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Enchanted Objects

Enchanted Objects: Visual Art in Contemporary Fiction

Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 288
  • Book Info
    Enchanted Objects
    Book Description:

    Addressing current debates in museum studies, cultural studies, art history, and literary criticism,Enchanted Objectsdevelops an extensive theory of how contemporary literature engages with and relates to aesthetic objects.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8639-7
    Subjects: Art & Art History, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-2)
  5. 1 Introduction: Art and Objects in Contemporary Fiction
    (pp. 3-44)

    Between the 1970s and the early twenty-first century, novelists writing in English published numerous fictional narratives about visual art: paintings, statues, porcelains, vases, tapestries. These narratives collectively dwell on the meaning of artworks as representational objects. Caught up in the drama of representation, contemporary novels put objects on display in order to revive and broaden aesthetic inquiry. As a species of objects identifiable by their intentionality and technical ingenuity, artworks, as against machines or everyday objects, have complex meaning and uncertain destinies. Subject to the vicissitudes of time, artworks are hidden, smashed, looted, traded, collected, and sequested. The persistence of...

  6. 2 Details: Vermeer and Specificity
    (pp. 45-86)

    Contemporary novels about visual art typically isolate material attributes of paintings, porcelains, or tapestries as significant details. In many ways, an artwork is to narrative as a detail is to meaning. In itself an artwork is an inert object; when placed in a narrative, the meaning of the object alters. In other words, the material object catalyses events by virtue of its presence. Similarly, a detail in narrative is a pellet of meaning; that meaning multiplies in the presence of other details. A narrative without details is nearly as unimaginable as a narrative without objects. Certain details establish character, while...

  7. 3 Ornament: Books in A Case of Curiosities and Salamander
    (pp. 87-134)

    In an essay published in 1890 called ‘On Books and the Housing of Them,’ W.E. Gladstone, the former prime minister of Britain and a lifelong reader, expressed disdain for ‘highly ornamental bookcases’ that detract from the real objects of pleasure in a collection: books. Gladstone writes, ‘books want for and in themselves no ornament at all. They are themselves the ornament’ (391). Although he decries the ‘flaring ornamentation’ (388) of some late Victorian bindings, he does not pursue what it means to call a book an ornament. Gladstone appears to think that the contents of a book, not the cover,...

  8. 4 Fragility: The Case of Utz
    (pp. 135-187)

    Why do we value fragile things? Fragile objects occupy a distinct cultural and aesthetic category, but one that has scarcely been examined. Fragility is a physical trait in an object, yet fragility cannot be proven until tested. If one tests fragility, one risks breaking the allegedly fragile object. If one does not want to run that risk, one can attribute fragility to the object. In aesthetics as in the material examples of sculpture and porcelain, the attribution of fragility, in addition to physical vulnerability, confers value. At the same time, fragility imprints destiny into artworks: an object that is not...

  9. 5 Looking at Ugliness: Pascali’s Island and Stone Virgin
    (pp. 188-235)

    Ugliness has never had its due. In aesthetics, beauty dominates inquiry to the exclusion of ugliness. Even an adequate definition of ugliness is lacking in aesthetic discourse. Ugliness may appear in objects as a formal quality, as deviations or excrescences, or ugliness may refer to moral qualities, such as wickedness or evil. When applied at all, the termuglinessusually refers to visual art, without consideration of its effects in textual representation. Rooted in material culture, ugliness addresses the senses as does beauty. Instead of being the opposite of beauty, ugliness designates a wide range of unspecified and unspecifiable attributes....

  10. 6 Conclusion: On Display
    (pp. 236-244)

    The presence of artworks in contemporary fiction marks a return to aesthetics, but an aesthetics revitalized by questions about detail, ornament, fragility, ugliness, and other attributes of objects. In defiance of Kantian formulations, artworks in contemporary narratives draw attention to the materiality of objects. The textual representation of artworks contradicts the tendency, following Kant, to relegate objects to a secondary status after their appreciation by human subjects who apprehend them. Objects, whether a portrait by Vermeer or a painted Dutch tile, have a provenance that has nothing to do with the tradition of beholders and their proverbial eye for beauty....

  11. Notes
    (pp. 245-254)
  12. Works Cited
    (pp. 255-266)
  13. Index
    (pp. 267-278)