The Science of the Eye and the Birth of Modern French FictionUniversity of Pennsylvania Press Critical Authors and Issues
Andrea Goulet takes the study of the novel into the realm of the visual by situating it in the context of nineteenth-century scientific and philosophical discourse about the nature of sight. She argues that French realism, detective fiction, science fiction, and literature of the fantastic from 1830 to 1910 reflected competition between two modern visual modes: a not-yet-outdated idealism and an empiricism that located truth in the body. More specifically, the book argues that key narrative forms of the nineteenth century were shaped by a set of scientific debates: between idealism and materialism in Honoré Balzac's Comédie humaine, between deduction and induction in early French detective fiction, and between objective vision and subjective vision in the "optogram" fictions of Jules Verne and others.
Goulet aims to revise critical views on the modern novel in a number of ways. For instance, although many literary studies focus on the impact of cinema, photography, and painting, Optiques asserts the materialist bases of realism by establishing a genealogy of popular fictional genres as fundamentally optical, that is, as articulated according to bodily notions of sight.
With its chronological and interdisciplinary scope, Optiques stands to contribute an important chapter to the study of literary modernity in its scientific context.
Introduction. The Epistemology of Optics: Seeing Subjects, Modern Minds
PART I: REALISM AND THE VISIONARY EYE: BALZAC'S OPTICS OF NARRATION
1. Second Sight and the Authorial chambre noire: Les Chouans, Louis Lambert
2. "Tomber dans le phénomène": Afterimages in La Maison Nucingen and Le Bal de Sceaux
3. Alternative Optics: Séraphita, La Recherche de l'Absolu, and La Peau de Chagrin
4. "Effets de lumière," or a "Second" Second Sight: La Fille aux yeux d'or
PART II: TENEBROUS AFFAIRS: ROMANS POLICIERS AND THE DETECTING EYE
5. Cuvier, Helmholtz, and the Visual Logics of Deduction: Poe, Doyle, Gaboriau
6. Learning to See: Monsieur Lecoq and Empiricist Theories of Vision
7. Sealed Chambers and Open Eyes: Leroux's Mystère de la chambre jaune
PART III: VILLIERS, VERNE, AND CLARETIE: TOWARD A FIN-DE-SIÈCLE "OPTOGRAMMATOLOGY"
8. Death and the Retina: Claire Lenoir, L'Accusateur, and Les Frères Kip
9. Optogram Fiction: Communication, Doubt, and the Fantastic
10. Tropical Piercings: Nationalism, Atavism, and the Eye of the Corpse
11. The Fin-de-siècle Logic of the Afterimage: Hysteria, Hallucination, and Villier's L'Eve future
Epilogue. The Afterimage of Reference: Optics and the nouveau roman