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Paulina Choh

In everyday language, to ‘see’ denotes comprehension as much as literal sight. Historically, visibility has been equated with material existence and evidence. Today, even as more of what our eyes take in seems to be virtual reality or immaterial projections on screens, visual engagement with the world continues to dominate our relation to reality. What then is the function of invisibility? I believe we need to understand how we have visualized the invisible, and that we may best do so by looking at treatments of the ghost—the paradigmatic invisible presence. German philosophy has played an enormous role in defining our ability to conceptualize reality with visual metaphors and terminology from the plastic arts. My dissertation thus investigates ideas inherited from authors and artists during Germany’s rapid nineteenth-century modernization who looked beyond the material and visible despite realist aesthetics, positivist epistemologies, and scientific advancements. Drawing on literature, art history, media theory and history of science, I hope to shed light on the construction of sight and invisibility, with its social consequences of representation that shape our own century.