Core Program, 2005–06

Vital Matters: Eighteenth-Century Views of Conception, Life, and Death

—organized by Center/Clark Professors Helen Deutsch, University of California, Los Angeles, and Mary Terrall, Univeristy of California, Los Angeles

In the wake of Descartes, many writers and readers in the eighteenth century worried about how to think about matter, and the potential of matter, to move, organize itself, respond to outside influences, and eventually decompose. This core program looks at the many ways of theorizing about and experimenting with matter in this period, with particular attention to life as a subject for analysis, speculation, and portrayal (literary and pictorial). Extending the approach well beyond the life sciences, the program structures inquiries around three different kinds of moments: conception, life, and death. The program aims to situate the history of materialism within a larger history of ideas, but also in a range of literary, cultural, and scientific practices. Important to consider is the relation of the mind to the body, the brain to the soul, the physical to the abstract, the empirical/experimental to the theoretical, the concrete to the speculative or conjectural. Thus the program’s concern is with method as well as concepts.

Scholars of history, philosophy, literature, and political science have studied the significance of materialism for the various strains of thought contesting with each other to structure modern conceptions of sensibility, sociability, ethics, and aesthetics. The Enlightenment preoccupation with matter has fed into not only academic investigations of materialist philosophy, but also scholarly approaches to the material world of the eighteenth century (think of the field’s current preoccupation with material culture and the world of “things”), while informing the division in current eighteenth-century scholarship between materialism as philosophical object (intellectual history, history of science), and materialism as analytical practice (cultural and feminist studies, historians of the body, Marxist critics). The goal is to relocate the eighteenth-century fascination with the material at the crossroads of literature, science, philosophy, and history, thus rejuxtaposing the material object, and materialism as object, with critical materialism.

Bringing together literary scholars with historians of art, science, medicine. and philosophy, the series of conferences addresses the varieties of eighteenth-century materialism at this interdisciplinary juncture. Topics include bodies and ideas, the life of fictional creations and apparitions, pre- and post-mortem dissections, inspiration, material manifestations of immaterial forces, sensory perception, and representation. One aspect of the project that crosses a variety of topics is the transmission of life and self across time: How did scientific and literary figures conceptualize the inheritance of traits and how did materialist notions of the corporeal self affect religious conceptions of identity and afterlife? If memory held the self together, could immortality be achieved by registering the remnants of the self in the memory of posterity through print? Organizing the series thematically allows conversations among scholars from the different disciplines around conception (ideational and physical), birth, and death. Otherwise construed, the topic might be framed as scientific and literary investigations of life: what distinguishes the organic and how it functions in the social world.

Conference 1: Conception
October 28–29, 2005

The opening conference on conception addresses questions around the moment of coming-into-being of life, which was often interpreted as a critical discontinuity beyond the reach of mechanics. This broad topic is conceived as the physical conception (and generation) of bodies as well as conception in the ideational sense. Spontaneous generation (the production of life from non-living matter), the material aspects of inspiration, the effect of the mother’s imagination on the matter of her fetus, all are aspects of a phenomenon that binds the emanations of mind and spirit to the origins of life itself.

Session 1: Inheritance, Resemblance and Monstrosity
Chair: Kirstie McClure, University of California, Los Angeles

Mary Terrall, University of California, Los Angeles
“Material Impressions: Force, Conception, and the Maternal Imagination”

Jenny Davidson, Columbia University
“Inheritance and the Science of Resemblance”

Sean M. Quinlan, University of Idaho
“Doctors, Generation, and Monstrosities in France, ca. 1780–1820”

Session 2: Conceptions of Procreation
Chair: Natania Meeker, University of Southern California

Richard C. Sha, American University
“Artificial Insemination in the Eighteenth Century”

Raymond Stephanson, University of Saskatchewan
“Tristam Shandy and the Art of Concepti”

Session 3: Birth, Legitimacy, Disease
Chair: Christopher Looby, University of California, Los Angeles

Lisa Forman Cody, Claremont McKenna College
“Gender and Conception: Tales of Pregnant Men, Virgin Mothers, and Insect Analogies in Enlightenment Britain”

Corrinne Harol, University of Alberta
“Conceiving the Heir: The Tragi-Comedy of the Suppositious Prince, 1688–1745”

Susan Staves, Brandeis University
“Blighted Conception: Venereal Disease, Conception, and Birth”

Session 4: Intellectual Motions
Chair: Helen Deutsch, University of California, Los Angeles

Matthew Wickman, Brigham Young University
“The Poetry of ‘Nascent Quantities’; or Scotland’s Newton and the Modern Origins of Curved Space”

Jonathan Kramnick, Rutgers University
“Life, Death, and the Nature of Things”

Conference 2: Life
February 3–4, 2006

The conference on life examines such issues as inheritance, or the ability of life to transmit its attributes forward in time; the properties of living matter; vital fluids and forces and their relationship to social models of circulation; the process of sustaining life (hygiene, food); the capacity of matter to think; and the material basis of sensibility.

Session 1: Food and Health
Chair: Deborah Harkness, University of Southern California

Paola Bertucci, Università di Bologna
“Electric Conceptions: (Un)orthodox Thinking about Life and Health in Eighteenth-Century London”

Elizabeth A. Williams, Oklahoma State University
“Feeling and Food: Sensation, Emotion, and Digestion in Eighteenth-Century French Medicine”

E. C. Spary, University of Cambridge
“‘Making Marble Edible’: Food and its Assimilation in Eighteenth-Century France”

Session 2: Circulating Fluids
Chair: Patrick Coleman, University of California, Los Angeles

Sophie Vasset, Université de Paris, Maison Française d’Oxford
“Blood, Fluids and Juices: Circulation as a Pattern for Human Health and its Metaphors in Eighteenth-Century Britain”

Christopher Looby, University of California, Los Angeles
“American Embodiment, 1793”

Session 3: Versions of Vitalism
Chair: Mary Terrall, University of California, Los Angeles

Dror Wahrman, Indiana University, and Jonathan Sheehan, University of Michigan
“Life and Everything Else: Self-Organization in the Eighteenth Century”

Marc J. Ratcliff, Université de Genève
“Authorship, Censorship, and Vital Matter in the 1740s”

Phillip R. Sloan, University of Notre Dame
“History, Vitalism, and the Critical Philosophy: Kant’s Response to Herder’s Vital Historicism”

Session 4: Thinking Matter
Chair: Lorna Clymer, California State University, Bakersfield

Helen Thompson, Northwestern University
“Animals, Vegetables, and Women”

Natania Meeker, University of Southern California
“Voluptuous Figures: Translating Lucretian Materialism in Eighteenth-Century France”

Conference 3: Death
March 10–11, 2006

The conference on death continues the investigation on life, defining life by its cessation, and by its transmission across time. How, for example, did materialist notions of the corporeal self affect religious conceptions of identity and afterlife? What do popular and professional attitudes toward anatomy tell us about the perceived relationship of the body to the soul, or the possibility of bodily resurrection? How do juridical definitions of the body, particularly in relation to punishment, inform the understanding of death during this period? How did eighteenth-century culture imagine the relationship of the living to the illustrious dead in the service of various forms of community? What forms do relics take in the eighteenth century? Thus the inextricable questions of life and death are considered from a variety of perspectives at the junction of religious, scientific, popular, literary and legal representations.

Session 1: Artful Anatomies
Chair: Jayne Lewis, University of California, Irvine

Anita Guerrini, University of California
“The Value of a Dead Body: William Hunter’s Anatomy Lectures”

Lucia Dacome, Ahmanson-Getty Fellow, UCLA
“Wax and Death in Eighteenth-Century Italy”

Simon Chaplin, Royal College of Surgeons of England
“The Divine Touch, or Touching Divines: John Hunter, David Hume and the Bishop of Durham’s Rectum”

Session 2: Corpses and Community
Chair: Maximillian Novak, University of California, Los Angeles

Lorna Clymer, California State University, Bakersfield
“British Corpses: Funerary Iconography and Early Modern Periodicals”

Sophie Gee, Ahmanson-Getty Fellow, UCLA
“Holding onto the Corpse: Fleshly Remnants and a Journal of the Plague Year”

Peter Walmsley, McMaster University
“Death and the Nation”

Session 3: Death and Punshment
Chair: Robert S. Westman, University of California, San Diego

Michael Meranze, University of California, San Diego
“Death and the State”

Randall McGowen, University of Oregon
“Fraud, Fiction, and the Gallows: Forgery in Eighteenth-Century England”

Conference 4: Borders of the Animate
May 19–20, 2006

The final conference in the series continues the interdisciplinary examination of these issues. Papers address various eighteenth-century preoccupations with the vexed boundary between life and death, animate and inanimate. Automata and ghosts populate this world, in the era that gave birth to the uncanny, along with states of marginal consciousness. How do writers imagine inert matter becoming animated, or how do immaterial entities take on the qualities of life? How does literature bring characters to life? How does the era that defined the self by what it owns invest life in things? How do poems animate their authors, their subjects, and their readers? These and other questions animate the discussions.

Session 1: Animating Things
Chair: Robert G. Frank, University of California, Los Angeles

Jonathan Lamb, Vanderbilt University
“Representing Self-Moving Matter”

Minsoo Kang, University of Missouri, St. Louis
“The Machine-Man and the Man-Machine: The Automaton in Enlightenment Debates on the Animate and the Inanimate”

Julie Park, Ahmanson-Getty Fellow, UCLA
“The Aesthetics of Lifelikeness in the 18th-Century Novel”

Session 2: Envisioning the Invisible
Chair: Emily Hodgson Anderson, University of Southern California

Kevin Chua, Ahmanson-Getty Fellow, UCLA
“Girodet and the Eternal Sleep”

Jayne Lewis, University of California, Irvine
“The Spring of the Air and the Afterlife of Aether”

Session 3: Aesthetics of Animation
Chair: Felicity Nussbaum, University of California, Los Angeles

Richard Barney, State University of New York, Albany
“Sublime Animations: Anamorphism and Anne Finch’s Verse”

Helen Deutsch, University of California, Los Angeles
“Dismantl’d Souls: The Verse Epistle, Embodied Subjectivity, and Poetic Animation”

Joseph Roach, Yale University
“Eighteenth-Century Cinema: Animating Mrs. Siddons”

Session 4: Reason, People and Things
Chair: Malina Stefanovska, University of California, Los Angeles

John Bender, Stanford University
“Rational Choice in Love”

Blakey Vermeule, Stanford University
“J. M. Coetzee’s Rational Animals”