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Massimo Fusillo, University of L'Aquila

Ekphrasis as Experience and Reinvention: From Baroque to Neo-Baroque

Both as a topic episode of epic poetry and as an autonomous literary genre, ancient ekphrasis generally oscillates between a narrative dynamization (the Homeric paradigm) and an analytical, purely visual approach (the Alexandrian paradigm). Highlighting the personal experience of the viewer, the baroque age invents a new pattern, brilliantly represented by Giovan Battista Marino's anomalous and gigantic epic poem Adone (chant 6), in which the description of paintings is a vital part of the education of sensual experience. This pattern will be further elaborated and expanded by 20th century narrative and by the neo-baroque aesthetics, for example by Manuel Puig's  El beso de la mujer araña (1976), successfully adapted by Héctor Babenco in the homonymous 1985 movie.


Zofia Kolbuszewska, University of Wroclaw

Neobaroque Metaleptic Ekphrasis: Representing Art and Democracy in Joseph Heller’s Novel Picture This

This paper examines the neobaroque metaleptic strategy of horrific ekphrasis in the novel Picture This (1988) from the American writer Jospeh Heller. Heller’s employment of the trope of ekphrasis, or “verbal representation of visual representation,” (Heffernan) relies on uncannily literal investment with life (literalizing the ancient rhetorical definition of ekphrasis as a representation of a work of art in vivid language so that it is placed as if alive before the viewer’s eyes) of a painting by Rembrandt that depicts the Greek philosopher Aristotle with a Homer’s marble bust – a painting actually on display in The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Ekphrastic representation, a kind of transmediation, can be considered a (neo)baroque fold, an allegorical staging of embodied meaning at the cusp of different media. Even as metaleptic ekphrasis translates the affordances of one medium into those of another, it gives expression to the bleeding of realities – the world presented in the work of art invades that of the recipient. The transgressively metaleptic ekphrasis employed by Heller brings together the problem of aesthetical representation, inherent in the trope of ekphrasis, and failures of democracy as a system of political representation. The Aristotle and Homer’s head, depicted by Rembrandt in the painting “Aristotle Contemplating a Bust of Homer,” converse with each other and comment on the pitfalls and rewards of Ancient Greek democracy, the condition of democracy in the Dutch Republic in the 17th c., and the plight of American democracy in the second half of the 20th c.. Thus – through the use of the neobaroque metaleptic ekphrasis - Heller’s novel  addresses aesthetical and ethical as well as epistemological (the world conceived of as a theater) and ontological (parallel worlds; possible worlds; incompossible worlds) ramifications of late modernity’s cultural and political crises.  


Roger Lüdeke, University of Dusseldorf

Baroque Ghost Writers: Shakespeare, Joyce

Baroque art and literature hover between reality and illusion, figure and form, life and death,  they explore the existential limits of aesthetic representation. This reflexive potential has been deployed for alternative inquiries into the aesthetics of modernity (Deleuze, Buci-Glucksmann, Bal, and others). Based on a reading of the “Scylla and Charybdis” episode from Ulysses, I use this experimental strength of the Baroque in order to explore modern authorship as a mode of existence and as a form of life.

Joyce’s episode is known as “the Hamlet chapter”, because it includes an extravagant reading of the Ghost in Shakespeare’s famous play. Reading Hamlet as a baroque drama, I study how 19th century critics used Shakespeare’s work in order to fashion an ideal of literary authority based on made-up facts from the Bard’s life; and I will investigate how Joyce used the writings of these critics so as to work through his own becoming-a-writer. Furthermore, guided by contemporary concepts of auto-theory and artistic research, I rethink the ghostly nature of our own writing as literary critics.


Andreas Mahler, Free University of Berlin

The (Neo-)Baroque and the English Culture: A Categorization and its Discontents

The ‘(neo-)baroque’ as a term designates an epoch, a style and whatnot. It has been used to describe literature, music, painting, architecture, and the arts and culture in general. The contribution will go into the term’s diverse fields of application in order to explore its use for the description of phenomena of and in English culture both in the post-Renaissance and the postmodernist eras.


Helga Mitterbauer, Free University of Brussels

Dance the Death: Transmedial Frame-Breaking in Elfriede Jelinek’s Children of the Dead

Elfriede Jelinek’s magnum opus Die Kinder der Toten (1995, The Children of the Dead) has been presented as a dance of death, a baroque allegory against the suppression of history and oblivion (“Jelinek spielt auf zu einem Totentanz, einer barocken Allegorie gegen Geschichtsverdrängung und Vergessenheit”).

The transmedial concept of the dance of death/danse macabre is based on the fascinating and irritating connection of death as the epitome of the inanimate, of the irretrievable on the one hand, and on the other hand, of dance, signifying life, the experience of the moment, and expressing the spiritedness of the body. Danse macabre is strongly connected with the concept of vanitas and the idea of memento mori. In reference to Bernini’s Teresa of Ávila and other pieces of art, Philippe Ariès saw an assimilation of Eros and Thanatos in the depiction of the danse macabre in the age of Baroque. In Baroque arts and literatures, death and voluptuousness blur into each other, and the dead body itself becomes the object of concupiscence, thus producing a macabre erotic.

In Jelinek’s novel and the subsequent movie (made by the New York based Performance Collective Nature Theater of Oklahoma for the avantgarde festival Steirischer Herbst in 2019), the undead appear at an Austrian Alpine resort and bring the murders of the Nazi regime to the foreground. In my paper, I will concentrate on the questions: in what ways does Jelinek pick up Baroque traditions of the dance of dead, how does she transform them, and how does she use them to ventriloquize the memory of the Shoah? These will be supported by theories of death and the dead/undead (Ariès, Bakhtin, Baudrillard) and comments on how this postmodern ghost story revives motives from the horror and gothic genres, as well as how it relates to reactivations of the dance of death in the modernist period, such as Rilke’s poem “Totentanz” and Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s “Der Thor und der Tod”.


Gesine Müller, University of Cologne

Neo-Baroque Aesthetics in Post-Global Literatures: A Latin American Perspective

Neo-baroque aesthetics have undergone numerous advancements and elaborations in Latin American literatures ever since the publication of Lezama Lima’s La expresión americana (1957; American Expression). This conference contribution opens with an introduction to contemporary discourses on the Latin American neo-baroque before asking: What role do neo-baroque aesthetics play in the context of verbal-visual configurations in contemporary, post-global Latin American literatures? During the current phase of accelerated globalization, especially since the financial and economic crisis of 2008, Latin America’s literature has increasingly reflected on the asymmetries of globalization processes and their consequences as well as the visibilities and invisibilities that arise from these processes. We will explore the subject of neo-baroque aesthetics in twenty-first-century Latin American literatures as illustrated by two literary texts that narrate post-global dynamics of exhaustion through stories of flight and migration at the US–Mexico border: Yuri Herrera’s Señales que precederán al fin del mundo (2009; Signs Preceding the End of the World) and Aura Xilonen’s Campeón Gabacho (2015; The Gringo Champion).


Florian Mussgnug, University College London

Vanitas in the Anthropocene: Finitude and Radical Hope in Neo-Baroque Literature

Religious and philosophical debates of the Baroque period saw a radical shift in cultural attitudes towards the future. This is exemplified by the contrast between Isaac Newton’s and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz’s reflections on prophecy, history, and eschatology. Newton’s firmly millenarian reading of Revelation, in his Observations upon the Prophecies of Daniel and the Apocalypse (1733), postulated the importance of the Bible as a fundamental document of human history and future, affirmed the divine truth of prophecy, and fixed the Second Coming and Last Judgement at 2060. By contrast, Leibniz’s various considerations on eschatology, since the 1690s, foregrounded the human authorship of Apocalypse, described its message in purely historical terms, and rejected the hypothesis of genuine prophetic meaning (either in relation to John’s time or with regard to Leibniz’s own future). The fundamental discrepancy between these positions remains relevant today, beyond the specific context of religious eschatology, to twenty-first century debates about futurity, predictability, and finitude. More specifically, it pertains to conflicting attitudes towards planetary environmental catastrophe, which can be read as post-religious actualizations of apocalyptic thought (cf. J. Kovacs and C. Rowland, Revelation: The Apocalypse of Jesus Christ, Oxford: Blackwell, 2004). My contribution explores this idea by focusing on cultural experiences of radical unpredictability: individual and collective situations in which anticipation falters and individual, shared, or intergenerational futures cannot be fully imagined. More specifically, I wish to engage with a range of genres, encoded in affect and in aesthetic form, that have emerged in response to radical unpredictability: speculative and climate fiction, environmental elegy, and post-apocalyptic narrative. I draw on the category of the Neo-Baroque to discuss these genres as primary vehicles for expressing disorientation, but also as cultural strategies of prophetic worlding, i.e. experiences of visual and verbal storytelling that evoke a sense of predictability through the plotted ordering of past, present, and future. This will lead me to explore the unprecedented conflation, in twenty-first century culture, of radical unpredictability and deep-seated fatalism: it is impossible to predict with accuracy when and how the Earth System will cascade over the precipice, but entirely clear that this will happen if business-as-usual approaches prevail, especially in the world’s most affluent human societies. This situation inspires different political strategies. Many environmental protest movements rely on apocalyptic forecast to galvanise a sense of political urgency. Others focus on the emergence of alternative knowledge practices, sensory orientations, habits, and affects, which can be described as forms of attunement to planetary catastrophe. I suggest that both strands of (post-)apocalyptic thinking can be understood as Neo-Baroque articulations of imagined futurity, either in the form of pseudo-Newtonian millenarianism or through the radical refusal of prophetic knowledge. Collectively, they channel the instability of anthropocenic planetary futures.


Gabriele Rippl, University of Bern

Repetition with a Difference: Jamaica Kincaid’s (Neo-)Baroque Experiments

Many of the novels of Antiguan-American writer Jamaica Kincaid are loosely autobiographical texts and prime examples of fictional autobiographies. In addition to this generic feature, Kincaid’s texts display other striking characteristics and thematic recurrences. Among her main topics are the maternal figure, emotionally charged (traumatic) mother-daughter relationships, colonial, post- and neo-colonial relations, racism, and gender and sexuality. Moreover, circularity, revision and the susceptibility to repetition, as well as a heightened visual and intermedial quality, are unmistakable stylistic features of Kincaid’s prose. Not only do her texts present visual impressions and depictions of gazes to the reader, they are also replete with references to and ekphrases of drawings, paintings, photographs and other visual art forms and graphic representations. Kincaid’s intermedial aesthetics and conspicuous use of ekphrasis casts a spotlight on the production of visibility and invisibility and provides a potent site for exploring the sense of in-between-ness and dislocation that circumscribes postcolonial subject positions. It invites a discussion of how the paradigm of the (neo-)baroque yields insights into Kincaid’s works that have not yet been fully explored.


Maria Zirra, Stockholm University & Rhodes University

Henrietta Lacks, Sprague-Dawley Rats, Saint Theresa and Polystyrene: Baroque Visual Animacies of Race and Temporality in Evelyn Reilly’s Styrofoam

Evelyn Reilly’s experimental poetry collection Styrofoam (2009) imagines long-durée timelines beyond the disappearance of humans by placing ruins of enduring works of art such as Giovanni Bernini’s Baroque sculpture The Ecstasy of St Theresa, on an equal footing with non-biodegradable, and thus eternal thermoplastics. This type of comparative process is produced in a visual verbal manner through what I tentatively call “Baroque visual animacies” – a type pf visual verbal encounter where the text and image appear constantly in motion mixing human and nonhuman elements in peculiar abundance with numerous micro-connections and avenues of investigation opening up as one attempts to grapple with this collection of interconnected pieces. While the idea of abundance and motion is suggested by the term baroque, “animacies” is a term I borrow from Mel Chen’s fascinating account on the power relations and entanglements between human, nonhuman and racialized bodies in her eponymous book. “Visual animacies” also allows me to question the role of race and racial subjection and the nonhuman body in Reilly’s collection, a sorely needed type of discussion in accounts of the Anthropocene and its temporalities. I argue that the relational effect of imagining temporalities beyond the nonhuman is linked to the ways in which art works and an ekphrastic gaze permeate the collection where high art and found collages of scientific graphs or dissection imagery are viewed. The book’s insistence on its own materiality as an art object and unsettling elegiac archive of human and nonhuman existence is also clearly underscored in the poetic text whose performative dimensions are easy to observe through the use of nonstandard fonts and layouts, inserted hyperlinks and visual thumbnails, obscure geographic references and bits of concrete poetry inspired by Charles Olsson’s New York School of poetic experimentation.  For this paper’s argument, I specifically zero in on two poems in the collection, “Plastic Plenitude Supernatant” and “Bear.Mea(e)t. Polystyrene”, which both exemplify Baroque visual animacies in their concern for race and the nonhuman in relation to visual art and a kind of temporality of ecological elegiac sublime.

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