the peculiar relation of violence and images, the study explores a phenomenon that has received little attention so far in present-day discussions of poetics and aesthetics. Grappling with linguistic and cognitive failure, with a dramatic breakdown of representation after the catastrophic events of war and genocide, the authors take recourse to a process which, paradoxically, brandishes the mimetic power of language. Transforming readers into viewers, ekphrasis evokes the past in vivid and intense images. At the same time the ekphrastic process thwarts its reality effects and undermines any mimetic illusion by foregrounding its own techniques of representation. The texts' images are violent not only in terms of their subject matter but also in their formal characteristics. Their stasis, their decontextualization and their acute distinctness convey a sense of the terror that has prompted them. But the paralysis and sense of crisis so powerfully conjured in the images is also consistently undone. The authors' anti-mimetic poetics and their critique of conventional historical narrative notwithstanding, their writing is in fact marked by a constant tension between the fixity of the image and the flow of narrative. While extensive descriptions of artworks suspend and unsettle the historico-philosophical and indeed ‘epic’ confidence of the ‘grand narrative’ which Weiss's trilogy unfolds, Simon's aspiration toward a purely descriptive writing that does away with syntagmatic order continuously relapses into narrative. My dissertation thus looks at two similar yet contrasting responses to the crisis of representation in its intensified stage after World War II and the Holocaust. At the same time, the study contributes to recent debates on ekphrasis, viewing it not merely as an amazing and puzzling example of literary sophistication but as a challenge to many of the assumptions that inform the critical discourse about that very ‘crisis of representation’.
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