Skip navigation
Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item:
Title: Feeling Thought: Literature and the Material Imagination
Authors: Rose, Kira Alexandra
Advisors: DiBattista, Maria
Contributors: Comparative Literature Department
Subjects: Comparative literature
Issue Date: 2017
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: This dissertation addresses two fundamental questions about the relation of perception to mental, and particularly imaginative, processes: why do modern and contemporary authors turn to unruly matter to describe mental activity? What forms do imagery and description take when writers stage perceptual contingency through material contingency? In answering these questions, I provide fresh approaches to Vladimir Nabokov, Elizabeth Bowen, and A.S. Byatt, who, I conclude, use shape-shifting matter to evoke the mind-body connection. Studies of ekphrasis and perception to date do not give sustained assessments of the role of the mind-body problem in literary description; they also do not attend to the potential of shape-shifting phenomena like shadows and weather states to disrupt binaries between mind and matter. Literature that links fluid matter with fluid cognition, I contend, invites an increasingly sympathetic encounter between human and inhuman nature; it does so by broadening the possibilities of mental mediation – how the mind channels the living world – while enforcing the limits of possession. I begin by demonstrating that Nabokov’s unconventional treatment of shadows, which in his texts signals creative activity, stems from how the author perceived “shadow” as a synesthete not subject to strict sensory divisions. Combining art historical scholarship, studies of synesthesia, and the writings of Leonardo da Vinci, I focus on The Gift to show how Nabokov reinterprets the light-shadow binary by transforming shadow into a dual signpost for the attempt to describe perception and knowledge that it can only be described figuratively. Next, I place together Bowen and Woolf’s essays on cinema and draw on playwright Maurice Maeterlinck to distinguish Bowen’s approach to communicating unruly consciousness. I then turn to The Death of the Heart to analyze how the author relocates mental action in atmospheric realities. The dissertation culminates in a chapter on A.S. Byatt. In it, I trace how Byatt looks to Romantic and Metaphysical poetry, neuroscience’s metamorphic metaphors for cognition, and mythologies about shape-shifting to destabilize gender and mind-body categories. I argue that Possession uses the elements and metamorphosis to stage ongoing thought as a felt process, which language translates imperfectly.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog:
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Comparative Literature

Files in This Item:
File Description SizeFormat 
Rose_princeton_0181D_12113.pdf2.41 MBAdobe PDFView/Download

Items in Dataspace are protected by copyright, with all rights reserved, unless otherwise indicated.