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‘Everything has an edge’: Intermedial references to the plastic arts in the work of Peter Verhelst (19872005)

Friday, 7 October, 2011 - 14:30
Campus: Brussels Humanities, Sciences & Engineering campus
Faculty: Arts and Philosophy
Kim Gorus
phd defence

The work of the contemporary Flemish writer Peter Verhelst (‹1962, Bruges) is
interspersed with references to the visual arts. Verhelstfs texts contain references to
specific artworks, to the figure of the artist as well as to the wider field of the visual arts
(art biennials, painting techniques etcetera). These references are intensified by both
text]internal, metafictional and text]external statements that underline the importance
of the visual arts for the oeuvre of the writer.

So far, this interaction between text and image in Verhelstfs oeuvre has not been
studied in a systematic manner. This dissertation examines in what way the visual arts
influence the text in the work of Peter Verhelst. In order to do so, a threefold model has
been developed, starting from classical as well as (post)structuralist theories and
methodologies. On the whole, the intermedial interactions between literature and the
plastic arts are studied on three textual levels: the content, the structure and the
material form. On each of these levels an additional distinction is made between an
intertextual and a textual dimension. On the intertextual level, references to the visual
arts are analysed: quotations, references and allusions to art in the text. The textual level
studies the ways in which the text tries to install a relation of equivalence with the visual
arts by applying all sorts of literary techniques.

In the broadest sense the studied corpus consists of the entire oeuvre of Verhelst
published in book form between 1987 and 2005. It thus contains both prose, poetry and
theatre. The analysis focuses on six, chronologically ordered texts in particular:
Obsidiaan (Obsidian) (1987), De kleurenvanger (The colour catcher) (1996), Verhemelte
(Palate) (1996), Tongkat (Tonguecat) (1999), Memoires van een luipaard (Memoirs of a
leopard) (2001) and Zwerm (Swarm) (2005).

The application of the threefold model demonstrates that the work of Verhelst
does not only refer to the visual arts in the classical, ecphrastic way. The visual arts
influence the structure and form of the text in an ongoing process of incorporation and
excorporation: the visual arts are incorporated in the text as an alien body, eventually
causing the text to function as a visual artwork in itself. In this respect an evolution can
be discerned in Verhelstfs oeuvre. While the early work of the author incorporates the
visual arts in a thematic way in the text, his later work shows a much stronger
exploitation of the spatial and material form of the written text itself. Furthermore, the
analysis reveals a text]crossing oeuvre strategy: the different texts do not only refer to
the visual arts outside of the oeuvre, but also to visual references in other texts by
Verhelst. Therefore, these references do not enhance the enaturelnessf, as in classical
ecphrasis, but accentuate the fictional and intertextual nature of the text.

Consequently, the threefold model proves to be an excellent tool to analyse and
compare different texts and media, whether or not by the same author. Moreover, it
does not approach the intermedial references in a static way . as a one]to]one relation
between one text and one image, but in a dynamic way . by mapping out the interaction
between the different forms of referencing.

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