Date of Award




Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Department of English

Content Description

1 online resource (v, 228 pages)

Dissertation/Thesis Chair

Richard A Barney

Committee Members

Jennifer Greiman

Subject Categories

American Literature | English Language and Literature | Philosophy


Scholars of the long eighteenth century have traced the rise in modern Anglophone culture of an observational, episto-factual standard of truth and value, new techniques of surveillance and disciplinarity, image-based and global networks of consumption and exchange, and a mass culture honing its ostensibly comprehensive power of sight through new media of text and image. While debate has occurred over the origins and meanings of the ascendancy of such an overwhelmingly visual mode of engagement with the world, scholars have tended to examine such topics in isolation, with little attention to the ethical and political consequences of the material practices engendered. This dissertation seeks to synthesize work on such issues as human perfectibility, distance, visuality, imperialism, and globalization by naming as their animating figure the specular subject whose distanced view of the world was to guarantee him dominion over it. This study thus focuses on the construction not only of a new world of modernity but a new humanity to inhabit it, one whose discursive logic finds resistance in a literary tradition overlooked in the canonization of a realist paradigm. It is in an anti-realist strain of the novel, specifically in works by Royall Tyler, Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Shelley, and Nathaniel Hawthorne, that this study locates ethical and political challenges to period discourses of race, gender, nationality, and individual freedom. What these novels discover in their cooptation of philosophy's fables of vision is not the fulfillment of a safe and surveyable modernity but rather the experience of being lost within a dangerous spectacle, one in which the representative spectator confronts an image of himself that tests the limits of language and representation.