To register for the Workshop, please contact Dr. Barbara Truesdell, Weatherly Hall North, room 122, Bloomington, IN 47405, Telephone 812/855-2856, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
(all workshop sessions take place in the Indiana Memorial Union Dogwood Room)
Wednesday 12 May
2:00 pm: Welcome
Theresa Kelley (English, Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison): Irritable life
This essay investigates the status of vegetable life, that is, plants, in the mechanic/vitalist thought of the last decades of the eighteenth-century. The irritability at issue in my title is both that ascribed to life by the young Hegel and applied to plants by Goethe and Erasmus Darwin, among many others, and Hegel's symptomatic irritability with Goethe for insisting on this point. To begin, the essay will think through the meanings of those categories of life that Hegel and Darwin and others agree on, even if they do not agree about who or what displays them: irritability, sensibility, voluntarity, associability. What follows, I will ask, from the fact that Darwin's Botanic Garden (1789-1791) insists on plant life in precisely the terms that Hegel borrowed from vitalist arguments but chose to apply to animal and in particular human life?
Jonathan Sheehan (History, Berkeley): Phenomenal life: the emergence of Enlightenment systems
The Enlightenment sciences of life were, this essay suggests, never theoretically adequate to their object of study, nor did they aspire to be so. Instead, they were phenomenological sciences, treating life as a order that emerges from the inorganic world in ways both mysterious yet subject to regulatory description. Life's ability to self-organize was, therefore, not just an ability inherent in the organic, but also in the conditions of its description by eighteenth-century scientists.
Commentator: Jonathan Elmer (English, Indiana)
Michel Chaouli (German, Indiana): Kantian vivacity
The two parts of Kant's Critique of Judgment, one dealing with aesthetics, the other with teleology, are usually read separately, since the questions they raise -- and the answers they offer -- belong to different philosophical projects. My aim is not to "unite" the two, but to point out the degree to which the concepts of life and of animation motivate the entire project of the third Critique. Beauty and life, I want to argue, are tightly coupled ideas that reinforce one another.
Noel Jackson (Literature, MIT): The Time of Beauty
One does not need to look far into the long history of writing on the beautiful to find the experience of beauty characterized by a heightened condition of aliveness. My essay on Keats and larger work in progress examines how British authors of the long eighteenth century give formal definition to the experience of the living present through evocation of the event of beauty. In thinking about the status of such "luminous" moments as models for the delicate animation of the present, I am also seeking to produce an account of how the moment of aesthetic appearance at once colludes and collides with popular modes of representing the experience of contemporaneity in the modern world -- both that of the eighteenth century and our own.
Commentator: Mary Favret (English, Indiana)
7:30: Festive dinner at Oscar Kenshur's house
Thursday 13 May
Johannes Turk (German, Indiana): Protecting life: From biological to affective immunization [oral presentation]
The history of the first medical prophylaxis - from Mary Wortley Montague's propagation of inoculation to Jenner's vaccination - is well known. It is one of the major shifts in the understanding of life. What has received less attention, however, is that immunization also becomes a powerful paradigm that shapes psychic and cultural techniques. Among others, the novel of education and a new understanding of tragedy.
Amanda Jo Goldstein (Comp Lit, Berkeley): 'The Dance of the Infusoria': Equivocal life in Goethean morphology
In this paper I consider equivocal particles in Goethe's life-scientific writings, both before and after the much-attested polarization, around 1800, between organic and inorganic natures. From his 1780s experiments on infusoria to the composite life-forms (including the scientist!) inhabiting the late journals "On Morphology" (1817-24), I will argue that Goethe deployed equivocal, neo-Lucretian materials in order to rework reigning ideals of "objective" observation and "organic" form. Linking the journals' poetics of circumstantial assemblage their science of "organic and anorganic" seeds and scatterings, I argue that Goethe and his collaborators sought to implement, in the intersection between biology and autobiography, a non-vitalist mode of life-writing sensitive to the relational, contingent, and obsolescent aspects of embodied science.
Charles Wolfe (History and Philosophy of Science, Sydney): From substantival to functional vitalism and beyond, or from Stahlian animas to Canguilhemian attitudes
A first point I want to make is to distinguish between what I would call 'substantival' and 'functional' forms of vitalism, as applied to the eighteenth century. Substantival vitalism presupposes the existence of something like a (substantive) vital force which either plays a causal role in the natural world as studied by scientific means, or remains a kind of hovering, extra-causal entity. Functional vitalism tends to operate 'post facto', from the existence of living bodies to the desire to find explanatory models that will do justice to their uniquely 'vital' properties in a way that fully mechanistic (Cartesian, Boerhaavian etc.) models cannot. I discuss some representative figures of the Montpellier school as being functional rather than substantival vitalists. Time allowing, I will make a second point regarding the reprisal of vitalism(s) in 'late modernity', as some call it; from Driesch to Canguilhem. I suggest that in addition to the substantival and functional varieties, we then encounter a third species of vitalism, which I term 'attitudinal', as it argues for vitalism as a kind of attitude.
Commentator: Jesse Molesworth (English, Indiana)
12:30-2:00 Lunch (on your own)
Sarah Cohen (History of Art, SUNY Albany): Chardin's vitalist still lifes
This paper addresses four paintings by Jean-Siméon Chardin that feature a calico cat marauding recently killed or butchered creatures within an array of objects laid out for the preparation of a human meal. Although Chardin drew generally from Flemish still life traditions, I argue that early vitalist theories of animal life offer a compelling means of assessing the action of his cats, who paw, snatch, and prepare to spring at the inanimate matter of their fallen fellow creatures. I propose that Chardin's still lives are vitalist not through any direct link between the science and the art, but through a deeper commonality of aims and means: his cats show us, through their tactile explorations of animal bodies, what it feels like to be alive.
Mary Helen Dupree (German, Georgetown): Signs of life: Declamation and tableaux in the German Eighteenth Century
Working at the intersection of performance studies and literary history, my talk will examine the rise of the tableau vivant and the so-called 'declamatory concert' in late-eighteenth-century Germany as evidence of an impulse to represent 'aliveness,' the state of being alive, through aesthetic means. Both genres dramatized the coming-to-life of a work of art and, simultaneously, the undoing of aesthetic and generic conventions. Through a reading of Goethe's skeptical response to tableaux and declamatoria in the novel Wahlverwandtschaften [Elective Affinities], my talk will illuminate the radical implications of this shift from an aesthetics of theatrical illusion to one of 'aliveness,' a shift that offers numerous parallels with twentieth-century developments such as the rise of performance art and 'postdramatic theater.'
Commentator: Hall Bjornstad (French, Indiana)
David Shulman (Comparative Religious Studies, Hebrew University of Jerusalem): Vine, rock, woman: Coming alive in Telugu and Sanskrit from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries [oral presentation]
Transitions between categories, especially between the living human and the petrified rock or stone or the frozen vine or creeper, are routine in classical Indian literature; it is quite usual for someone to find that his or her lover has been turned into an immobile, lifeless object, perhaps as a result of a curse uttered by a third party, or because of a moment's inattention. Kalidasa's famous play, Vikramorvasiya (5th century AD), offers a familiar example where this transformation pushes the errant lover over the brink of madness. However, this theme acquires a new salience, and a novel range of meanings, in the late-medieval south Indian texts in Telugu, Tamil, and Sanskrit. Here the transition from human to non-human, or vice versa, and the movement from inanimate and unconscious to animate and aware, appear to be connected to a newly crystallizing notion of objectified nature as an autonomous domain clearly marked off from the world of the human and the subjective. "Nature" as object marks a departure from standard Indian concepts of aliveness and correlates nicely with implicit and explicit theories of the creative imagination, a diagnostic feature of this period. We will examine several examples, culminating in the radically antinomian Telugu text, Ahalya-sankrandanamu, from the mid-18th century.
7:30: Banquet dinner (Le Petit Café)
Friday 14 May
Heather Keenleyside (English, Univ. of Chicago): The autobiographical animal: Tristram Shandy and the first-person form of life
Laurence Sterne's The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy is famously constructed around two different kinds of life: Tristram's natural life, the ostensible subject of the text, and his written life, the text itself. Critics tend to consider these two lives as separate and antagonistic terms, and to set the novel on the side of the latter: for writing and against biological life; for art and against nature; for the individual human imagination, against the specific and animal body. This paper argues that the novel operates by a different logic: a logic associated with animal life, and embodied in the literary form of Tristram's first-person life narrative. Setting the peculiar form of Tristram's Life into conversation with philosophical reflections on the first person and the representation of life (by Locke, on the one hand, and contemporary philosopher Michael Thompson on the other), Sterne's novel emerges as a crucial site for conceiving a form of personhood that is neither individualistic nor specifically human, but which is instead modeled on-and shared with-the living animal.
Andrew Piper (German, McGill): Writing Life: Autobiography, the life sciences, and the book of life at the end of the eighteenth century
My talk aims to bring together books of autobiography alongside books of natural philosophy in order to understand how the category of life was represented on the printed page from the mid 1780s to the late 1820s. My question is not simply a Foucauldian one of how life emerged as a distinct field of knowledge around 1800, but more specifically how life came to be written, how it came to be understood as a writable object of knowledge. At the close of the eighteenth century, how did the biographical, the bibliographical, and the biological all influence one another?
Commentator: Nick Williams (English, Indiana)
Lydia Barnett (History, Stanford): 'The toad in the stone': Fossils, seeds, life and Growth in the early Enlightenment
In the Renaissance, animist philosophers contended that everything in Nature was alive; at the turn of the eighteenth century, a new generation of vitalists in Europe came to believe that everything in Nature grew, and did so in ways that were remarkably uniform and possibly universal across the three kingdoms of Nature. These vitalists entered the lists in the Great Fossil Debate, arguing that figured stones were specific instances of a more general phenomenon: the generation and growth of all mineral bodies. They also collected specimens and reports of a whole range of transversive phenomena - including coral, kidney stones, parasites, even a toad found living inside of solid rock - which seemed to suggest that animal, vegetable, and mineral things could grow indifferently inside one another. Taken together, these strange objects were gathered as evidence towatds a universal theory of the growth of everything, from seeds, or by some other means.
Richard Nash (English, Indiana): Hunting philosophy: William Somerville's The Chase and animality, umwelts, and early modern entangled environments
Riffing off of Derrida's play on "hunting philosophy" in his final essay on the Autobiographical Animal, "L'Animal Que Donc Je Suis (a Suivre)," this essay seeks to recuperate in two 18C texts (an anonymous "Essay on Hunting" and William Somerville's "The Chase") an anticipation of two important recent theoretical formulations: Karen Barad's "agential realism" and Jakob von Uxkull's "umwelt." Mobilizing Barad and von Uxkull to read these early modern texts on hunting, I gesture to some possibilities for reconceiving what sort of ecological work might be worth doing in the Posthumanities.
Commentator: Rebecca Spang (History, Indiana)
For further information please contact the director of the Center, Dror Wahrman, Dept. of History, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN 47405, e-mail email@example.com.