Walter Pater's museological gaze

Kistler, Jordan (2022) Walter Pater's museological gaze. Studies in Walter Pater and Aestheticism. ISSN 2445-5962

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This essay positions the unusual temporality of Walter Pater's Marius the Epicurean within the context of the Victorian universal museum, arguing that Pater employs what is here termed a 'museological gaze' within the novel in order to juxtapose second-century Rome, nineteenth-century Britain, and all moments and cultures in between. The museum offers an imaginative framework in which distinct historical eras can be placed in close proximity, revealing points of similarity while simultaneously reminding readers that contact with the past is always a mediated experience. In this way, Pater presents history as a 'composite experience', in which the past is inflected by what came before and after it, constructing history as both 'sequence and succession', as Donald Preziosi's describes the historical museum. I will demonstrate that the dual function of the museological gaze—to familiarize and to estrange—allows Pater to develop a blended philosophy of subjective idealism, in which Platonic 'elements of permanence' are, like a palimpsest, rewritten and remade within every new perceiving subject. In this way, Pater stabilizes the swirling flux of solipsistic impressionism, while maintaining the creative force of the critical subject.