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Title: The aesthetic of empiricism : self, knowledge and reality in mid-Victorian prose
Author: Garratt, P. J. E.
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 2007
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Focusing on the mid-nineteenth century, this thesis argues that far from initiating or undergirding a crude representationalism, empiricism predicated its search for knowledge on a profound instability, one embodied within the textual language through which it sought its articulation. That instability stemmed from the dominant view that the self was constructed in and through experience, and perforce restlessly alterable or unfinished, while also being central to the methodology of observation underlying in the empiricists’ view of the world. In the work of John Ruskin, G. H. Lewes, George Eliot, Alexander Bain and Herbert Spencer the principle of relationality consistently shapes their view of reality and their epistemological drive. By considering a variety of their writing – philosophical, literary, psychological, scientific, critical – it will be argued that ‘empiricism’ provides a useful rubric for their common, primary, deep-seated epistemological impulse. In various self-conscious ways, their arguments unfold in destabilising narrative forms, dramatising the principles of limitation and provisionality so crucial to their meaning. Rather like the reality they attempt to describe, works like Bain’s The Senses and the Intellect (1855) or Lewes’s Problems of Life and Mind (1874-9) adopt a sprawling, proliferating structure which seems to register a restless struggle to unify knowledge, and by dramatising this resistance to the synthesising will they acknowledge in and through narrative itself the impossibility of some perfect (and therefore fixed) organisation. To this extent, these texts incorporate the theme of multiplicity at a narrative level. Novels like Middlemarch (1871-2) not only make connective structures (networks, webs, tangles) a way of describing the morphology of communal life, they assimilate this logic of association into their narrative method. After historically retracing these questions to the figure of David Hume, subsequent chapters explore different aspects of narrative and knowledge in these writers: the aesthetic of realism, the problems of perception, the knowing body, and the negotiation of relativism.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available