Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Vibrant environments: The feel of color from the white whale to the red wheelbarrow
by Gaskill, Nicholas, Ph.D., The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2010, 280; 3418709
Abstract (Summary)

In the closing decades of the nineteenth century, a host of color media technologies combined with new theories of embodied perception to alter both the types of color experiences commonly available and the general understanding of their significance. Synthetic colors brightened all manner of manufactured goods, from textiles and tin can labels to candy and oil paints, and these colored materials sparked a flurry of interest in the sensory and affective impact of cultural environments. This dissertation argues that the discourses and practices of modern color in the U.S. guided literary writers in experimenting with the effects of textual “environments” on readers and in demonstrating, through these investigations, the role of aesthetic experience in the extra-artistic realms of commerce, political reform, and education. At issue in each of these areas is the formation of individual subjects—and the groups they might create—through interactions with an arranged material environment. Color, more so than other sensory qualities, proved especially useful in tracking and intervening in these processes because it so readily slides among sensory, linguistic, and cultural domains, all functioning within a complex act of perception. I contend that late-nineteenth-century writers such as Hamlin Garland, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Stephen Crane, Charles Chesnutt, and L. Frank Baum—and later authors such as Nella Larsen and Claude McKay—embraced color both as a model for literary practice (of how texts might affect readers) and as a technique for dramatizing the ways in which social identities emerge from a historical network of material and cultural practices. In the end, these two functions prove inseparable, and my account of how color launched literary realism into modernism doubles as an argument for the role of the aesthetic in our daily lives.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Thrailkill, Jane F.
Commitee: Cantwell, Robert, Flaxman, Gregory, McGowan, John, Wald, Priscilla
School: The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Department: English
School Location: United States -- North Carolina
Source: DAI-A 71/09, Dissertation Abstracts International
Source Type: DISSERTATION
Subjects: American literature
Keywords: Aesthetic, Affect, American literature, Color, Perception, Sensation
Publication Number: 3418709
ISBN: 9781124172569
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