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Vanwesenbeeck sabbatical work to look at ekphrasis and grieving in American literature of the '50s and '60s
Friday, December 04, 2015

Vanwesenbeeck sabbatical work to look at ekphrasis and grieving in American literature of the '50s and '60s

Dr. Birger Vanwesenbeeck

The central research question of Dr. Birger Vanwesenbeeck’s book-length project that will be conducted during his sabbatical, “The Art of Mourning: Ekphrasis and Loss at the End of Modernism,” concerns what he feels is a fascinating but hitherto unexplained peculiarity of the American literature of the 1950s and 1960s: that its evocation of ekphrasis (the literary description of a visual work of art) is so often matched to moments of grieving.

Focusing on such canonical works as Thomas Pynchon’s novel “The Crying of Lot 49” and Sylvia Plath’s poem “The Colossus” and drawing on archival research completed earlier this summer at Leiden University,” Dr. Vanwesenbeeck argues that, to the extent that it constitutes an attempt to “still” the movement of time, the trope of ekphrasis affords these late modernist writers at once a formal means to prolong the fleeting moment through stalled visual imagery and a strategy to mourn its imminent loss pre-emptively.

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