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Sight and Knowledge Disconnected:
The Epistemology of the Visual and the Ideological Gaze in the Novels of E. M. Forster and Virginia Woolf

URANO, KAORU (2010) Sight and Knowledge Disconnected:
The Epistemology of the Visual and the Ideological Gaze in the Novels of E. M. Forster and Virginia Woolf.
Doctoral thesis, Durham University.



One of the ways to understand literary modernism is to see it as a response to the crisis of Western ocularcentrism. First taking up E. M. Forster as a main figure and later shifting its point of focus to Virginia Woolf and finally to a contemporary author Zadie Smith, this dissertation examines how literature can respond when our long-standing belief in the sight’s ability to reach knowledge is challenged. Forster’s novels, written at the dawn of the twentieth century, can be read as a remarkably honest record of the age’s epistemological anxiety and puzzlement at the recognition that the equation of seeing and knowing in its familiar Cartesian guise was hardly possible any more. The dim feeling of unfitness that Forster felt about realism at the beginning of his career seemed to accompany him to the end, until he felt that he could not produce any more novels after A Passage to India (1924). For Woolf, on the other hand, whose prime as a novelist came later than that of Forster, this condition appeared not so much as a “crisis” of ocularcentrism but rather as a stimulus to invent her new feminist aesthetics of the visual, which is positively assisted by the concept of sight as physical. It culminates with Lily Briscoe the painter’s effort to seize her vision in To the Lighthouse (1927), onto which Woolf may have projected her own venture, which was to grow out of the realist method of writing. The last chapter casts light on a moment that could be called an emergence of a new ocularcentrism by exploring Smith’s latest novel On Beauty (2005), which is based on Forster’s Howards End (1910) and prominently focuses on the meaning that the act of seeing can have in our postmodern world.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:"E. M. Forster" "Virginia Woolf" "ocularcentrism" "the modernist novel and the visual culture" "Zadie Smith" "the gaze in literature"
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > English Studies, Department of
Thesis Date:2010
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:03 Aug 2010 10:39

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