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Surface Effects: Visuality in Text, Textuality in Image

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Organizer: Shannon Forest

Co-Organizer: Tom Eyers

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Rachel Cusk’s recent Second Place (2022) is haunted by a series of paintings. At the beginning of the text, the narrator describes stumbling upon the work of a painter, L: “Each time I stepped up to a frame…I got the same sensation, to the point where I thought it was impossible I’d get it again…What was it? It was a feeling, Jeffers, but it was also a phrase.” The phrase, she reveals, was “I am here.” The paintings, in other words, provided a location for thought, an impetus for writing, but they also contained an utterance. The narrator saw in them a face that could utter: a topos that even demands an ethics, a self-accounting.
The very fictitiousness of the paintings that "haunt" Second Place confounds any neat ontology, any reassuring stabilization of the text/image relation. The textual image in Cusk and elsewhere would have us contemplate an ethics of the surface, because the image, as Jean-Luc Nancy writes, is “the proper regime of surface distinguished from ground”, and is therefore paradigmatically other, or distinct, which is to say: set apart by a mark, or stigma. It is this distinctness, then, that feels so palpable in the case of the written image in modern and contemporary literature. In the text’s cancellation of the image’s visual reality, readers never quite get a good look: the words cannot add up to the image. The image, then, comes to haunt the text, which is to say: lend it profound powers of evocation.
What are we to make of the written painting, the dematerialized non-object painting; the painting bound to the temporal process of reading, subtracted from perceptual immediacy? How might we describe the ontological status of the textual image? What are the strategies by which literary imagery shapes and distorts the phenomenal field? And how do these strategies serve to structure—which is to say, spatialize—narrative or poetic topoi? More broadly, how do texts navigate and reproduce economies of images, so often bound as they are to histories of extraction, exploitation, spoliation, and objectification? What are the ethics that textual encounters with images, or indeed imagistic encounters with texts, generate or imply?
We welcome papers that consider the convergences and divergences between textual, visual, and conceptual practices in modern and contemporary art and literature. Possible topics might include:

The ontological status of the textual image
Language and text in conceptual and postconceptual art
Visual strategies in experimental poetry, poetics, or performance
Text and image in/against the digital humanities
Ekphrasis, anamorphosis, or encryption
Diagrams and the diagrammatic
Text and image in cinematic adaptation
Comparative typographies
Legacies of concrete poetry
Histories and/or theories of ‘mixed media’
Media, semiotics, and the textual image
The ‘gaze’ across literature, art, and/or psychoanalysis
Logics of illumination, illustration, and/or iconography

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