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Enter Audience: Forms of Theatrical Spectatorship in Modernist Writing


The early twentieth century saw rapid changes in the technologies and concepts of perception, from the development of phenomenology and the emergence of film to the fracture of Renaissance perspective in painting and the avant-garde’s vitalization of simultaneity, durée and multimedia. At the center of all these innovations stood the spectator. For modernists like Marcel Proust, Wyndham Lewis, Gertrude Stein, James Joyce, and Samuel Beckett, I argue, the theater offered the paradigmatic space to articulate systems of perception, where the spectator could participate in a virtual network of formal and social relations embedded in the collective audience. My project demonstrates that the proliferation of quasi-theatrical narrative prose in the twentieth century intended to script this network of spectators into a spectacle for the reader’s gaze. Embedding theatrical forms into literary text, these authors preserved the capacity of the spectator to synthesize diverse elements into virtual systems, while they attempted to ground those systems in an audience that stood as a concrete figure for collective experience. The audience becomes a unique perceptual body and system. Indeed this emergent collective sensorium synthesizes the interaction between drama, narrative, and painting into a “virtual theater,” imagining a theatrical practice not restricted to the theater’s physical space. My dissertation, Enter Audience: Forms of Theatrical Spectatorship in Modernist Writing, argues that these perceptual systems, articulated by the modernist quasi-theatrical text, conceptualize not only the variegated ways that audience perceptions constructively and destructively interfere like propagating waves, but also how they construct the operations of social forces and proffer them to the analysis of the reader.

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