Spectacular Sympathy Visuality and Ideology in Dickens’s A Christmas Carol
Victorian Literature and the Victorian Visual Imagination, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS (1995)
In a well-known essay, Sergei Eisenstein describes literature in general and Dickens in particular as cinema’s predecessors because of their evocation of visual effects. Literature, Eisenstein writes, provides cinema with “parents and [a] pedigree,. . . a past”; it is “the art of viewing.” What Eisenstein construes as aesthetic development, however, may also be regarded as a persistent “regime of perception in Western culture—one in which appeals to the eye play a significant role in the production and circulation of ideology.
An emphasis on visuality, whether literary or cinematic, promotes spectatorship as a cultural activity. But such an emphasis also reinforces, and thereby naturalizes, forms of spectatorship already inscribed in the social structures within which particular cultural representations are produced. The idea of a continuity between literature and film may thus be significant less for what it reveals about the genealogy of cinema than for what it tells about the role of visuality and its literary evocations in defining, reinforcing, and disseminating some of Western culture’s dominant values.