Visual Culture 2000
  • Gillen D’Arcy Wood


My aim in The Shock of the Real has been to present a history of the Romantic period debate over visual and verbal media. To do this, I have traversed the landscape of late Georgian visual culture: from Reynolds’ Royal Academy to the Panorama of Leicester Square; from Garrick’s Drury Lane to the British Museum; and from the tourist treks of the Highlands to Nadar’s studio in Second Empire Paris. Each episode of Romantic anxiety we encountered at these sites highlighted a specific “shock” effect of modern visual culture on literary sensibility. This shock effect was found to be particularly acute when inspired by media devoted to mimetic recreation of the visible world. In chapter 3, for example, Wordsworth blamed the “mimic sight” of the panorama for its debilitating effect on the autonomous poetic imagination. Likewise for Lamb at the theater, Keats at the Elgin Gallery, and Baudelaire caught in Nadar’s pitiless lens, The Shock of the Real has sought to dramatize how innovations in the forms and forums of visual media in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries posed a mortal threat to the Romantic view of art and nature. Implicit in this conclusion is a challenge to both popular and academic understandings of visual-cultural history. That is, a central argument of this book has been that the enduring trend in visual technology toward the more faithful reproduction of “reality”—what Benjamin ironically termed “the theory of ‘progress’ in the arts”—predates the invention of photography by the better part of a century.


Romantic Period Action Video Game Visual Medium Visual Culture Domestic Space 
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© Gillen D’Arcy Wood 2001

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  • Gillen D’Arcy Wood

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