Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Comparative Literature


Wayne Koestenbaum

Subject Categories

Aesthetics | Comparative Literature | Theory and Criticism


Charles Simic, ekphrasis, Proust, Tate Modern, T.J. Clark, William Carlos Williams


Signs all over New York City state, "If you see something, say something," but museum studies repeatedly find viewers do not attend to pictures, just as eye witness testimony is invariably skewed. Ways of seeing have been limited to known ways of discussing. Alternative approaches offer new insights. The first section, "Experiments in Art Writing," examines two texts: T.J. Clark's The Sight of Death, a journal of his daily visits looking at two Poussin paintings, for which he maintains the ambiguity of exploration and argues to keep visual images from their dissolution into political symbols; and, Charles Simic's Dime Store Alchemy: The Art of Joseph Cornell, which foregrounds the imaginative as necessary to a critical reception of art. The second section, "Literary Ekphrases as Art History and Theory," examines a passage in Proust and a poem by William Carlos Williams to suggest that poetry and prose fiction not only introduce readers to art history but are extensions of the discussed visual works' own art history, and then turns to Don DeLillo's Point Omega to study the arguments around representation as voiced and experienced by the characters, and to suggest a move away from the concept of representation.

The final section, "The Writing on the Wall," analyzes captions from Tate Modern's little-known but significant caption project Bigger Picture to develop a theoretical validation for such an experimental program. These authors show us how they see rather than simply what they see, and so reveal the advantages and dangers in their choices, recommending we develop renditions of what we see, where to see means both a visual ability and an articulate response.