The Aesthetics of Intoxication in Antebellum American Art and Culture
Jordan, Guy Duane
Promey, Sally M
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My dissertation, The Aesthetics of Intoxication in Antebellum American Art and Culture, proposes an ambitious re-evaluation of aesthetics in the United States between 1830 and 1860 that locates the consumption of images in relation to discourses of excess, addiction, and dependency. I uncover the antebellum period's physiological construction of looking as a somatic process akin to eating and drinking and offer a new definition of aesthetic absorption not merely as the disembodied projection of the viewer into a pictorial space, but as the corporeal ingestion of the image into the mind of the viewing subject. I demonstrate how this heretofore unstudied and historically-grounded alignment of aesthesis and alimentation played a crucial role in the production and reception of antebellum literature and visual culture. To this end, my dissertation stands as a broad-ranging cultural history that features fundamental reinterpretations of major works of art by Charles Deas, Thomas Cole, Hiram Powers, and Frederic Church.