18 June 2014

Review: Ghost-Seers, Detectives, and Spiritualists by Srdjan Smajić

Hardcover, 262 pages
Published 2010
Borrowed from the library
Read December 2012
Ghost-Seers, Detectives, and Spiritualists: Theories of Vision in Victorian Literature and Science
by Srdjan Smajić

Smajić traces connections between ghost-seers in fact and fiction in the Victorian age. I had a vague memory that I struggled with the book, but reviewing my notes (eighteen months old; I am very behind on writing up my reviews!), I see that I took extensive notes on the fifth chapter, "Visual learning: sight and Victorian epistemology," about the ways that our sight can be interfered with and the ways it can interfere with our other senses. In contrast to earlier periods, the problem with sight in Victorian philosophy and fiction is usually not the visual organ itself, but the ways we draw inferences from our optics-- Watson sees the same things as Holmes, but Holmes understands them better. There's some connections be drawn with the story Daston and Galison tell of scientific objectivity, how scientist moved from fearing that the world would overwhelm their observations to fearing they would overwhelm their own observations. I found some of the discussion of occult fiction less interesting that that of detective fiction, but it became useful when Smajić traced the intersection of the two in occult detective fiction.

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