“All Text is Lost”: Ekphrastic Reading

  • Kate Newell
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Adaptation and Visual Culture book series (PSADVC)


Ekphrastic writing attempts to bring a visual work “to life” through the vividness of the writer’s description. More generally, ekphrasis is an invitation to read one representational medium in terms of another. This chapter focuses on ekphrasis as a reading strategy that magnifies, refracts, and opens up a work to significations unavailable or otherwise invisible. I begin with a brief overview of definitions of ekphrasis and the differential relationships they imply and then turn to activities of reading evident in well-known ekphrastic moments in Moby-Dick (1851) and Daisy Miller (1878). In both examples, the prose’s progress appears momentarily “stilled” by the presence of a painting, the contemplation of which “releases” additional narratives. Ekphrasis can likewise reflect more ideologically constructed differences, as I demonstrate in my analysis of Gary Wolf’s hard-boiled detective novel, Who Censored Roger Rabbit? (1981). The novel’s characters are divided into two dominant groups—humans and ’toons—and the latter communicate via word balloons that the narrator, private detective Eddie Valiant, then describes for readers with such detail as to bring them before their minds’ eye in the manner of ekphrasis. Divisions between verbal and visual, between “us” and “them,” maintain the story’s divisions between humans and ’toons. In this chapter, I posit that, in opening up works to additional informing texts, ekphrasis expands readers’ experiences of a work and expands a given work’s larger network of reference.


Literary Text Verbal Representation Reading Model Conceptual Unit Adaptation Network 
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© The Author(s) 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kate Newell
    • 1
  1. 1.Savannah College of Art and DesignSavannahUSA

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