Encounters with art-objects in discourse network 1890
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Reason for embargo
Preparation of publication manuscript(s).
What can the study of Victorian literature gain from approaching primary texts explicitly as processing, storing, and transmitting data? I suggest that, by applying tools and methodologies from German media history that are usually reserved for technical and digital media, we can illuminate how individual texts operate and better understand Victorian texts as media, which remains an underdeveloped aspect of materialist literary study. In analysing how Victorian texts depict encounters with traditional plastic art-objects, I develop new applications of Friedrich Kittler’s ideas of recursion and transposition, Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht’s method of reading for Stimmung, and the theory of cultural techniques (Kulturtechniken). I also propose new concepts to further our understanding of how encounters with art-objects function, such as the observer effect: the simultaneous perception of past and future meanings of an art-object. Close readings of Michael Field’s Sight and Song and Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s Ballads and Sonnets suggest that both volumes acknowledge encounter as a cultural technique, rather than a spontaneous, independent action by the subject. Yet they propose different roles for themselves within that technique. Michael Field’s poems purport to halt the process of recursion, but Rossetti’s demand that readers experience their own observer effects. Meanwhile, Vernon Lee’s Hauntings: Fantastic Stories and Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray demonstrate the agency of art-objects vis-à-vis the cultural technique of encounter. Lee’s stories reveal the threat to an individual subject’s production of future meanings that art-objects pose, in particular through their effects of presence. In Dorian Gray, the art-object’s own data processing circumscribes the subject’s observer effect. Each text thus evidences its operations as a medium and its complicated relationships with other media in the form of art-objects. Each processes data; recurs to art-objects, tropes, or themes and transmits future meanings thereof; and participates in the cultural technique of encounter. In so doing, these texts resisted the threats of marginalisation that faced ‘old media’ from the rise of photography and the incipient development of film at the fin de siècle.
PhD in English