“Sketched by themselves” The panorama tested by the ‘panoramic’

Nathalie Preiss & Valérie Stiénon

Examining the pertinence of the notion “panoramic literature”, famously used by Walter Benjamin in a series of studies on nineteenth century manners, on the basis on a French, Belgian, English, German, Spanish and Austrian corpus: that is what is at stake in this issue. Benjamin’s heuristic model, drawn from the spectacle of the panorama, seems to capture the ‘scopic pulsion’ which is connected to the advent of the social democratic state and which, underlying these texts, manifests itself in effects of specularity and reflexivity. By its unifying vocation, the model also brings to light another dimension of these texts, namely a characteristic dialectic of similarity and difference, of individuality and universality, inherited from the Enlightenment and arguably also indebted to the optical illusion. In returning to this notion, the present issue engages in a critique of panoramic reason, which is also a critique of critical reason in its analysis of the moment when, in each of the countries under consideration, a ‘panoramic literature’ constitutes itself as an object of study and a literary-historical question. The issue hence forms both the antechamber of and the springboard for an upcoming site, “Sociorama”, which will be devoted to interdisciplinary research on international “panoramic” literature.

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