Miriam Vieira

4F Contemporary Ekphrasis
Session 4 – July 2, 15:30 – 17:30

Ekphrastic Layers in How to Be Both, By Ali Smith

The majority of models proposed to the study of media transformation, as the ones suggested by Irina Rajewsky and Lars Elleström, include ekphrasis as relevant a (trans)medial procedure for research investigation within intermedial studies. There is significant amount of consistent critical reflections on the relations between literature and painting promoted by this ancient device. Yet there has been ascending interest in other sources of inspiration for ekphrasis, such as sculpture, photography and architecture. I have elsewhere investigated the different effects promoted by the modes of different source-media; for instance, while ekphraseis inspired by painting tend to be contemplative, the ones inspired by architecture are likely take advantage of the edifice’s performative affordances. But what happens when painting is an intrinsic part of a construction system, such as fifteenth century frescos? The plot of the novel How to be Both (2014), by Scottish author Ali Smith, is built on a series of ekphrastic passages inspired by Francesco del Cossa’s frescos, especially the ones about Salone dei Mesi in Palazzo Schifanoia, Ferrara, Italy. Thus, the aim of this paper is to present the role of ekphrasis inspired by Renaissance frescos in the How to be Both. To do so, I will rely on the notion of ekphrasis as a theoretical operator taking into account the proposal of narrative ekphrasis (Yacobi, 1995) along with an interpretative model of architectural ekphrasis (Vieira, 2017), which was developed from the study of transfer of media characteristics among dissimilar media (Elleström, 2010, 2014). 


Professor of Literatures in English at Universidade Federal de São João del Rei, Brazil. Postdoctoral fellowship at Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais (CNPq, 2018). Doctor in Literary Studies by the same institution with mobility funded by Erasmus Mundus at Lunds Universitet, Sweden. Member of International Society for Intermedial Studies; IAWIS/IAERTE since 2014; and Intermídia: estudos sobre a intermidialidade since 2007. Edited the volume: Escrita, som, imagem: perspectivas contemporâneas (2019) with Márcia Arbex and Thaïs Diniz. Recently published the paper Architectural EkphraseisUnveiling a Brazilian Wall-Less House in Contemporary Fiction in the volume TransmediationsCommunication Across Media Borders (2020), edited by Niklas Salmose and Lars Elleström. Current research areas: literature and architecture, ekphrasis, and (teaching of) intermediality.