Translating non-figuration: Heather Dohollau’s poems on pure visuality

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


This article explores the dialogue between poems by Heather Dohollau and art forms that seem particularly alien to verbal ordering, namely so-called ‘abstract’ canvases by Joan Mitchell (No Daisies) and Geneviève Asse (Sans titre, 1988). Dohollau's ekphrastic texts relate to the painting's verbal element — its title — which teases us into identifying objects in the painting even as it forbids us to do so. Representational instability is reflected in the free circulation of metaphors set in motion. Words do not aim to dominate their visual counterpart, thus challenging views of ekphrasis as rivalry that are traced from Lessing to the critical rhetoric of W. J. T. Mitchell and his followers. Rather, I argue that Dohollau's poems seek to translate the painting's very resistance to language through specifically poetic resources. Words also aim to recreate art perception in its sensorial, preverbal fabric by emphasizing the haptic involvement of sight. Thus Dohollau's poems gesture towards a visual–verbal bilingualism, transcending the limits of what a single semiotic system can express. In the process, both the form and the ethos of ekphrasis are reinvented.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)276-289
Number of pages14
JournalFrench Studies
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2010


  • contemporary French poetry
  • visual arts
  • non-figuration
  • ekphrasis
  • haptic sight


Dive into the research topics of 'Translating non-figuration: Heather Dohollau’s poems on pure visuality'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this