The Science of the Soul: Spectrality and Modernity in Nineteenth Century America.

Samuel Philip Pizelo. The Science of the Soul: Spectrality and Modernity in Nineteenth Century America. Honors Thesis, University of Washington. 2013.


My research focuses on the antebellum period of the American Republic, and the transition of American knowledge into a modern episteme (invoking Michel Foucault). I encounter this broader goal through a focus on the modern observer, and the social networks within which it is situated. More specifically, I examine the organization of empirical knowledge around the observer in what I term "spectrality" (with a nod to Marc Guillame and Jean Baudrillard)—the phenomena that occur on the topography of the eyes, from the diffusion of the spectrum of light to the appearance of specters in hauntings. I do this through the readings of a number of cultural objects; a painting by American artist John Quidor, the gothic-romantic texts of Charles Brockden Brown and Nathaniel Hawthorne, the spiritualist writing of Robert Dale Owen, the technology of the combination daguerreotype/stereoscope, and a daguerreotype taken of a dead child (a common practice at the time). To collide these disparate cultural objects, I use Bruno Latour's Actor Network Theory (ANT), an action-focused bottom up approach of social analysis. By taking this more holistic approach, I noticed that the antebellum Republic exhibited a preoccupation with representations of spectrality in Art, scientifico-cultural disciplines (such as Mesmerism and Spiritualism), and technology. It is my contention that this Actor Network of spectrality emerged to enclose the anxieties of subjective vision within language, natural science, and the mind, and sought to regain fixity of truth for the modern subject.

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