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Distributed Cognition in Victorian Culture and Modernism$
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Miranda Anderson, Peter Garratt, and Mark Sprevak

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9781474442244

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: May 2021

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9781474442244.001.0001

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Aesthetic Perception and Embodied Cognition: Art and Literature at the Fin de Siècle

Aesthetic Perception and Embodied Cognition: Art and Literature at the Fin de Siècle

(p.79) 5 Aesthetic Perception and Embodied Cognition: Art and Literature at the Fin de Siècle
Distributed Cognition in Victorian Culture and Modernism

Marion Thain

Edinburgh University Press

The modernity of late-nineteenth-century visualities has been influentially and persistently located in a disembodiment of the eye. Yet this was a period which saw theorists of aesthetic perception such as Vernon Lee and Bernard Berenson developing embodied formulations of vision that put sight and the other senses into intimate dialogue. Starting with Vernon Lee’s writing on ‘empathy’ and Berenson’s theorisation of ‘tactile values’, this essay argues for the importance of ideas of embodied perception to impressionist and post-impressionist art and literature, and suggests we can find in late-nineteenth-century aestheticism a colourful thread that needs to be woven into the history of what might now be called embodied cognition. To recognize this is to change our understanding of modernist visualities. The phenomenology of Merleau-Ponty is called on to help bridge, historically and conceptually, between the work of a group of aesthetes and decadents at the turn of the twentieth century and the contemporary framework of distributed cognition that is the basis for our project.

Keywords:   Perception, Embodied Cognition, Art, Poetry, Aestheticism, Decadence, Impressionism, Post-Impressionism

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