The First Scale of Attention: Linguistic Form and Aesthetic Experience in the Novel

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The First Scale of Attention: Linguistic Form and Aesthetic Experience in the Novel

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Title: The First Scale of Attention: Linguistic Form and Aesthetic Experience in the Novel
Author: Pane, Greta Lynn
Citation: Pane, Greta Lynn. 2013. The First Scale of Attention: Linguistic Form and Aesthetic Experience in the Novel. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.
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Abstract: We read a novel one sentence at a time. The first scale of attention for even the longest novel is the play of forces within the thousands of individual sentences. This project aims to rescale the analysis of novelistic form, elucidating this play of forces: how do they shape attention, and how do structures of attention give rise to aesthetic experience? We recognize the importance of form in music and architecture in part because there is no referential content to distract us. When it comes to the realist novel, however, its rich referential field easily obscures the dynamics of experience created by form. This study seeks to elucidate those dynamics. Chapter One analyzes Austen’s long interval of tension. Austen’s capacious sentence stretches attention over an entire descriptive event, producing drama and crises even when events in the fictional world are characterized by equilibrium and serenity. With the syntax of the sentence unresolved, attention cannot rest. An achieved description thus has perceptual corollaries in temporal commitment, and in attention that is divided between the immediate claims of elaboration and the prospect of closure. In Dickens, microstructures of just one to three sentences elicit the sudden apercu. Like metaphor, the apercu emerges through our recognition of a meaningful relationship between actions, facts, and utterances. Dickens presents only the raw materials of discovery (say, by juxtaposing a character’s mutually contradictory statements), leaving to us the second-order activity of recognition (her disingenuousness). Chapter Three examines how Hardy employs linguistic analogues to represent the essential structure of perceptual experience. Chapter Four, on late James, shows how shifts in attention on two scales produce two distinct experiences. Shifts to the periphery of a scene act as a temporal ballast, adding weight to the perceived dimensions of the passage. Shifts within the sentence elicit intense perceptual involvement, even when that absorption exceeds what is warranted by the semantic plane. The essence of the novel’s referenced world can be preserved in memory, but linguistic form resists memory; it is immediate and ephemeral. During the act of reading, it is one of the novel’s greatest pleasures.
Citable link to this page: http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:10983294
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