Defense Date


Graduation Date

Fall 2009


Immediate Access

Submission Type


Degree Name





McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts

Committee Chair

Anne Brannen

Committee Member

Linda Kinnahan

Committee Member

Bernard Beranek


deixis, dream vision, ekphrasis, mystical vision, temporality


"Ekphrastic Medieval Visions: A New Discussion in Ekphrasis and Interarts Theory" argues that the dream-vision and mystical-vision texts of the high and late Middle Ages are ekphrastic works. With their inclusion within the purview of criticism and theories of ekphrasis, new formal qualities of the ekphrastic mode come to the surface such as its dynamism and polytemporality, its reliance on the processes of memory, and diffuseness of narrative consciousness, rather than Murray Krieger's "still moment" model that presupposes a sovereign subjectivity, an attempt to have the sign signify itself, or the paragone model espoused by W. J. T. Mitchell and James Heffernan that defines the ekphrastic parameters through a predetermined battle of binaries, visual and verbal, masculine and feminine.

Chapter One of the dissertation provides an overview of the history of the study of ekphrasis and critiques mainstream definitions of ekphrasis. Discussion in the second chapter uncovers the differences between ekphrastic renderings of a static art object as per the traditional conceptions of ekphrasis, and the spatiotemporal dynamism that characterizes the ekphrastic dream. Chapters Three and Four examine these characteristics through close readings of two medieval dream-vision texts: Pearl and Piers Plowman respectively. Chapter Five treats the ekphrastic nature of the medieval mystical visionary text, noting its relationship to memory and traditional characteristics of mystical visions, such as apophasis and synaesthesia; the subsequent two chapters respectively examine the ekphrasis of Hildegard of Bingen's Scivias and the space of revision between Julian of Norwich's A Vision Showed to a Devout Woman and A Revelation of Love.

The conclusion considers contemporary poetry by Barbara Guest, Kathleen Fraser, and Ciaran Carson in light of the new information that medieval texts bring to the understanding of the ekphrastic mode and discusses intersecting concerns of the medieval and contemporary periods about authorship and authority, interpretation, the time and space of the text, and the discernment or questioning of literary and aesthetic boundaries.