Date of Degree

5-2015

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

English

Advisor(s)

Nancy Yousef

Keywords

British Romanticism; George Colman the Younger; Mary Shelley; Percy Bysshe Shelley; Thomas De Quincey; William Godwin

Abstract

The sense of touch has largely been neglected in the study of Romantic literature. While recent histories of the senses hold that sight and touch became disarticulated toward the end of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth, these studies tend to emphasize the elevation of sight as a more advanced mode of perception, suitable for observing experiments or appreciating art, over the more base sense of touch. Questions of tactility tend to be absorbed into histories of materiality or the body, and this terminological slippage becomes particularly apparent as these histories enter the Romantic period. However, when we attend to the sense of touch, an alternative aesthetic history emerges that emphasizes engagement rather than, or in tension with, observation. Touching Time argues that British Romantic literature develops a new approach to tactility, a way of engaging with the world physically in the present in order to introduce new possibilities for the future. While the field of vision is experienced linearly as we attach narrative structure to the organization of visible objects within that field, the sense of touch resists such linearity. Rather, the touch exists in the fleeting moment that opens up the possibility of both past and future for a totality beyond the human capacity for narrative. Through my readings of William Godwin, George Colman the Younger, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Thomas De Quincey, and Mary Shelley, I uncover a radical Romantic aesthetic that critiques the politics of witness and privileges the politics of social implication. We are accustomed to thinking of Romantic literature as representing a new way of seeing, and it does. But by focusing on touch rather than sight, I am able to emphasize the more social and interactive aspects of this literature.

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