“The sad, proud old man stared eternally out of his canvas...”: Media Criticism, Scopic Regimes and the Function of Rembrandt’s “Self-Portrait with Two Circles” in John Fowles’s Novel Daniel Martin

Stefan Horlacher 1
  • 1 TU Dresden, Dresden, Germany
Stefan Horlacher


On the surface level, Fowles’s novel sets the trust in the timelessness of art and the possibility of a recourse to some kind of ‘true self’ against American hyperreality. Though the novel’s verdict on the American scopic regime of simulacra is devastating, England’s morbid theatricality does not represent an alternative. However, a novel which criticizes visuality only to accord Rembrandt’s “Self-Portrait” a place of utmost importance necessarily runs into problems of self-contradiction: Rembrandt’s self-portrait refuses any one-dimensional functionalization and contains self-reflexive/revocative elements pertaining to its capitalist dimension and to the dangers of commodification/narcissism/serialization. Moreover, Rembrandt’s portrait is located at the centre of a whole series of mises en abyme and contains significant autotelic elements which link it with the criticized American scopic regime, question its representational dimension by stressing the pure materiality of the work of paint and revoke Fowles’s novel and its didactic media-theoretical underpinnings.1



I would like to thank Bryan Knowlton, Simon Loesch, Keith Hollingsworth and Bettina Jansen for their constructive help at various stages of work on this article.

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A renowned journal of English philology, Anglia was founded in 1878 by Moritz Trautmann and Richard P. Wülker. It is thus the oldest journal of English Studies in existence. Anglia publishes essays on the English language and linguistic history, on English literature of the Middle Ages and the modern period, on American literature, on new literatures in English, as well as on general and comparative literary studies.