Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

The Twilight Zone of Experience Uncannily Shared by Mark Strand and Edward Hopper

Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

The Twilight Zone of Experience Uncannily Shared by Mark Strand and Edward Hopper

Article excerpt

Although Strand has written books about artists, his poetry never is compared with visual art. This essay compares Strand with Hopper and offers an explanation of the Freudian as well as the ekphrastic nature of this correspondence through which aesthetic power is amplified, maximizing the possibility of expressing the Sublime.


Pain is filtered in a poem so that it becomes finally, in the end,
pleasure ... That never happens in life. Only in poetry ... Maybe in
painting.--Mark Strand, "In the Presence of America"

Through evocation of the unheimlich or the Freudian uncanny, the poetry of Mark Strand and the paintings of Edward Hopper locate themselves in an internal landscape that seems strangely familiar. But a psychological affinity is not the only correspondence between these two artists. Both artists make use of a highly similar iconography, relying on figural representation to evoke emotional responses. By way of a deconstruction of narrative, their work engenders a feeling of stillness caught in an artificially constructed space; both create an experience of personal reality difficult to describe or represent. Strand has written two monographs on artists, Hopper and William Bailey; edited a collection of works by modern figurative painters, Art of the Real, and been involved in the publication of several books of photography. The covers of his books Dark Harbor and Selected Poems display paintings by William Bailey, and the cover of his book Blizzard of One is illustrated with a collage of his own creation. Several books of poetry are printed on paper that replicates the texture of artist's charcoal drawing paper. A limited edition of Prose: Four Poems is printed on watercolour paper and illustrated with drawings by Joseph Albers; each copy is personally signed by Strand. Yet, curiously, Strand's commentators do not compare his poetry to visual art nor do they look for associations with the painters about whom he writes. I attempt to remedy this oversight by presenting correspondences between the poetry of Strand and the painting of Hopper and by offering an explanation of the Freudian as well as the ekphrastic nature of this correspondence. Although Strand does not directly identify Hopper's work in his poetry, a symbiosis effected through ekphrasis exists derived from psychological and metaphorical correlations and a commonality of aesthetic sensibilities.

The tradition of ekphrasis has been examined by several twentieth-century scholars, all of whom attempt to construct their own comprehensive theory to explain its purpose and meaning; most conclude that other theories are inadequate or incorrect. Rather than defining ekphrasis as a genre or literary mode that operates in identical fashion across literary periods, I suggest that it has undergone an evolutionary process, and its contemporary form, as demonstrated by Strand's ekphrasis of Hopper, is one through which the poet attempts to augment and leverage the current creative act by reference to previous ones. The result of this imaginative layering is a heightened and amplified aesthetic ability, maximizing the possibility of expressing the impossible--the Ineffable, the Sublime. Much like the use of poetical intertextuality, Strand's ekphrasis of Hopper's paintings serves to unite him with the aesthetic heritage and spiritual strength of the artistic community.

Strand's selection of Hopper is connected to the special affinity both artists display for the evocation of the unheimlich or uncanniness. Freud's compulsion to repeat instinct is evident in the way both artists repetitively utilize familiar objects and places, stripped of their details and dislocated from any real world; uncannily, they are transformed from the comfortably familiar into the strangely unfamiliar. In addition, I believe that the urge to create is intimately related to Freud's concept of the active principle that irresistably and repetitively vitalizes artists in their work, temporarily distancing the passive principle until its inevitable return at death. …

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