Phantomogenic Ekphrasis. Traumatizing Images in Michael Cunningham’s Specimen Days and Don DeLillo’s Falling Man
Berlin : De Gruyter
Culture & Conflict ; 16
InArmstrong, C.I.; Langas, U. (ed.), Terrorizing Images. Trauma and Ekphrasis in Contemporary Literature, pp. 85-100
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Literatuurwetenschap en Cultuurwetenschap
Armstrong, C.I.; Langas, U. (ed.), Terrorizing Images. Trauma and Ekphrasis in Contemporary Literature
SubjectCulture & Conflict; Cultures of War and Liberation; Europe in a Changing World; Memory, Materiality and Affect in the Age of Transnationalism
The distressing sight of people jumping or falling out of the World Trade Center has become an integral part of our collective imaginary of 9/11. Photographs capturing their jump and subsequent fall into the abyss have burned into our memories. Although such traumatizing images were quickly taken out of circulation in print media, they have had a long afterlife on the Internet and in the arts. In the realm of literature, a number of texts, especially novels, have addressed 9/11’s falling bodies, or “jumpers,” as they were also called: Art Spiegelman’s In the Shadow of No Towers (2004), Frédéric Beigbeder’s Windows on the World (2004), Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2005), and Don DeLillo’s Falling Man (2007) are perhaps the most well-known. Michael Cunningham’s Specimen Days (2005), although rarely discussed as a 9/11 novel, and even less so in relation to the falling bodies, also evokes images of the falling people, albeit differently from these novels. This chapter compares Cunningham’s and DeLillo’s novels on the basis of the techniques they employ to represent images of the 9/11 jumpers. The notion of ekphrasis will serve as a lens through which to compare the two novels. An ancient rhetorical tool for describing visual images through words, ekphrasis has been defined and applied in a variety of ways (Hagstrum 1958; Krieger 1967; Heffernan 1993; Wagner 1996). Most significantly for my purposes in this chapter, W. J. T. Mitchell (1994) distinguishes three moments of ekphrasis: indifference, hope, and fear, each of which describes the writer’s emotional disposition towards the image/text dialectic. After discussing the problematic relationship between image and text in relation to photographs of the jumpers, I use Mitchell’s terminology to look at ekphrasis as a means of verbalizing terrorizing images. Subsequently, I introduce the term “phantomogenic ekphrasis” to examine how Specimen Days and Falling Man approximate images of the 9/11 jumpers.
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