Poetics of the Gaze in the 19th and 20th Century

Englisches Seminar, Universität Zürich, Herbstsemester 2009 ///

In analyzing narrative texts we often use optical terminology. We talk about point-of-view, perspective and focus; a text offers us insights or we become aware of its blind spots. In this seminar we want to take such optical metaphors serious by discussing texts, which explicitly deal with the act of seeing and the gaze. In doing so these texts make a phenomenon their topic, which is ever since the renaissance and its interest in optics of the highest importance. But – as will be shown – texts about the gaze are also comments on art and literature itself and their ability of altering our view on the world and on ourselves.

We will be discussing texts like «Frankenstein», «The Turn of the Screw» and Paul Austers «New York Trilogy» as well as short stories by E. A. Poe and H. G. Wells. We will also analyze the movies «Rear Window» by Alfred Hitchcock and «Peeping Tom» by Michael Powell. As this seminar should demonstrate how theory enables us to see (sic!) new things in narratives, we will have to study key philosophical texts about the gaze by Jean-Paul Sartre, Michel Foucault and Jacques Lacan.


17. 9. Introduction

24. 9. H.G. Wells: «The Country of the Blind»

1.10. Jean-Paul Sartre: «The Look» from: Being and Nothingness (L’être et le néant)

8.10. Mary Shelley: Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus

15.10. Michel Foucault: «The Panopticon» from: Discipline and Punish; The Birth of the Prison (Surveiller et punir)

22.10. Edgar Allan Poe: «The Purloined Letter» + Jacques Lacan: «Seminar on Poe’s Purloined Letter» from: Ecrits

29.10. Edgar Allan Poe: «The Oval Portrait» + «Berenice»

5.11. Henry James: The Turn of the Screw

12.11. Charlotte Perkins Gilman: «The Yellow Wallpaper»

19.11. Alfred Hitchcock: Rear Window

3.12. Michael Powell: Peeping Tom

10.12. Paul Auster: City of Glass

17.12. Paul Auster: Ghosts + The Locked Room

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