Birger Vanwesenbeeck

Word and Image in Tomasula’s The Book of Portraiture

Near the end of Steve Tomasula’s 2006 novel The Book of Portraiture, a chance encounter takes place in a local pharmacy story between an advertising model and the digital retoucher responsible for photo-shopping so many of her globally circulating images. While standing in front of a rack with condoms that all bear the model’s “doctored picture” as “the female half of a romantically perfect couple in a passionate embrace”, the photo retoucher asks the real-life model to autograph one of the condom boxes. It is a defining, or better still, high-definition, image for the paragone, the agonizing conflict between word and image, whose centuries-long tradition Tomasula’s novel meticulously traces and unpacks in 6 loosely connected chapters. Time and again in these historical face-offs, the desire of words and images to, respectively, carry out each other’s work (and thus outdo the other on its own terrain), or to wipe themselves clean of the other’s influence altogether, are exposed as illusory and doomed attempts to undo a dialectic of intermediality that, as my paper will show, is as deeply rooted historically as it is tenacious in the present.

Ingibjörg Ágústsdóttir

“Telling the Story that History Cannot Tell: Philippa Gregory’s Alternative History of Women”

This paper discusses the fiction of the historical novelist Philippa Gregory and her treatment of the stories of royal women of the Plantagenet period. It outlines how Gregory’s fiction works to reassert the female historical figure and create a different, feminised version of history. It places Gregory’s writing within a theoretical framework established through outlining some important arguments concerning women’s historical fiction and the question of historical truth in a post- feminist and postmodern age. Further, it outlines Gregory’s feminist and postmodern approaches to history and argues that, through combining established historical facts and imagined details, her novels consciously challenge historiographic versions of events in order to create an alternative historical “truth.” Gregory’s ideas concerning historical women and their role in historical events are discussed, and her portrayal of royal women from the Plantagenet period analysed in some detail. Here, Gregory clearly emphasises that women could have and did wield some power, especially when placed close to the centre of authority as queens or mothers of kings-to-be, and that this power enabled them to influence political and historical processes. In addition, Gregory’s representation of these historical women and the obstacles they face is a direct reflection on the hindrances women are still facing today.

Dane Weatherman

Imagination, Blindness & Experience: Revolutionary ways to harm yourself

How do literature and visual culture signify each other, how do they experience each other? How does a ransacking of your empirical identity constitute a possibly vital political art? And what is the nature of experience? This paper will examine these questions with focus on William Blake, Hélène Cixous, Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe as well as using the myth of Echo and Narcissus as an overarching narrative tool. It will argue that one of the most enigmatic tendencies in art and literature is a tendency towards self-harm (Oedipus, Hieronymo, Van Gogh etcetera etcetera), and that this is part of certain wider historical relations to empiricism and epistemology, with art as a tool of counter-rupture. It will take as a starting point Blake’s Innocence and Experience, and will frame the idea of experience as deeply connected with the concept of poetry (as Lacoue-Labarthe demonstrates). It will try to demonstrate the incredibly revolutionary potential of Cixous’ feminist writing, and will suggest that any kind of art with such tendencies as outlined in the paper, and any art that is brought directly into praxis through the body can be an extraordinarily revolutionary force.