The eye looks back: Seeing and being seen from William Bartram to H.P. Lovecraft

Keywords: eye, seeing, gaze, scopic regime, nature, subjectivity

Abstract

The paper focuses on the sense of sight and seeing in the selected texts of American literature from the late 18th century to the 1930s, i.e. from William Bartram to H. P. Lovecraft. Adopting a perspective of changing “scopic regimes” – conventions of visual perception presented in a number of literary and non-literary works, the author analyzed a passage from Bartram’s Travels to reveal a combination of the discourse of science with that of the British aesthetics of gardening. In Margaret Fuller’s Summer on the Lakes (1843) the main factor is the work of imagination dissatisfied with the actual view of Niagara Falls, while in Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Nature substantial subjectivity is reduced to pure seeing. In Henry David Thoreau’s essay “Ktaadn” the subject confronts nature that is no longer transparent and turns out meaningless. In American literature of horror from Charles Brockden Brown through Edgar Allan Poe and H. P. Lovecraft, the narrator’s eye encounters the inhuman gaze of a predator, a dehumanized victim of murder, or a sinister creature from the out-er space. To conclude, the human gaze was gradually losing its ability to frame or penetrate nature, bound to confront the annihilating evil eye from which there was usually no escape.

References

Brown, Charles Brockden (1984). Edgar Huntly; or, Memoirs of a Sleep-Walker. Sydney J. Krause (ed.). Kent, OH: Kent State University Press.

Bartram, William (1996). Travels and Other Writings. New York: Library of America.

Davis, Robert Con (ed.) (1983). Lacan and Narration: The Psychoanalytic Difference in Narrative Theory. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Edwards, Jonathan (1977). Images or Shadows of Divine Things. Perry Miller (ed.). Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press.

Foucault, Michel (1973). The Order of Things: Archaeology of the Human Sciences. New York: Vintage Books.

Lovecraft, H[oward] P[hilips] (1963). The Dunwich Horror and Others. S. T. Joshi (ed.). Sauk City, Wis.: Arkham House.

Lowance, Jr., Mason I. (1980). The Language of Canaan: Metaphor and Symbol in New England from the Puritans to the Transcendentalists. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Mabbott, Thomas Ollive (ed.) (1978). Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe, Vol. III. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Porter, Carolyn (1981). Seeing & Being: The Plight of the Participant Observer in Emerson, James, Adams, and Faulkner. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press.

Regis, Pamela (1992). Describing Early America: Bartram, Jefferson, Crevecoeur, and the Influence of Natural History. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Sears, John F. (1989). Sacred Places: American Tourist Attractions in the Nineteenth Century. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press.

Spiller, Robert E. (ed.) (1971). The Collected Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Vol. I: Nature, Addresses, and Lectures. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Steele, Jeffrey (ed.) (1995). The Essential Margaret Fuller. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Thoreau, Henry David (1972). The Maine Woods. Joseph J. Moldenhauer (ed.). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Worster, Donald (1994). Nature’s Economy: A History of Ecological Ideas. Cambridge – New York: Cambridge University Press.

Published
2018-12-28
How to Cite
Wilczyński, M. (2018). The eye looks back: Seeing and being seen from William Bartram to H.P. Lovecraft. Beyond Philology An International Journal of Linguistics, Literary Studies and English Language Teaching, (15/4), 157-172. Retrieved from https://czasopisma.bg.ug.edu.pl/index.php/beyond/article/view/2445
Section
Articles