Announcing the Tenth Annual Bloomington Eighteenth-Century Studies
May 11-13, 2011
(all sessions meet in the Distinguished Alumni Room, Indiana Memorial Union unless otherwise indicated)
Wednesday May 11
2:30-4:00 Panel I
Nima Bassiri (Wesleyan University--Center for the Humanities)
"The Unconscious Dimensions of the Sensorium Commune: Material Subjectivity and the Eighteenth-Century Nervous System"
This paper argues that a genealogy of the concept of the unconscious as it appeared in Sigmund Freud's fin-de-siècle metapsychology can be traced back to eighteenth-century transformations of material subjectivity. For Freud, the unconscious did not simply name the realm of repressed ideas, but was itself a structural facet of a dynamic psychical apparatus that had a number of related psycho-somatic properties. The earliest formulations of this dynamic psycho-somatic subject are found in the eighteenth-century reorganization of the notion of subjectivity into something that was foundationally neuro-material in nature. The paper will show, however, how the eighteenth-century conception of neuro-materiality relied on a surprisingly elusive definition of the brain, often identified as the sensorium commune, and of living matter in general, but in a way that was actually integral to the formulation of a psycho-somatically dynamic neuro-material subjectivity.
Fritz Breithaupt (Indiana University-Bloomington--Germanic Studies)
"From Conscience to the Unconscious (and What May Be Wrong with Conscience)"
This paper asks to what degree--and if so to what effects--does the new idea of the unconscious in the late eighteenth century find its roots in concepts of conscience. The unconscious will be defined as a form of memory that resists the simple control and command of the self. Already in the seventeeth and earlier eighteenth century, conscience started to occupy a similar role, with the one key difference that it was quite conscious. This paper has a double purpose: The first is historical insofar as the goal is to understand the development of a powerful concept of the inner human being that still holds some sway today. The second purpose is more philosophical since the paper intends to take the notion of conscience seriously and makes a case for what may be wrong with it.
Commentator: Tobias Menely (Miami University-Ohio--English)
4:30-6:00 Panel II
Nathan Gorelick (Utah Valley University--English)
"Origin and Repetition: The Early Novel and the Logic of Fantasy"
The representation of a shared, identifiable reality in conformity with the development of empiricist epistemology has long been understood as a central characteristic of the early novel. This paper suggests, however, that attention to the gaps, fissures and contradictions disrupting key eighteenth-century narratives reveals within the novel an organizational logic operating at the margins of empirical representation, in the form of what Freud called unconscious fantasy. By uncovering the logic of fantasy at work within generically formative texts such as Defoe's Robinson Crusoe, I show how the early novel traces the conceptual limitations of the Enlightenment paradigm of human reason and provides a powerful, if nascent, critique of subjectivity that unworks reason from a position that is immanent to the Enlightenment itself.
Saul Anton (The New School--Literary Studies)
"The Historical Unconscious in Diderot"
This paper argues that Diderot's contributions to and editorial work for Raynal's celebrated account of European colonialism, the Histoire des deux Indes (1770-1780) envision history not from the perspective of reason, but rather from the materialist position of sexuality as a point of both contact and separation between nature and history. I show that sexuality--and feminine sexuality in particular--represents a blind spot where, in contrast to Rousseau and Kant, Diderot locates the immanent alterity of human freedom in the absence of any natural constraint or law. In my close reading of Diderot's Supplément in the broader context of his contributions to the Histoire des deux Indes, I argue that this text reflects on the possibility of a cosmopolitan world history written neither from the European nor the non-European perspective and rejects the emerging realism of modern historical representation as being inadequate to the duty to the other and to an alterity that inhabits the perspectivism implicit in the historicity of historical knowledge. Diderot's Supplément, I argue, presents a palingenetic model of historical oscillation between a forgetting that naturalizes historical institutions and institutes nature as a model for historical knowledge rooted, ultimately, in gender difference and sexuality, and it is this oscillation that he understands as the rhythm and movement of human historicity.
Commentator: Hall Bjornstad (Indiana University-Bloomington--French and Italian)
7:30 Festive Dinner at the home of Oscar Kenshur and Margot Gray
Thursday May 12
David Bates (University of California-Berkeley--Rhetoric)
"The Nature of Insight"
10:45-12:45: Panel III
Thomas Dodman (University of Chicago--History)
"Guerriers sensibles: Fatal Nostalgia and the Late Eighteenth-Century Unconscious"
In the eighteenth century homesickness--or what doctors called 'nostalgia'--was deemed to be a severe and even fatal psycho-somatic disorder. It affected soldiers in particular and during the French revolutionary wars whole battalions of conscripts were diagnosed with acute bouts of melancholy associated to the syndrome. In attempting to cure these 'sensitive warriors,' physicians sought access to their most repressed anxieties, drawing striking conclusions on the relation between combat trauma, kinship relations, and the workings of repression. Probing the contours of the eighteenth-century unconscious, they thus reworked nostalgia's original etiology of spatial displacement into one of socio-affective alienation.
Michael Drexler (Bucknell University--English)
"Arthur Mervyn's Four Discourses"
Charles Brockden Brown (1771-1810) fancied himself a scientist of the hinges and springs of human action. No celebrant of human progress, he questioned the efficacy of reason. Anticipating Lacan, Brown studied the resistances of the subject and the intransigence of his misprisions. What mattered was not the Truth, but the production of knowledge and its subsequent uses and failures. I will be working with Arthur Mervyn; or, Memoirs of Philadelphia in 1793. The yellow fever epidemic that year sets the stage for Brown's exploration of subjective responses to impending catastrophe. Arthur is Brown's vehicle for testing a variety of positions from which a subject might speak: the rustic, the doctor, the urbane fop, the schemer, the slave, the Other. Out of this Babel, Arthur fails to find satisfaction. Thus, the novel ends with Arthur's equivocal embrace of pure desire. Reference to Lacan's four discourses (the analyst, the hysteric, the university, and the master) help me to define the structure of the novel and to explore the symbolic fantasy of the early republic.
Helen Thompson (Northwestern University--English)
"'[I]t was impossible to know these People': Secondary Qualities and the Form of Character in Defoe's A Journal of the Plague Year"
Of the infected but seemingly healthy persons who populate A Journal of the Plague Year (1722), Daniel Defoe writes that 'it was impossible to know the infected People from the sound; or that the infected People should perfectly know themselves.' I make two arguments about the significance of 'the infected People' for the interrelation between eighteenth-century empiricism and novelistic character. First, I argue that Defoe's 'insensibly' infected persons model the divide between primary and secondary qualities innovated by Robert Boyle, and adopted by John Locke, as empiricism's defining theory of matter and its apprehension. My second argument about Defoe's infected persons concerns their form: both sound and infected persons--since they cannot be distinguished until the latter die--harbor unknowable depths beneath a sound surface. The plague occasions, I will argue, Defoe's explicitly novelistic and formal articulation of the difference between primary and secondary qualities.
Commentator: Johannes Turk (Indiana University-Bloomington--Germanic Studies)
12:45-2:15 Lunch break (on your own)
2:30-4:00 Panel IV
Anne Pollok (Stanford University--Philosophy)
"Building Personae: Moses Mendelssohn and the Unconscious"
Even though Mendelssohn - same as other 18th century thinkers - lacks a term for the phenomenon of the unconscious, his philosophy reveals its traces in nearly every aspect. In my paper I plan to offer an interpretation of the two areas most affected by his understanding of the unconscious: aesthetics and religion. In both areas Mendelssohn is mainly concerned with the question of how an individual personality is formed by unconscious forces, expressed in her aesthetic judgments and framed by the narrative traditions she finds herself in and actively relates herself to. Thus, his notion of Bildung can be seen as a first attempt to capture the full scale of the human capacity of self formation, far richer than a mere call for rigid rational reasoning.
Kevin Chua (Texas Tech University--Art History)
"Chardin's Leibnizian Unconscious"
Leibniz has always had a subterranean influence on 18th-century European culture. Via his notion of the "perceptual unconscious" --that our conscious thoughts are influenced by "petites perceptions," sensory stimuli of which we are not aware--I explore one manifestation of the Leibnizian unconscious in the 18th century: the 1750s and 60s paintings of the French artist Jean-Siméon Chardin. Departing from more familiar Lockean accounts of his art, I argue instead that Chardin's late still lifes embody Leibniz's metaphysical concept of the "monad": simple substances endowed with intellect and appetite. As I try to show, one intriguing aspect of the 18th-century Leibnizian unconscious, as revealed in Chardin's late still lifes, is that the unconscious can exist on this side of empirical perception.
Commentator: Richard Nash (Indiana University-Bloomington--English)
4:15 -5:45 Lecture
Rebecca Spang, (Indiana University-Bloomington--History)
"The Purloined Assignat: Contract, Signatures, and the Monetary Unconscious in Revolutionary France"
7:30 Banquet (Le Petit Café)
Friday May 13
9:30 -11:00 Panel V
Laura Mandell (University of Miami-Ohio--English)
"Print Subjectivity, or Psychic History in the Case"
In this paper, I investigate how differences in authorial psychology might be connected not only to representations of authors but to the bodily practices involved in manipulating printed texts, tracing specifically the connection between the emergence of the case history as a genre and the physical printer's case.
Heidi Schlipphacke (Old Dominion University--German)
"Reading the Surface: Polygamy and the German Enlightenment"
This paper offers a counter-narrative to oedipal readings of the 18th-century German literary family with a skewed gaze in the direction of psychoanalytic criticism. If we set aside an economic model for the psyche that relies on repression in order to contain excess, then it is possible to detect non-oedipal modes of kinship, ones that cannot easily be accounted for with the aid of theories of repression. A focus on the excessively complex surface of 18th-century literature might engender new ways of thinking about the topography of the psyche and the location of the unconscious.
Commentator: Jonathan Elmer (Indiana University-Bloomington--English)
11:15-12:30 Wrap-Up Session
For further information please contact the director of the Center, Mary Favret, Dept. of English, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN 47405, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.