│Stephan Kuhl is a doctoral candidate at the Institute for English and American Studies of the Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main, where he also worked as a “wissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiter” and “Lehrbeauftragter.” He submitted his doctoral dissertation, which examines the literary dimension of the relationship between the African American author Richard Wright and the German American social psychiatrist Fredric Wertham, in January 2016. Currently he is developing a post-doc project that will investigate the aesthetics and transformations of privacy as conceptualized in American literature. He earned his Magister Artium (M.A.) with honors in American Studies and Comparative Literature from Goethe University and spent a year with a Fulbright stipend at the Department of African and African American Studies of Harvard University. Recently he held the German Fellowship at the John W. Kluge Center of the Library of Congress in Washington, DC, which was awarded to him by the Library of Congress and the German Association for American Studies (DGfA). An essay based on his dissertation was published in African American Literary Studies: New Texts, New Approaches, New Challenges, a special issue of the journal Amerikastudien / American Studies, guest edited by Werner Sollors and Glenda R. Carpio.

The Aesthetics of Surveillance and the Temporality of Allegory

David Rosen and Aaron Santesso, in their recent award-winning study The Watchman in Pieces: Surveillance, Literature and Liberal Personhood (2013), investigate not only the aesthetics of literary representations of surveillance, but also the aesthetics of surveillance itself. Drawing on the classic terminology of formalist literary analysis, they describe surveillance as an attempt at allegorical interpretation, equating the exteriority of the surveilled with the vehicle of an allegory and the interiority of the surveilled with the tenor of an allegory. Rosen and Santesso emphasize that conceptualizations of allegory have to be understood diachronically, meaning that they underwent a historical development. But allegory, for them, remains a figure of speech that, dividing an interiority from an exteriority, has a spatial rather than a temporal structure. In contrast, this paper, tentatively titled “The Aesthetics of Surveillance and the Temporality of Allegory,” will emphasize the temporal structure of allegory. It will build upon Rosen and Santesso’s method insofar as it will use the terminology of formalist literary analysis to further the aesthetic understanding of surveillance and insofar as it will regard surveillance as an act of allegorical reading. But it will depart from their study (and from traditional literary understandings of allegory) by showing that allegory is structured diachronically. Its vehicle and tenor are not divided by space but by time. Drawing on the study by Rosen and Santesso, the terminology of formalist literary analysis, and pertinent examples from American literary history, this paper will argue that surveillance is a present allegorical reading that tries to understand a vehicle, meaning the past behavior of the surveilled, as signifying a tenor, meaning the future behavior of the surveilled. Showing that allegory can be understood as a tempus of speech, this paper will investigate surveillance’s orientation toward the future.

Advertisements