The Early History of Embodied Cognition 1740-1920

The Lebenskraft-Debate and Radical Reality in German Science, Music, and Literature


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This pioneering book evaluates the early history of embodied cognition. It explores for the first time the life-force (Lebenskraft) debate in Germany, which was manifest in philosophical reflection, medical treatise, scientific experimentation, theoretical physics, aesthetic theory, and literary practice esp. 1740-1920. The history of vitalism is considered in the context of contemporary discourses on radical reality (or deep naturalism). We ask how animate matter and cognition arise and are maintained through agent-environment dynamics (Whitehead) or performance (Pickering). This book adopts a nonrepresentational approach to studying perception, action, and cognition, which Anthony Chemero designated radical embodied cognitive science. From early physiology to psychoanalysis, from the microbiome to memetics, appreciation of body and mind as symbiotically interconnected with external reality has steadily increased. Leading critics explore here resonances of body, mind, and environment in medical history (Reil, Hahnemann, Hirschfeld), science (Haller, Goethe, Ritter, Darwin, L. Büchner), musical aesthetics (E.T.A. Hoffmann, Wagner), folklore (Grimm), intersex autobiography (Baer), and stories of crime and aberration (Nordau, Döblin). Science and literature both prove to be continually emergent cultures in the quest for understanding and identity. This book will appeal to intertextual readers curious to know how we come to be who we are and, ultimately, how the Anthropocene came to be.

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John A. McCarthy is Professor of German and Comparative Literature Emeritus at Vanderbilt University. He also held appointments in European Studies and Religious Studies. His research gravitates to interconnections between literature, science, philosophy, religion, and law. Of special note is his study of paradigm shifts in literature and science, Remapping Reality: On Chaos and Creativity in Science & Literature (2006). His more recent relevant publications include “Energy and Schiller’s Aesthetics from the Philosophical to the Aesthetic Letters” (2011), “Nietzsche’s Vitalism and Darwin’s Theory of Evolution” (2011), and “Cognitive Mapping: Adam, Venus, and Faust” (2013).

Stephanie M. Hilger is Associate Professor of Comparative Literature and German at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She also holds appointments in French, Gender and Women’s Studies, and the European Union Center. Her research focuses on gender, class, and race in British, French, and German literature, with a particular interest in interdisciplinary approaches to literature. Among her publications are Women Write Back (2009), Gender and Genre (2014), and the Palgrave Handbook of Literature and Medicine (forthcoming). Her current book project, “Liminal Bodies: Intersexuality in Literary and Medical Discourses,” investigates the literary and medical representation of individuals born with ambiguous genitalia from eighteenth-century Europe to present-day America.

Heather I. Sullivan is Professor of German, Comparative Literature, and Environmental Studies at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas. Sullivan has published widely in the US and in Europe on ecocriticism, material ecocriticism, the “dark pastoral,” Goethe’s science and literature, the German romantics, and eco-science fiction. Current projects include a co-edited volume on German Ecocriticism with a focus on texts of the Anthropocene, and a monograph on the Dark Pastoral, which considers global climate change literature in the Anthropocene.

Nicholas Saul is Professor of German Literary and Intellectual History and the current Arts & Humanities Director of the Institute of Advanced Study at the University of Durham, England. His chief scholarly interests are anthropology and literature, science and literature (especially literary Darwinisms, cognitive humanities and system theory), intertextuality and interdiscursivity, and secularisation (especially spiritualism).
The Early History of Embodied Cognition unquestionably advances Romantic literary scholarship.” - Gabriel Finkelstein, University of Chicago US in Modern, Vol. 108 No. 1 pp. 200-201.

Establishing Parameters: Lebenskraft and Artifact

1. John A. McCarthy (Vanderbilt U), “Introduction: Life Matters”
2. Jennifer Wynne Hellwarth (Allegheny College PA), “Pneuma—Sexuality—Sex Difference: From Arabic to European Philosophy and Medical Practice”
3. Ingo Uhlig (Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg), “Ordnung des Lebendigen. Naturgeschichtliche Malereien im Kabinett der Franckeschen Stiftungen zu Halle”
4. Brian T. McInnis (USMA, West Point, NY). “Haller, Unzer, and Science as Process”

Blood, Nerves, Resonance

5. James Kennaway (Newcastle, UK), “Lebenskraft, the Body and Will Power: The Life Force in German Musical Aesthetics”
6. Alexis B. Smith (U of Oregon), “Ritter’s Musical Blood Flow Through Hoffmann’s Kreisler”
7. Alice Kuzniar (U of Waterloo, CAN), “Romantic Vitalism and Homeopathy’s Law of Minimum”
8. Ann C. Schmiesing (U of Colorado, Boulder). “Folklore and Physiology: The Vitality of Blood in the Works of the Brothers Grimm”

Fitness and Fitting In

9. Nicholas Saul (U of Durham, UK). “Fitness, Nerves, the Degenerate Body and Identity: Radical Reality and Modernity in Max Nordau’s Aesthetics and Fiction”
10. Stephanie Hilger (U of Illinois, Urbana/Champain). “No Body? Radical Gender in Memoirs of a Man’s Maiden Years (1907)”
11. Cate Reilly (Princeton U). “Naturphilosophie and Murder: The Limits of Scientific Explanation in Döblin’s Die beiden Freundinnen”

The Lebenskraft-Debate Recast: The Posthuman and Radical Mediation

12. Heather Sullivan (Trinity U TX). “Agency in the Anthropocene: Goethe, Radical Reality, and the New Materialisms”
13. Monica Ledoux (Vanderbilt U), “Lebenskraft, Radical Reality, and Occidental Medicine: How Science is Leading us back to a Holistic View”

Epiloque: John A. McCarthy, “Lebenskraft Legacies”

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Notes on the Contributors
Readers of interdisciplinary dialogue between history of science, philosophy of science, and literature. This book will appeal to intertextual readers curious to know how we come to be, who we are and, ultimately, how the Anthropocene came to be.
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