This thesis argues that visual discourse, principally descriptions of appearances and the act of looking, is intrinsic to many written narratives. Yet, analysis of visual culture, beyond discussions of imagery and figurative language, is an overlooked means of critically examining literary texts in academia. This dissertation aims to contribute to this under-examined area. While it is keenly interested in how the visual is a major component of written language, contending that it is implicated in the very act of reading, the focus throughout is on how the visual works in literary texts through representation and textuality. It contends that the academic boundaries traditionally demarcated between media, such as the verbal and the visual, are far more permeable than conventional thought dictates.
The study engages a range of theoretical approaches to facilitate a consideration of the visual in literature: it draws on work from film studies, art history, literary studies, media studies, and the newer field of visual culture (which, in turn, draws on cultural studies and a number of the above-mentioned areas). In particular, it examines the way that visuality - the social functions and historical conditions of vision - is linked with power and subjectivity in literary texts. Power is conceived of here in the Foucauldian sense; that is, it is intrinsically related to the formation of subjectivity and is considered a relational force that circulates in networks of gazing between subjects.
The principal object of study in this project is the literary Western. It is an ideal candidate for the kind of analysis proposed here, since visual discourse is the primary means of communicating narrative detail in this genre. The Western is notable for its concentration on spectacle, costuming, verbal reticence, the act of looking, and performativity; it makes apparent the importance of the visual to written narrative. The object of study has been further refined to focus on Cormac McCarthy's Western, as these texts are remarkably visual: they are full of accounts of looking and detailed descriptive passages.
Textual analysis is the primary method employed here to examine the iconographies and visual discourses of these texts - that is, this methodology is used to assess the way that these novels represent visuality, how the act of looking in particular, is described and articulated. A number of subjectivities are represented in McCarthy's Westerns ranging from the iconic figure of the cowboy hero to women. Native Americans, Hispanic peoples, and animals. The project draws extensively on western American studies (including the New Western History), feminist studies, postcolonial studies, and ecocriticism as the means of critically examining how each of these subject groups is represented. It reads across a range of texts and theoretical approaches in order to explore how power circulates through the visual discourses of the novels examined here.
An underlying tenet of this dissertation is that the Western functions as America's dominant narrative of nation. And beyond the national domain, western ideologies are evident in the rhetoric of free trade, the market economy, and issues surrounding globalisation and national security. Therefore, the kind of analysis conducted here, which considers how power works through visuality to construct relations between subjects in written texts, may anticipate meanings that reverberate from the pages of the Western into the national domain and even the transnational sphere.
This thesis also critiques the way that academic knowledge is organised and demarcated. It suggests that, if truly interdisciplinary or transdisciplinary academies are to flourish, then we need to encourage research that applies a range of theoretical approaches without fear of invoking criticism for trespassing on a discipline's closely guarded, supposedly exclusive, intellectual terrain. This dissertation proposes a syncretic approach to the analysis of two media that academics have traditionally perceived as hermetically distinct - the visual and the written.