Elaine Auyoung responds to Anna Gibson
Anna’s account of competing Victorian theories about how writers achieve verisimilar effects underscores the Victorians’ shared interest in how the objects of verbal representation can be made to feel “virtually present.” This is, in effect, an interest in the relationship between language and the body. Recovering the centrality of this relationship, as Coombs urges us to do, has major implications for novel theory and for literary studies:
- It highlights the disciplinary need to revisit our received ideas about how literary language works. Instead of relying on poststructuralist interpretations of early twentieth-century linguistic theory, we might consider more recent, well-established findings on the relationship between language and the body, which in many ways pick up where Victorian psychologists left off.
- It reveals a road not taken by novel studies. Whereas, in Père Goriot, Balzac explicitly invites readers to allegorize the concrete details he provides, writers like Eliot and Hardy sought to transmit sensation as an epistemological, ethical, and aesthetic end in itself. Yet because of Balzac’s outsized influence on novel theory, critics have long felt an imperative to always allegorize. What would novel studies look like if we recognized perception as a central project of novelistic representation?
- It requires us to think more about the embodied knowledge that readers may or may not bring to a text and how this informs or delimits what they are able to get out of it. As Hume reflects, we “cannot form to ourselves a just idea of the taste of a pineapple, without having actually tasted it.”
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