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Haptic ModernismTouch and the Tactile in Modernist Writing$
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Abbie Garrington

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780748641741

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: September 2013

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9780748641741.001.0001

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Excursus: Pygmalion

Excursus: Pygmalion

(p.52) Excursus: Pygmalion
Haptic Modernism

Abbie Garrington

Edinburgh University Press

This excursus tackles the Ovidian figure of Pygmalion, alongside his work of art, a sculpture of the goddess Galatea. The chapter traces the deployment of the Pygmalion myth, since the mid-eighteenth century, as a means of discussing the operation of the human senses, and therefore of consolidating an art historical tradition of the viewer’s response to sculpture. Galatea’s fate as a sculpture granted life is a story of the fall into haptic subjectivity. This chapter then offers an extended reading of Rebecca West’s novel Sunflower, posthumously published in 1986 but written (and abandoned uncompleted) in the 1920s. Often misread as straightforwardly autobiographical in origin, the book is best understood as a modernist re-writing of the Pygmalion story, investigating as it does issues of touch and subjectivity, the right to sculpt or self-sculpt, as well as notions of performance, embodiment and inhabitation. Therefore, while giving Sunflower its critical due, this chapter also aims to establish Galatea as a crucial figure in any attempt to trace the history of the haptic sense modality.

Keywords:   Pygmalion, Galatea, Sculpture, Performance, Embodiment, Ovid, Rebecca West

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