Encyclopaedism, Collecting and the Singular Event: a Study of Fictions of Order
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The ordering of knowledge is generally understood as the process through which ideas are anchored to structure. If the nature of the structure is understood, the ideas that it contains are navigable and retrievable, particularly in their relation to one another. To maneuver through our epistemological history, we turn to the map, dictionary, museum, and so on—sanctioned spaces that purposefully bring together the variables of what we know. Currently, studies regarding encyclopaedism in fiction have been devoted almost entirely to its use in satire, as the pretence to totalized knowledge is rife with satirical possibilities. My dissertation proposes that encyclopaedism is more than merely girth or epic ambition; it is also an expression of the desire to understand and communicate the experience of the world through ordering systems. My second chapter provides a theoretical discussion of collecting and its relation to encyclopaedism with an interdisciplinary methodology drawn from psychoanalytic and phenomenological theories. I propose that collecting (like writing) is less a working-through of a psychoanalytic problem than an engagement with a phenomenological problem, and psychoanalytic theory describes only part of a process that is fundamentally about our relationship to the world of objects and ideas. My third chapter charts the arc of the encyclopaedic paradigm, considering its philosophic and literary consequences beginning with seventeenth century encyclopaedic projects. These early encyclopaedias (also known as Dictionaries) served as a catalyst for the aestheticization of classificatory representational systems which in their practical form were thought to represent both transparently and pragmatically and to signify a totality of knowledge. My fourth chapter looks at specific examples of encyclopaedism in fiction, with an emphasis on the generative possibilities of the encyclopaedic work. My dissertation provides an updated exploration of the encyclopaedic paradigm, showing how and why in recent years it has be manipulated to account for the unaccountable through the mapping of impossible worlds or the ordering of an only partially knowable totality, relevant to an age seduced by the possibility of ordering the mind, the infinite and the unknowable.