Date of Degree

6-2017

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

English

Advisor(s)

Hildegard Hoeller

Committee Members

Morris Dickstein

Marc Dolan

Rob King

Subject Categories

American Literature | American Popular Culture | American Studies | Cultural History | Film and Media Studies | Interdisciplinary Arts and Media | Visual Studies

Keywords

American Literature, Early Cinema, Visual Technology, Intermediality, Media Studies, Mass Culture

Abstract

Writing the Projected Image examines the nexus between American literature and popular screen media during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, revealing that modern authorship became deeply enmeshed with the moving picture even before the dominance of Hollywood. Centered on writers situated at the crossroads of naturalism and modernism – specifically, Edith Wharton, Stephen Crane, James Weldon Johnson, and Jack London – this dissertation reads literary culture’s intermedial relations with an expansive screen culture encompassing optical projection technologies and the cinema from its emergence to the transition to narrative feature films. While scholars have emphasized the affinities between literary practice and the mimetic charge of photographic media, I argue that authors principally regarded the projected image in terms of the screen’s illusions, magnetism, and manipulation, illustrating how longstanding disputes over representational realism were refigured and replayed within this new media ecology of the screen.

Concentrating on this point of transition for both literary style and media history, this study diverges from much of the work on literature and silent cinema, which has been chiefly devoted to later high modernist writing, and also extends its reach to pre-cinematic technology to suggest the diversity of early screen culture. By bridging literary scholarship and the fields of early film studies and media archaeology, it illuminates the modes of media analysis embedded in the fictional texts of this period and reflected in authors’ initial professional entanglements in the incipient culture industry. Drawing on archival sources including newspapers, film scenarios, studio documents, and the growing entertainment trade press, I trace how writers’ engagement with form, mass spectatorship, and the dynamics of media change was elicited by the phantasmagoric image, its screen serving as the symbolic battleground on which they tested the logic and limits of the real. Just as the totalizing vision promised by screen media resonates with realist and naturalist aesthetics, in exposing the idiosyncrasies of perception these novel visual technologies act as evocative analogues for subjectivity and consciousness, anticipating typically modernist paradigms. Authors’ eventual participation in the budding film industry, moreover, can be seen as not only prompted by commercial imperatives but also as an attempt to inject a degree of social reality into a medium they had viewed as largely driven by diverting spectacle. Writing the Projected Image contends that this screen revolution spilled out onto the page and ultimately transformed how authors addressed a mass public increasingly defined by new media.

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