Back in the game!

January 30, 2011 at 9:24 pm (Uncategorized)

OK, my friend Dan has been posting on his excellent blog, so I guess I’d better get back to work as well!  Not that I haven’t been working; I’ve been gifted with an abundance of intriguing new sources to read, so I’ve been quite up to my ears in reading material!  I’ve been tracing the physiological roots of genius with J. F. Nisbet’s The Human Machine and The Insanity of Genius, both of which attempt to trace a somatic root for the productions of the mind.  At first glance, this doesn’t seem all that revolutionary . . . until it occurs to you that Nisbet and his fellow physiologists (of whom there are several) are essentially reversing the Cartesian paradigm, which places the mind rather than the body as the essential root of humanity.  I didn’t exactly make that up, incidentally–Elizabeth Grosz’s Volatile Bodies: Towards a Corporeal Feminism talks about the role of Cartesian dualism in de-centering the body (particularly the female body) in modern philosophy.  Fascinating stuff!  In the nineteenth century, I’d argue, this paradigm begins to change; nineteenth-century scientific advances, not excluding Darwinism, make it kind of hard to ignore the role of the body in shaping the mind’s productions.

So, physiological roots of genius have been keeping me busy for sure.  But I’ve also been investigating nineteenth-century burial practices a bit; towards the end of the century, there are a fair number of debates on cremation.  Most of these seem to center, appropriately enough, around The Contemporary Review.  The arguments that I’ve examined so far are more scientifically rooted than you might think; they discuss the “Christianity” of cremation, sure, but they’re also talking about the chemicals produced by the body’s degeneration and about the spread of disease, too. I’m going to spend some time tomorrow digging old periodicals out of the stacks to find out more, so I may report further later!

Oh, and handwriting. I’m just beginning to scratch the surface on that one; I’m preparing a conference proposal that talks about the role of the body in nineteenth-century technologies of writing and printing, and I’d not been coming up with much.  But then I searched for “handwriting” in Nineteenth-Century Masterfile, and I hit the jackpot.  Again, though, I need to do some playing in the library before I can report fully on this issue!

So, signing off for now — but I’ll be back soon with more specifics on peculiarly fascinating Victorian sciences and technologies!

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