Graduate School of the Arts and Humanities Blog

Titelbild TransHumanities 2020

Abstract Anna McFarlane

My thesis will construct and investigate a gestalt theory of literature. I am proposing this theory as a means of reading science fiction texts, though I believe it can later be applied to other literary genres. In explaining the various facets of this theory I will rely on the novels of William Gibson with reference to his minor works as well as other relevant authors, including his influences such as Thomas Pynchon and J.G. Ballard. Gestalt theory has previously been used in literature to describe the way in which the human brain fills in the gaps left open in written descriptions (see ‘Gestalt Theory: Gombrich’ in Wolfgang Iser, How to Do Theory, 2006) but in this thesis I take this further to discuss what a comprehensive gestalt theory of literature could mean. In the gestalt theory that I will develop throughout this thesis I take this basic premise to its metaphorical conclusion. Rather than simply focusing on how the brain fills in descriptive gaps in the text I will investigate how the text produces effects by means of creating these hiatuses purposefully – not just in terms of an open literary style, but also through genre, political content, the treatment of subjectivity and the construction of temporal and spatial effects. William Gibson’s writing is particularly suited to this study as it engages with gestalt theory in several ways. I will begin the thesis by discussing the origins of gestalt psychology and how Lev Vygotsky adopted and transformed these ideas, bringing new vigour to the subject of psychology through his Soviet-Marxist approach. This will extend the idea of a gestalt approach from filling in descriptive gaps in a text, to thinking about those gaps on a metaphoric level as a function of dialectics in a Marxist-Hegelian tradition. I will then discuss autopoiesis as individual and social identity in Gibson’s Neuromancer (1984) and consider how this fits with a gestalt theory. I will go on to discuss the gestalt as it is used in Lacanian psychoanalysis and as it is developed by Luce Irigaray to question the construction of gender and identity in the psychoanalytic approach. This will be discussed alongside a reading of identity politics and the postmodern body in William Gibson’s writing. I will go on to write a chapter on the idea of the parallax view, as discussed by Slavoj Žižek in his book of the same name. This chapter will develop some of the ideas surrounding the gestalt approach which have been established in the chapter on Lacan and will consider the role of the objet petit a in Gibson’s Spook Country (2007).  In addition to these chapters, I will discuss recent developments in science, such as string theory, chaos theory, and quantum physics. I will explain how these frameworks can be thought of as part of a gestalt literary approach to science fiction and suggest that Gibson’s science fiction has taken a turn towards realism, perhaps because of these changing scientific frameworks and their different conceptions of temporality and futurity.

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