Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

The Silver Lining of Literature and Science: Spectral Reflections of Philosophy-Physics in Nineteenth-Century British Epistolary Novels
by Farrar, Aileen Miyuki, Ph.D., University of Louisiana at Lafayette, 2014, 216; 3622934
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation responds to the belligerence, hesitance, indifference, and wonder that has intensified over the last three decades towards the interdisciplinary study of literature and science. Since the nineteenth century, spectral metaphors have given shape to narratives of interdisciplinary tension, informing a history worried by horror stories of Cartesian mechanization, posthuman disembodiment, and academic hostilities. In answer, this dissertation engages the feminist technoscience and posthuman feminist theories of interdisciplinary scholars, including Gillian Beer, George Levine, and N. Katherine Hayles, and re-examines the narratives and metaphors of nineteenth-century Britain which consummate readings of mechanism and meaning. The goal is not to encourage reiterations of the ghost as a figure of interrupted disciplines, as others have established, but to re-examine the specter as an interstitial structure constellating the many speculative associations that welcome bold explorations between science and literature. Thus this dissertation reappropriates the specter as a harbinger of propitious interdisciplinarity. To this end, my arguments locate the philosophy-physics of Newtonian, entropic, and chaotic science in the diegetic margins of subjective experience in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1818), Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights (1847), and Henry James's The Turn of the Screw (1898). In addition to the hybrid structure of the epistolary novel, I examine the spectrality (e.g. monstrosity, elusiveness, promise, and desire) of metaphors, including those of multiformed bodies, light, absence, and reflections. In this way, this dissertation pursues the épistèmic changes from matter- and motion- to energy- and information-based ontoepistemologies and traces an evolution of the nineteenth-century epistolary novel in its advancement alongside the sciences as both begin to comprehend a more indeterminate and probabilistic universe, simultaneously immense, vacuous, and wondrous beyond the rigidity of mimetic narrative. These analyses find meaning in human narrative as part of that nature which, like science, art seeks to understand and, in the end, reconnect nineteenth-century British literature not just with the scientific discourses of the period but with the increasingly technoscientific and ecocritical culture of the twenty-first century.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: DeVine, Christine
Commitee: Goodwin, Jonathan, Wilson, Mary Ann
School: University of Louisiana at Lafayette
Department: English
School Location: United States -- Louisiana
Source: DAI-A 75/10(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Philosophy of Science, British and Irish literature
Keywords: Chaos, Epistolary novels, Newtonian science, Nineteenth-century literature, Thermodynamics
Publication Number: 3622934
ISBN: 978-1-303-95093-3
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