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Tactility and modernity: the sense of touch in D. H. Lawrence, Alfred Stieglitz, Walter Benjamin, and Maurice Merleau-Ponty

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Title: Tactility and modernity: the sense of touch in D. H. Lawrence, Alfred Stieglitz, Walter Benjamin, and Maurice Merleau-Ponty
Author(s): Takamura, Mineo
Director of Research: Blake, Nancy
Doctoral Committee Chair(s): Blake, Nancy
Doctoral Committee Member(s): Bauer, Dale M.; Mathy, Jean-Philippe; Tierney, Robert T.
Department / Program: Comparative & World Literature
Discipline: Comparative Literature
Degree Granting Institution: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Degree: Ph.D.
Genre: Dissertation
Subject(s): Modernism Modernity Technology Primitivism D. H. Lawrence Alfred Stieglitz Walter Benjamin Maurice Merleau-Ponty
Abstract: The aim of this dissertation is to examine the unique importance of tactile perception in Western Modernism, focusing on three individuals and an artistic group, namely, D. H. Lawrence, Walter Benjamin, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and an artistic circle centering around Alfred Stieglitz. In the tradition of Western culture, touch is often regarded as the “lowest” sense while vision is privileged as the “intellectual sense.” Through a comparative analysis of Modernist art, literature, and philosophy, I argue that the emphasis on touch in the early twentieth century challenges this hierarchy of perceptions while destabilizing the distinction between the animal and the human, and between the primitive and the civilized. I particularly focus on the oppositional relationship between modern technology and the organic image of touch, arguing that the increased discourse of touch occurs concomitantly with the rapid development of visual technology in the modern age. This study consists of four distinct but thematically interrelated chapters. Chapter 1 discusses the discourse of touch in D. H. Lawrence’s late works on art composed between 1925 and 1930, with a particular focus on his travel writing on the Etruscan civilization and his essays on Cézanne. Chapter 2 examines the collective discourse and imagery of touch in Alfred Stieglitz and his artistic circle, including Max Weber, Waldo Frank, Paul Rosenfeld, and William Carlos Williams. Chapter 3 explores the Modernist dialectic between the organic and the technological in Walter Benjamin’s work in terms of its relationship to his ambivalent conception of the tactile sense, focusing on the centrality of touch in his theories of history, mimesis, and translation. Chapter 4 describes the prototypical image of touch in Modernism by analyzing Merleau-Ponty’s ambiguous notion of tactile chiasm, and discusses the influence of Cézanne and Proust on his tactile conception of space and time. Through these four chapters, this study attempts to describe the Modernist revolution of discourse on perception.
Issue Date: 2012-02-06
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/2142/29741
Rights Information: Copyright 2011 Mineo Takamura
Date Available in IDEALS: 2012-02-06
Date Deposited: 2011-12
 

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