CFP: ACLA Panel 2017: In-/description: representing absence (23.09.2016)

Rebecca Haubrich's picture

CFP: ACLA Panel 2017: In-/description: representing absence (23.09.2016)

Organizers: Geoffrey Wildanger (Brown University), Rebecca Haubrich (Brown University)

"Transparent clouds,” writes Lessing, are the painter’s artifice to visualize invisibility. It is borrowed from Homer, whose gods were concealed in a “thick mist.” Yet, by passing between the sister arts, the trick loses its magic: the cloud becomes “an actual hieroglyph, a mere symbolical sign” [§ 12]. This remark, in the Laocoon, not simply adds to the distinction of poetry and painting, word and image, but also inverts them, as the latter turns into a readable sign. Such a shift allows to reconsider the relation of word and image as well as the role of ekphrasis therein.

Similar to a painting of invisibility, ekphrasis is always an aporia. Writing the visual image shifts the medium and transposes the text in place of the image. In presenting the text, ekphrasis thus makes the image absent. In La chambre claire, Roland Barthes describes a photograph of his mother to illustrate his concept of the punctum - the wound that can be caused by looking at a photograph, and which, due to its singularity, precludes a reproduction. Derrida, in Les morts de Roland Barthes, transposes this concept from photography to writing, suggesting thus a specific similarity between the two graphes, which regards what they keep invisible or don’t (re)present, yet what is still wounding.

From the “thick fog” Benjamin describes surrounding the beginnings of the history of photography, to the “Light,” which William Fox Talbot writes, “exert[s] an action,” such that the photograph is drawn by “Nature’s hand,” rather than “the united skill of the Artist and the Engraver,” photography and ekphrasis raise related problems. Both media evoke questions of generic shifts, representation as absenciation, and the meaning of the image when translated across media.

Critiquing a stark distinction of word and image, W. J. T. Mitchell claims “that pictorial images are inevitably [...] contaminated by language.” In this panel, we plan to address this reciprocal contamination and the transgressions it allows for. We wish to raise questions of ekphrasis and writing an absent other — of medium, temporality, (a)historicity, and literary form. We also invite papers looking at the role of illustrations in books, as well as the use of words as visual art, in the work of artists like Marcel Broodthaers.

Possible topics could be:

  • Ekphrasis, description, inscription

  • (Re-)presentation of writing in visual art (inc. Broodthaers, Christopher Wool, etc.; calligraphy,

    illuminated manuscripts)

  • Reproduction, mimesis, copy

  • Relations among the arts; indexicality, referentiality

  • (In)visibility: presence / absence in representation

  • Temporality / (a)historicity in art

Please submit 300-word proposals for twenty-minute papers through the ACLA portal ( during the submission period (Sept. 1 – Sept. 23).  Interested individuals are encouraged to contact the seminar organizers by email with inquiries. Seminar organizers will review all submitted papers and propose their rosters to the ACLA.The ACLA Program Committee will review all submitted seminars for consideration for inclusion in the program in October. 

Rebecca Haubrich (, Geoffrey Wildanger (

Diese Ankündigung wurde von H-GERMANISTIK [Lukas Büsse] betreut –