Sightations in Black: Ekphrasis and the African American Ophthalmic Text
Turner, Christopher (2013) Sightations in Black: Ekphrasis and the African American Ophthalmic Text. [Dissertation (University of Nottingham only)] (Unpublished)
This study investigates the role of ekphrasis—the verbal representation of visual representation—in the writing of Frederick Douglass, Zora Neale Hurston, Ralph Ellison, and Alice Walker with an emphasis on photography and argues for a tradition of this aesthetic in what I term the African American ophthalmic text. I use the term ophthalmic—diseases that afflict the eyes—not in its literal sense but as a collective metaphor for a range of psychological and ontological conditions related to vision. My analysis investigates the way ekphrasis functions simultaneously to conceptualise various ophthalmic disorders and to interrogate their relationship with the broader visual legacies of representation that depict African American identity in the United States. Chapter one examines Douglass and Hurston’s response to the American School of Ethnology and argues that ekphrasis enables both writers to reconfigure the structures of vision attending scientific-racism’s corporeal inscription of the black body. Chapter two focuses on Ellison’s involvement with mid-century photographic practices and argues that Invisible Man’s ekphrastic photographs and bildungsroman structure operate in bringing to crisis the contemporary documentary photographic practices of the Farm Security Administration. The final chapter argues that Walker’s representation of visual culture in The Temple of My Familiar seeks to disrupt Western paradigms of power that have violently subjugated and rendered black female identity invisible.
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