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Frenzies of the Visible: Literature and Spectatorship in the Ninet

Class at Faculty of Arts |



In the wake of Walter Benjamin's essays, modernity has been steadfastly identified with the fantastic expansion of visual experience through innovations of every cast: photography, consumerism, mass entertainment, tourism. This course attempts to scrutinize the spectrum of nineteenth century visual culture through an array of emblematic critical perspectives and through the prism of literature.

For example, we'll consider De Certeau's contention that we "pay for the ocular domination of space by losing our footing." In other words, do modern modes of visual production and consumption beleaguer the observer, requiring the individual to ceaselessly decipher the tangle of images saturating the metropolis? Does sight then become a disreputable sense, granting admission to a sinister field of perceptual distortions? Or (to counter such categorical accounts of lost referentiality) does modernity give rise to entirely new faculties of visual discernment: exilic (Poe's detective), aesthetic (Baudelaire's flaneur/James' artist), individualistic (Emerson's transparent eyeball)? To whom does vision belong? On whom is it leveled? Indeed, is there a such a thing as a female voyeur? How do we map the terrain of modern visual culture along lines that regard the complexity with which private and public, subject and object, the scopic and sexual intersect?


The House of the Seven Gables, Nathaniel Hawthorne

"The Man of the Crowd," Edgar Allan Poe

"The Oval Portrait," Edgar Allan Poe

"The Murders in the Rue Morgue," Edgar Allan Poe

Sister Carrie, Theodore Dreiser

The House of Mirth, Edith Wharton

"The Private Life," Henry James

"The Real Thing," Henry James

Struggles and Triumphs (excerpts), P.T. Barnum

Hard Times, Charles Dickens

Middlemarch, Daniel Deronda (excerpts), George Eliot

The Well Beloved, Thomas Hardy

North and South, Elizabeth Gaskell

Confessions of an English Opium Eater, Thomas De Quincey

The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde

Slide Lectures

The Invention of Photography (France, United States, Britain)

The Modern Metropolis (New York, London)

Mass Entertainment in the 19th C (Barnum) / World Fairs / Expositions /

Panorama & Diorama / the Museum

Critical Readings (selections):

Barthes, Roland. Camera Lucida.

Baudelaire, Charles. "The Painter of Modern Life."

Baudrillard, Jean. Simulations.

Benjamin, Walter. "On Some Motifs in Baudelaire."

- - - . "Paris, Capital of the Nineteenth Century."

Brodhead, Richard H. "Veiled Ladies: Toward a History of Antebellum Entertainment."

Bowlby, Rachel. Just Looking: Consumer Culture in Dreiser, Gissing, and Zola.

Crary, Jonathan. Techniques of the Observer.

Comolli, Jean Louis. "The Frenzy of the Visible."

De Certeau, Michel. The Practice of Everyday Life.

Debord, Guy. Society of the Spectacle.

Emerson, Ralph Waldo. "Nature."

Foucault, Michel, "Panopticism."

Friedberg, Anne. "The Mobilized and Virtual Gaze in Modernity: Flâneur/Flâneuse."

Halttunen, Karen. Confidence Men and Painted Women: A Study of Middle-Class Culture in America.

Jay, Martin. "Scopic Regimes of Modernity."

Marcus, Sharon. Apartment Stories: City and Home in Nineteenth-Century Paris and London.

Mulvey, Laura. Visual and Other Pleasures.

Pollock, Griselda. Vision and Difference: Femininity, Feminism and the Histories of Art.

Simmel, Georg. "Metropolis and Mental Life."

Sontag, Susan. On Photography.

Trachtenberg, Alan. "Seeing and Believing: Hawthorne's Reflections on the Daguerreotype in The House of the Seven Gables."

Wolff, Janet. "The Invisible Flaneuse: Women and the Literature of Modernity."


One mid-term essay, one final essay (each 7 pages). Active participation in discussion. Each student will make one brief seminar presentation.

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