Instructor: Alexander Dick
Meets: Wednesdays 10:00 am-1:00 pm, Buchanan Tower 597
The period that in literary studies we still call the “Romantic” (roughly 1780 to 1830) also saw significant developments in mathematics, chemistry, geology, astronomy, physics, and biology. Indeed, it has been suggested that it was in this period that, thanks in large part to the rapid implementation of steam technologies in all sectors of the economy, science entered its modern phase. Fields that had been, to that point, concerned with verifying the compatibility of observed data with the subjective perspectives and needs of theorists (and their patrons) were, by the end of the eighteenth-century, becoming increasingly conscious of the ways that natural phenomena frequently overwhelmed subjectivist criteria, dislodging the human observer from its position of privilege. While there was some pushback against this “objectivist” turn, most philosophers, poets, novelists, and critics understood its radical implications for a general understanding of the relationship between the human “in here” and the world “out there” and sought ways to envision and formalize what this new relationship might look like. By way of literary, scientific, critical, and (some) theoretical readings this course will invite students to consider what our own historical and philosophical understanding of this turn means for the way we read not just Romantic works but literary aesthetics more generally, how, that is, the history of science can contribute to our own observations on and experiments with literary form, critical technique, and post-humanist politics. We will read a range of Romantic works, mainly poetry and fiction from both canonical and lesser-known writers. We will also work through a number of recent critical and theoretical interventions in the “literature and science” debates and consider their applicability to Romantic literary studies.