Exploring the politics of sensationalism

Complete 24 page APA formatted essay: Mixed Feelings.

In exploring the politics of sensationalism and affect, I presume that the process of naming and assigning social and cultural meanings to bodily responses, such as “sensations,” has a history. My project is thus part of the larger enterprise of producing a history of the body and of physiological experiences such as affect and sexuality.

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Recent scholarship in this area has been profoundly revisionist because it has provided histories of phenomena that had previously been considered natural or outside the work of culture. The importance of Foucault’s work on the history of sexuality, for example, resides not just in its specific details, but in its claim that sexuality has a history and is not a natural or prediscursive entity. 1 Tracing the cultural construction of the body or sexuality has revealed how ideologies are naturalized by the often invisible work of attaching meanings to physical processes. I have studied the sensation novel and the politics of sensation in order to participate in this broader project of exploring the political consequences of constructing the body, sexuality, and affect as “natural.” Thus, I am less interested in offering a descriptive history of the sensation novel than in considering how a discourse about the “sensational” or affective serves as a vehicle for the promulgation of ideologies of gender and mass culture. And I have found in Victorian criticism of the sensation novel an opportunity to examine how and why “sensationalism” acquired its new meaning and a bad reputation. What I have uncovered points to a more general theory of the politics of sensationalism.

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