Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Exacting encounters: Objectivity and literality in early Victorian realism
by Bishop, Benjamin Joseph, Ph.D., University of California, Irvine, 2010, 184; 3428245
Abstract (Summary)

“Exacting Encounters” investigates a disruption of the effort in realism to organize the world into already secured categories by the emergence of objectivity, which obstructs the capacity of early Victorians to correlate the world to themselves. Rather than understand this rupture as the cause of some irreparable crises of the subject brought on by an “end” of representation, my dissertation argues that the encounter with irregularity fixes the attention of early realists who respond to the particularity of their worlds with an experimental realism that employs a precise rhetorical and graphical manipulation of letter and line. Chapter one begins by showing how realism is initially outsourced to the British Empire where Edwards Lane exploits Egyptian resources with an exhaustive account of its terrain, imbuing it with an “exoticism” that sustains an interest in the prosaic work of description, which, in turn, unsettles Lane’s ability to narrate himself as a member of the world he explores. Chapter two shows how Dickens’s surrogate narrator, Esther, faces a different kind of narrative disruption in Bleak House, where unending metonymic displacement produces a world that makes everything a part of it. She patiently handles this by pushing the trope it to its most extreme limits where letters give way to literal blanks, uncovering a way out of the novel’s constrictive cosmos. These problems of disruption extend beyond narratological methods of organization and chapter three shows how William Whewell theorizes this early realist problem with an unusual commitment to an ontological inconsistency between necessary form and the existence of empirical reality that is at first shored up with what we calls a “permanent line.” He eventually literalizes this metaphor with a one dimensional line that no longer names the division but literally inscribes it. Chapter four investigates how John Ruskin’s Modern Painters conditions its aesthetic principles on the subject’s capacity to achieve a proportion between what he experiences and what nature exhibits. This causes Ruskin to place an excessive check to metaphor and steady himself through the textual limitations of geometry where his own place is determined by a single point on the perspective plane.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Miller, Joseph H.
Commitee: Burt, Ellen, Terada, Rei, Tucker, Irene
School: University of California, Irvine
Department: Comparative Literature - Ph.D.
School Location: United States -- California
Source: DAI-A 72/02, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: British and Irish literature
Keywords: Aesthetics, British realism, Dickens, Charles, Lane, Edwards, Literality, Narrative, Objectivity, Ontology, Realism, Ruskin, John, Whewell, William
Publication Number: 3428245
ISBN: 978-1-124-34646-5
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