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Towards an Aesthetics of the Unseen: or, Romanticism Below and Beyond the Horizon

Oliver, Susan (2018) Towards an Aesthetics of the Unseen: or, Romanticism Below and Beyond the Horizon. In: Open: North American Society for the Study of Romanticism 26th Annual Conference, 2018-06-22 - 2018-06-25, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island, USA. (Unpublished)

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Abstract

The need for a new understanding of aesthetics that accounts for the vitality and/or agency from a world beyond the human that cannot – or will not - be seen, has received some recognition. However, no satisfactory theory has yet been found. That absence invites enquiry. This paper assesses how a set of approaches to thinking about the unseen in Romantic writing – what lies beneath and beyond our horizons – might help us develop a useful understanding of a world in which things are deliberately or accidentally obscured. The word ‘unseen’ raises questions: what might it mean to ‘un-see’ or be ‘un-seen’, and how does that state differ from being out of sight or invisible? My paper focuses on three approaches to understanding how the unseen produces affect in profound ways. Heather Sullivan has provided ways of thinking about the material and symbolic meanings of the soil, dirt, or earth (words with very different planes of association). Her elucidation of grime and the grittiness of matter beneath ground level has been particular helpful in exposing the dirtier, often hidden aspects of society. Rob Nixon’s theory of Slow Time as a framework for comprehending violence that is accretive and lacks spectacle has helped us to think about how first-world problems relate to the predicament of ‘the never will haves’. Timothy Morton’s investigation of hyperobjectivity has put ‘things’ into a new perspective where their properties transcend their literal, material significance with disturbing consequences. If time permits, I will include Jeffrey Cohen’s analysis of the interior of stone, which asks further questions about vitality that occurs over exceptionally long periods of time, and Jane Bennett’s influential vibrancy theory of material ecocriticism. The longue durée of environmental ethics and aesthetics lies beyond the scope of this 20-minute paper. Rather, I will focus on of the pressing problem of a world that Romantic writers were aware of as something they only slenderly understood. This paper cannot solve the problem of establishing a new aesthetics of the unseen for the 21st century, but it proposes ways of thinking towards that end.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Additional Information: Published proceedings: _not provided_ - Notes: Please contact the author for a copy of this paper or for more information.
Uncontrolled Keywords: Romanticism, ecocriticism, aesthetics, soil, stone, air, Walter Scott, historical fiction, folklore
Divisions: Faculty of Humanities > Literature, Film, and Theatre Studies, Department of
Depositing User: Elements
Date Deposited: 24 Jul 2019 10:31
Last Modified: 24 Jul 2019 11:15
URI: http://repository.essex.ac.uk/id/eprint/25045

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