Katabasis in ekphrasis poetry: a study of memory, rhetoric and mind
thesisposted on 29.03.2022, 03:14 by Diana Marietta Papas
Over the last few decades, modern definitions of ekphrasis are typically limited to the verbal description of a visual work of art (real or imagined). Rarely is modern ekphrasis contextualised in the ancient rhetorical tradition as a function of mind, memory and imagination. This thesis—which focuses specifically on the literary genre of ekphrasis poetry—aims to illuminate ekphrasis strategies as articulations of memory and the function of imagination. Given the close associations of imagination with creativity, the function of imagination has become a rapidly growing area of research in cognitive literary studies. The thesis addresses imagination in terms of mental imaging (the formation of visual and other kinds of sensory images), and the recent research into the brain’s default mode network which relates imagination to memory, conceptual blending, prospection, mind wandering and navigation. The thesis explores the ancient literary genre of katabasis—typically defined as a journey of the living into the realm of the dead, underworld or place of psychic unconscious. Katabasis is also characterised as a descent into memory, involving a trial, confrontation and subsequent ascent into knowing or “seeing”. Using an interdisciplinary approach, the thesis reveals the rhetorical devices of katabasis and ekphrasis in poetry which share common strategies with cognitive theories on the function of imagination. A selection of poems written by Adrienne Rich and Seamus Heaney are examined for their techniques of ekphrasis and exploration of katabasis. The thesis aims to reframe the function of mind, memory and imagination—key to classical and medieval conceptions of ekphrasis and katabasis—into modern and contemporary ekphrasis criticism.