The eye looks back: Seeing and being seen from William Bartram to H.P. Lovecraft
Keywords:eye, seeing, gaze, scopic regime, nature, subjectivity
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.