Towards a revival of representation: Ekphrasis in the Contemporary Novel at the End of Postmodernism

Research output: Book/Report/PhD thesisPhD thesisResearchpeer-review


This thesis is about books, film, television, virtual reality, and the approximation of a new paradigm beyond postmodernism. It is about authors who try to reconcile themselves with the ways in which the advent of cinema and the increasing influence of mass media have changed the power relations between the arts and, not least, have altered the very structure of human experience. Four primary postmodern works stand at the center of this thesis: Adam Thorpe‘s Still [1995], Paul Auster‘s The Book of Illusions [2002], Richard Powers‘ Plowing the Dark [2000], and David Foster Wallace‘s Infinite Jest [1996]. The primary object of analysis is the function of ekphrasis (the verbal representation of a visual representation), and my readings assert the ways in which contemporary authors deploy the device to blur or substantiate the boundaries between the world and its representations. Ekphrasis is considered a device of metafiction that enables authors to express a postmodern concern with the status of images in the aftermath of poststructuralist theory. The four novels are inscribed into different ends of the postmodern paradigm, and they all address the crisis of representation differently. The thesis concludes that contemporary ekphrastic ventures subvert the idea of simulacra, as ekphrasis upholds the boundaries between the diegetically real and representations of the real. The device also asks us to maintain a double awareness that the verbal representation of the visual representation is an artifact but that it is also real. Visual representations have become as naturally embedded in the medium of literature as they have in the human consciousness. And post-postmodern ekphrasis is happy in its realization that the tension between thing and sign can never be released, happy in its play at being real and fully convinced that those media products and their verbal representations are real in a very different sense.
Original languageDanish
PublisherAarhus Universitet
Number of pages243
Publication statusPublished - 2012
Externally publishedYes

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