The Thing Itself
(Which Does Not Move)
Ekphrastic writing turns on statues, makes metaphors out of statues' peculiar mode of being. But statues also turn on themselves. Works of sculpture, like the texts that try to speak about them, can turn on their own character as works of sculpture. Statues can become allegories of themselves, find ways of commenting on their own motionlessness or muteness, their curious violence, their subjection to human craft, even their relation to other statues. In many cases this is part of the means by which a work of sculpture can secure particular illusions of life or movement. But such turnings are also a means by which the work may seek to contain or short-circuit the idea of its having sentience or motion, the potential for human speech or silence.
Part of what I have in mind here is a commonplace. It has long been a basic task of critical writing about sculpture to give an account of how various sculptural traditions manage to accommodate, and sometimes overcome, the necessary stillness of the sculptural medium, how they may develop particular formal and symbolic means of lending what one calls movement or animation to the inanimate shapes of sculpture. It is conventional enough, for example, to point to the evolving exploration within classical sculpture of poses or lines that do not merely suggest arrested motion, arrested life, but that "conserve" life by harmonizing a number of conflicting motions at once, rendering intelligible the body's articulations and dynamics; we can describe how such poses convey a sense of potential motion in