The Medusa Effect

Representation and Epistemology in Victorian Aesthetics

By Thomas Albrecht

Subjects: Psychoanalysis, Literature, Philosophy, Comparative Literature, Aesthetics
Series: SUNY series in Psychoanalysis and Culture
Paperback : 9781438428680, 176 pages, July 2010
Hardcover : 9781438428673, 176 pages, December 2009

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Table of contents

Introduction: The Medusa Effect
1. Apotropaic Reading: Freud’s Medusenhaupt
2. A “Monstrous” Opposition: The Double Dionysus and the Double Apollo in Nietzsche’s Birth of Tragedy
3. Two Impressions of Medusa: Walter Pater and A. C. Swinburne
4. Sympathy and Telepathy: Th e Problem of Ethics in George Eliot’s The Lifted Veil

Examines images of horror in Victorian fiction, criticism, and philosophy.


Focusing on the recurring metaphor of Medusa's head, The Medusa Effect examines images of horror in texts by Sigmund Freud, Friedrich Nietzsche, and a series of Victorian artists and critics writing about aesthetics. Through nuanced and innovative readings of canonical works by Freud, Nietzsche, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Walter Pater, A. C. Swinburne, and George Eliot, Thomas Albrecht demonstrates the twofold nature of these writers' images of horror. On the one hand, the analysis illuminates how the representation of something seen as horrifying—for instance, a disturbing work of art, an existential insight, or a recognition of the fundamental inaccessibility of another person's consciousness—can serve a protective purpose, to defend the writer in some way against the horror he or she encounters. On the other hand, the representations themselves can be a potential threat—epistemologically unreliable, for instance, or illusory, deceptive, fundamentally unstable, and potentially dangerous to the writers. Through a psychoanalytically informed literary analysis, The Medusa Effect explores crucial ethical and epistemological questions of Victorian aesthetics, as well as underexamined complexities of the mechanisms of Victorian literary representation.

Thomas Albrecht is Associate Professor of English at Tulane University and the editor (with Georgia Albert and Elizabeth Rottenberg) of Selected Writings by Sarah Kofman.


"…an elegant study in rhetorical analysis." — Victorian Studies

"Thomas Albrecht brings a radically different approach to aesthetics—psychoanalytic and poststructuralist rather than historicist—in The Medusa Effect." — Studies in English Literature