Discovering the Human
Discovering the Human
Discovering the Human
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Discovering the Human 9entity – with the finitude of the human. The changing concept of life is thusconnected with the modern notion of a human being characterized by itsmortality. This also has consequences for the concept of the human itself – whichmay, as Foucault famously notes, fade “like a face drawn in the sand at the edge ofthe sea” (422). In a word, the changing concept of life during the Enlightenmentand Romanticism does not only create the modern notion of the human, itdestabilizes this concept at the same time.According to Foucault, this paradigm shift in the history of the human sciencesfrom the Classical to the Modern episteme occurs around 1800. This is,however, exactly the problem of this particular version of the history of science.Like the other groundbreaking twentieth-century work on the history and theoryof science, Thomas S. Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962),Foucault presupposes one dominant preconception, or, in Kuhn’s terminology,paradigm, which structures and shapes the entire scientific knowledge of adiscipline in a given age. However, the concept of the human as both the objectand subject of scientific investigation around 1800 is the outcome of multiplechanges in philosophy, art, theology as well as science taking place during theEnlightenment – the evolution of scientific thought about human nature maytherefore be described as a transformation of key Enlightenment concepts. 1 Andyet, according to common scholarly opinion, the eighteenth century is not an eraparticularly famous for its groundbreaking scientific discoveries. Considering,however, the innovations made during the Enlightenment, e.g. the emergence ofmodern chemistry and the development of what today is called neuroscience,this belief may well be disputed: the human as the central category of this shift isnot “discovered” completely unanticipated. Although the chapters collected in1 Although today it is commonly agreed upon that knowledge of science is absolutely vital to anunderstanding of the development of literature in the period from the beginning of theEnlightenment to the close of Romanticism, systematic investigation into the field of scienceand literature is of a relatively recent date. The works of George S. Rousseau (see 1990, 2004),published from the late 1960s onwards, were seminal and paved the way for numerous publicationsto follow. The publications of the late Roy Porter have explored the many intersectionsof science, philosophy and cultural artefacts in the most comprehensive way possible:the Cambridge History of Eighteenth-Century Science in particular is the authoritative publicationfor the development of the sciences before 1800. From the 1980s onwards, studiessuch as Trevor H. Levere’s Poetry Realized in Nature (1981) have further investigated theconvergence of science and literature. Furthermore, books like Romanticism and the Sciences(1990), edited by Andrew Cunningham and Nicholas Jardine, have looked into the interplay ofthe two cultures in general while others, like Coleridge and the Sciences (2001), edited byNicholas Roe, focus on the impact of science and the output of an individual author. The lifesciences have been especially prominent in two recent and important publications. In herbook Shelley and Vitality of 2005, Sharon Ruston investigates the impact of late eighteenthandearly nineteenth-century vitalism on the works of Percy Bysshe Shelley, and most recentlyDenise Gigante has analysed the impact of the theories of life on authors like Coleridge, Shelleyor Keats in her book Life (2009).
10Ralf Haekel / Sabine Blackmorethis volume are based on the conviction that a decisive shift occurs from seventeenth-to nineteenth-century science, it would be wrong to presume thischange to have taken the form of a clear cut, a revolution or a sudden break.Rather, this shift takes place in a period which lasts for more than a century andis characterized by numerous different facets; while some things change ratherquickly, others show to be much more persistent. The decades around 1800 aretherefore a period of transition that has been described as Sattelzeit by theGerman historian Reinhart Koselleck. The human, as an immanent, finite andself-sustained organism, does only become an object of the scientific gaze oncethe scientific system with its specialized branches and secular outlook has beenestablished. This fundamental reconfiguration of human and artistic conventionsaround 1800 is based on the changes taking place in the realms ofscience and art, and it is accompanied by the development of the modern notionsof selfhood and subjectivity. One may call this set of paradigm shifts,transitions and discoveries the invention of modernity – a period characterizedby the specialization and differentiation of society in general and scientific andcultural disciplines and areas in particular. The “discovery of the human” wouldthen be the result of this momentous, yet slow and gradual change.The articles collected in this book pay tribute to the deviations, ambiguitiesand paradoxes that give shape to the establishment of the human as well as of thelife sciences. It is our contention that the aforementioned developments arebased on the scientific, social and artistic developments taking place throughoutthe entire long eighteenth century.Against the background of fundamental seventeenth- and early eighteenthcenturyscientific discoveries, such as Harvey’s blood circulation and Willis’sresearch of the brain and nervous system, as well as slowly moving changes inthe sciences and the arts during the Enlightenment, a more detailed picture ofthe modern concept of human nature starts to emerge.2. LifeThe long eighteenth century is arguably the most decisive historical period in theformation of the category of the human, and the present volume is an attempt tore-investigate the interplay of the discursive formation of scientific knowledgeand the realm of art – especially of literature. Within this period, encompassingthe end of the scientific revolution on the one hand and the Romantic period withthe formation of the modern scientific system on the other, the changing scope ofthe life sciences is one of the most important aspects in the development of themodern concept of the human. The human is inextricably linked with the categoryof life; yet, whatever life is at the onset of the Modern age, how it can be
Discovering the Human 11defined, is far from clear. The many different scientific areas and disciplines thatare involved in the definition of life include anatomy, physiology, zoology butalso botany, palaeontology and even geology. Biology eventually emerges in thefirst half of the nineteenth century as the scientific discipline that subsumes allthe different ideas of life in the human, animal and plant kingdoms.As there is no universally accepted definition of life, any history of the conceptbecomes necessarily schematic. But as with the macrocosmic notion of theFoucauldian epistemic shift from the Classical to the Modern age, the value of amicrocosmic notion of the progressive history of the life sciences in the eighteenthcentury has undeniably heuristic merits. Traditionally, this history iswritten as a progression from mechanist physiology via vitalism to a biologicalconception of a living organism.The development of the so-called “vitality debate” is a case in point. Mechanisticmodels of living beings are based on the Cartesian dualist notion of thebody as res extensa and the mind or soul as res cogitans: the body is comparedwith a machine or a mechanism which is enlivened and directed by an immaterialsoul. Thus, the immortal soul was excluded from the realm of the bodywhich enabled Descartes and his followers to investigate the workings of thebody without having to mesh with problems connected with salvation andtranscendence – which is presumably the reason why mechanistic philosophywas never attacked by the church. Whilst the mechanistic notion had its obviousappeals and merits in the age of scientific discoveries of the early Enlightenment,it was also almost immediately attacked by Descartes’s contemporaries for itslimitations, most notably by Leibniz. Nevertheless, the rationalist concept ofmechanism proved to be immensely successful until increased knowledge ofphysiology and subsequent scientific discoveries rendered it obsolete. But, ofcourse, this did not happen out of the blue. Rather, this development, takingplace in mid-eighteenth century, reaches back into the previous century.What triggered the debate on life in the first half of the eighteenth century wasthe question whether matter was in itself active or inactive – and the nervoussystem played an immense role here: did the senses merely register and pass theinformation on to the brain and the mind or is the body actively involved insense perception? While mechanism regarded the body as merely passive, vitalisttheories considered matter to be active itself. Thus, during the first half ofthe eighteenth century, the knowledge of the human body got more and morecomplex in a way that rendered a mechanistic explanation of human life implausibleand eventually impossible.Especially the influence of Newtonian physics complicated matters. Newtonianssuch as Herman Boerhaave (see Schwalm in this volume) and GeorgErnst Stahl introduced new concepts into medicine and physiology that rancounter to mechanistic interpretations. Shirley A. Roe describes how the
12Ralf Haekel / Sabine Blackmoremechanistic philosophy was eventually undermined from within the realm ofscience:Mechanistic physiology, based on the analogy of living organisms with machines, wasto be considerably broadened by the introduction of Newtonian forces into physiology.The clear borders between the animal and plant kingdoms, and even between the plantand mineral worlds, were to be called into question by new experimental evidence. Andthe comfortable synthesis of mechanism with reproduction from preexisting germswas to encounter serious opposition from new theories of gradual development thatraised the specter of materialism. (S. Roe 397)Among the first to come up with a theory of living matter that can be termedvitalist was Georg Ernst Stahl. Peter Hanns Reill has argued that Stahl’s conceptof the chemical nature of matter fundamentally challenged the mechanisticconcept of life: “In the phenomenal world, matter is always conjoined. … Becausethere were no such things as isolated, uniform blocks of nature, all ofnature was connected through sympathies, rapports, or affinities.” (Reill 35 –6;see Stahl’s explanation of the chemical structure of matter: 3 – 21) Stahl’s conceptionof vitalism or animism presupposed an active principle animatingmatter, i.e. “a conscious, rational soul, or anima” (S. Roe 405). Yet, as Lester S.King points out, this concept of the soul is not to be mistaken for the traditionalreligious and philosophical notion, rather “this force or anima, however mistakenlyconceived, was a biological and scientific concept. Stahl made it unequivocallyclear that all discussions of anima dealt with a force immanent in thebody.” (123)Later on in the eighteenth century, the question whether a vital force governedmatter or not became important in two areas: in the increasingly sophisticatedinvestigation of the nervous system and in the debate on generation. Probablythe most important aspect in this history is the investigation of the nervoussystem, as George S. Rousseau remarks:no topic in physiology between the Restoration and the turn of the nineteenth centurywas more important than the precise workings of the nerves, their intricate morphologyand histological arrangement, their anatomic function. (1991: 129)The investigation of the nervous system did not only pave the way for a thoroughlyscientific conception of human nature, it also helped to create a newunderstanding of life – which in turn had a massive influence on the vitalitydebate. One of the key figures in the early history of neuroscience is ThomasWillis. Willis, whose students included William Boyle and John Locke, exercisedan immense influence that went beyond a specialized interest in physiology.Moreover, the investigation of the nerves is pivotal for our understanding of themodern conception of art and literature: Baumgarten’s theory of aesthetics is a
Discovering the Human 13theory of sense perception, and the literary vogue of sensibility is also dependenton a different, indeed nervous conception of human nature.In the seventeenth century, the nerves were considered to be hollow tubes, asort of transport channel for animal spirits, which were deemed to be a substanceneither quite material nor quite immaterial, establishing a communicationbetween the soul and the body. This notion of the spiritus was still takenseriously by, for instance, Isaac Newton and George Cheyne who discussed thisvolatile substance in his English Malady of 1733. In the 1750s, the nervous reflexgave rise to a debate between the Albrecht von Haller and Robert Whytt.Whereas von Haller, a Newtonian and a follower of Boerhaave, considered thenotion of irritability to be merely a material effect that transports the informationto the brain, Robert Whytt locates the sensation in the entire nervoussystem itself (on the controversy see Frixione as well as Fischer-Homberger100 – 2). Whytt was of the opinion that the reflex is caused by a so-called sentientprinciple inherent in the body:Further, in man the sentient and rational principle must be acknowledged to be one;since we are all conscious that what feels, reasons, and exerts itself in moving the body,is one and the same, and not distinct beings. It is the mind, therefore, that feels, thinks,remembers and reasons; which, though one principle, is nevertheless possessed ofthese different powers, and acts in these different capacities. (283 –4)In the second half of the eighteenth century, the question of vitality also shapedthe discourse concerned with generation. Natural philosophers such as JohnHunter in England or Johann Friedrich Blumenbach in Germany came up withtheories of generation that were clearly opposed to the traditional concept ofpreformation which “considered generation a mechanical realization, by way ofnutrition, of already articulated parts” (Gigante 9; see also Sonntag 297). In hisTheoria Generationis of 1759, Caspar Friedrich Wolff challenged this theory andproposed an essential force, a vis essentialis, to be responsible for the procreationand growth of living beings. Wolff’s epigenetic theory was furtherdeveloped and popularized by Johann Friedrich Blumenbach in his work on theBildungstrieb or formative principle. This formative principle is, according toBlumenbach, a force that is inherent in an organism shaping and controlling itsgrowth. It thus renders the theory of preformation highly implausible:That no preformed seeds pre-exist: but that in a formerly unwrought procreativematter of organized bodies, after it has matured and reached the place of its destination,a special, lifelong drive becomes active to take on their [the bodies’, RH & SB] initiallydestined form, to conserve it for life and, if mutilated, restore it if possible. A drivetherefore belonging to the vital forces, but one that is clearly distinct from the othervital forces of organized bodies (contractibility, irritability, sensibility, etc.) as it isdistinct from the bodies’ physical forces in general; which seems to be the first andmost important force of conception, nutrition, and reproduction, and which, in order
14Ralf Haekel / Sabine Blackmoreto distinguish it from all other vital forces, can be designated with the name of formativeprinciple (nisus formatiuus). (Blumenbach 24–5, our translation)Writing in England at the same time as Blumenbach did in Germany, JohnHunter came to quite similar insights. The second lecture On the Principles ofSurgery bears the significant title “On the Vital Principle,” and it is here thatHunter most clearly argues for a vital force that animates the body: “Animalmatter is endowed with a principle called, in common language, life.” (221) Heexplains that “animal matter” can either be in a state “endowed with the vitalprinciple” or “deprived of it.” From this he concludes that life cannot depend onorganization because matter is also organized in a lifeless state:From this it appears that the principle of life cannot arise from the peculiar modificationof matter, because the same modifications exists where this principle is nomore. … If life arose out of this peculiar modification, it would not be destroyed untilthe modification was destroyed, either by spontaneous changes, as fermentation, or bysome chemical processes; and were it destroyed by the last, it might sometimes berestored again by another process. Life, then, appears to be something superadded tothis peculiar modification of matter… (Hunter 221)The vitalist theory of generation did not only challenge already outdated theoriesof preformation, it also signifies that mechanism could no longer provide satisfyinganswers to the question of life. The vitality debate thus shows thatthroughout the eighteenth century matters concerning life had become toocomplex to be answered by the rather simplistic mechanist philosophy. Thedebate bears witness to a crisis of Enlightenment science and the entire classicalepisteme which is also a crisis of language as the basis of the scientific system.3. LanguageThe Enlightenment or Classical episteme is, according to Foucault, based on thearbitrary concept of the linguistic sign. Andreas Mahler has shown how thisconcept shapes the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century scientific system. At thebeginning of the scientific revolution, i. e. at the turn of the seventeenth century,Mahler argues, “language itself loses its guaranteed meaning; it is no longer theplace where a reality guaranteed by God is to be found; instead it becomes aninstrument, designed by humans, to express a reality found and constructedelsewhere” (727 –8, our translation). As the period of the Enlightenment came toa close, the scientific system based on the arbitrary sign also experienced a severecrisis. But, as the discussion of the vitality debate has shown, this developmentsets in much earlier. Already during the first half of the eighteenth century, thehuman or animal body ceases to be a simple scientific object. The question of life
Discovering the Human 15proves to be too complex to be solved in terms of a binary opposition of mindand matter. As a result, the human body comes into being in its own right as acomplex object, as something that cannot be fully resolved or explained asmerely passive matter. Humans begin to reflect on themselves as humans, using ascientific language that is, in turn, self-reflexive. This has consequences for therealm of art as well. At the onset of Romanticism, literature becomes the discoursewhere this self-reflexivity comes into its own, as Andreas Mahler maintains:With this, language begins to transcend the model of transparency ; it breaks free fromthe bonds of its own absolute functionalism and lays claim to an independent existenceand independent functions. … it finds its place in literature. (753, our translation)Thus, the crisis of Enlightenment science proves to be highly productive in that itbrings about a new conception of man; it paves the way for a thoroughly immanentconcept of the human. This becomes apparent when (re-)consideringthe line of demarcation between the human and the animal.4. ClassificationThe eighteenth century is the age of systematization and classification. Toclassify the entire natural world according to the laws of reason rendered God’screation palpable for human minds. Roe, summing up this worldview, stressesthe Enlightenment focus on reason:For much of the eighteenth century, the biological world was seen as a very orderedplace. Plants and animals yielded to Linnean classification. Physiological functioningwas envisioned in mechanistic terms. And the generation of new animals and plantsproceeded from preformed germs that had existed since the creation. All this orderarose from God, who had created and organized the world for humans to understandand thereby to appreciate His handiwork and lead moral lives. Even the seeminglydisordered, such as monsters and wonders of Nature, were generally brought under theparadigm of order. (S. Roe 397)Yet, although the classification of plants and animals into species and subspeciesis somewhat carried to extremes by Linnaeus, it also helped to question thetraditional border between plants, animals and humans. As mentioned above,the classical definition of what is a plant, an animal or a human being is based onthe Aristotelian definition of the soul and its faculties. Once the soul loses itsstatus as the basis of life, this traditional classification also loses its authority.Several discoveries of the natural world therefore challenged overcome definitions.The hydra or freshwater polyp, for example, which was discovered byAntoni van Leeuwenhoek and first investigated by Abraham Trembley (see
16Ralf Haekel / Sabine BlackmoreVartanian), was – on the basis of its green colour – originally considered to be aplant and only later classified as an animal.However, not only the border between animals and plants was debated butalso the one between animals and humans. Especially the investigation andclassifications of the orang-utan and the chimpanzee made it difficult, if notimpossible, to find a line of demarcation. Carl Linnaeus, for instance, objected toa strict line of demarcation:In truth, Linnaeus’s genius consists not so much in the resoluteness with which heplaces man among the primates as in the irony with which he does not record – as hedoes with the other species – any specific identifying characteristic next to the genericname Homo. (Agamben 25)During the second half of the eighteenth century, the orang-utan is widely discussedas the missing link between humans and animals, for instance by Jean-Jacques Rousseau in the Discourse on Inequality or later by Lord Monboddo (foran overview of this debate see Moran III).It is only later, with the development of the scientific system and biology, thatthe human as a defined species comes into being, as Agamben remarks: “in theAncien RØgime the boundaries of man are much more uncertain and fluctuatingthan they will appear in the nineteenth century, after the development of thehuman sciences.” (24) Thus, the discovery of the human appears to be a restriction,a new and even more severe classification than the Classical one.There is a striking parallel between this development and the occurrence ofthe notion of two biological sexes towards the end of the eighteenth century. InMaking Sex of 1990, Thomas Laqueur has argued that not only gender, i.e.cultural identity as male or female, is a social construct, but the notion of thebiological sex as well. Hence, what we take as a biological truth is not solely basedon scientific fact but also dependent on social conventions and discourses ofpower:Anatomy, and nature as we know it more generally, is obviously not pure fact, unadulteratedby thought or convention, but rather a richly complicated constructionbased not only on observation, and on a variety of social and cultural constraints on thepractise of science, but on an aesthetics of representation as well. (Laqueur 163–4)By the end of the eighteenth century, Laqueur argues, male and female bodieswere conceived of as opposites. This development, he claims, is mainly down topolitical reasons: the patriarchal society was unconsciously looking for a scientificargument in order to maintain the cultural difference between the socialgenders. Hence, evidence for the difference between men and women was soughtin the realm of biology. The conception of male and female as two different sexesis therefore not solely based on new scientific insights; rather, it is the other wayround: new scientific insights were sought in order to establish a given moral
Discovering the Human 17and social order. In other words, in the eighteenth century, sex, the biologicaldifference between man and woman, is made – not discovered.There is a cultural side to this development which ferments the differencebetween the sexes around 1800. In The Making of the Modern Self, Dror Wahrmandescribes the history of the changing gender roles in eighteenth-centuryBritain. Cross-dressing, for instance, or warlike behaviour was still possible forwomen at the turn of the eighteenth century, whereas around 1800, it was replacedby motherhood as an ideal of femininity, indeed as the only possiblesocial function women could fulfil. The choice not to become a mother hadbecome socially inacceptable at the turn of the nineteenth century :The suggestion, then, is that the distinctive shift peculiar to the late eighteenth centurywas one from maternity as a general ideal, broadly prescriptive but allowing for individualdeviations, to maternity as inextricably intertwined with the essence offemininity of each and every woman. In the latter understanding, what was ruled outwas the possibility of choice: a woman choosing not to exercise these essential maternalinstincts, rather than being forced into such a situation through circumstances beyondher control, was now most likely to be branded “unnatural”. (Wahrman 13)Wahrman’s theory is very closely linked with that of Thomas Laqueur: beforethe end of the century, gender and sex were established as social categories thatmade transgressions impossible. The notion of motherhood “naturalized” thedifference between male and female as based on biological fact which, in turn,makes choice not only impossible but turns it into a violation against nature.Wahrman’s interpretation of this shift is most striking. The turn of thenineteenth century is usually regarded as a time when modern writings bywomen authors such as Mary Wollstonecraft, defending political rights ofwomen, led to the emergence of modern feminism. Against the notion that thesewritings in the wake of the French Revolution have caused a new way of thinkingabout gender to emerge, Wahrman regards them as the consequence of andreaction to such a new and restrictive conception of human nature. In his ownwords:The late eighteenth century was the moment when the gender-transgressive woman waslosing her ground culturally, and was thus forced to come into her own politically. …The edge of late-eighteenth-century feminism, which some might suppose to have beena cause of the changes in understandings of gender during these decades, shouldperhaps be seen more appropriately as their consequence. (Wahrman 34–5)
18Ralf Haekel / Sabine Blackmore5. Science and ArtThe history of the life sciences is not only the history of the discovery of thehuman and the formation of the modern scientific system, it is also the birth of adifferent conception of art and literature in which these momentous changes areexpressed and negotiated. 2 This has a lot to do with the fact that the new conceptof the human is closely linked with ideas of originality and ingenuity. Works ofart, as M.H. Abrams has shown in his famous simile of the mirror and the lamp,are no longer primarily imitations of nature; rather, they have their origin in theminds of the artists and poets.Yet, and this is the other side of this development, the form of art itself changesas well. Around 1800, the notion of vitality came into conflict with a new kind ofmaterialism or rather a materialist theory of life: organicism. In the second halfof the eigheenth century, these two conflicting theories of life, vitalism andorganicism, shaped the debate on life and eventually merged into the disciplineof biology. As opposed to vitalism that considered life to rely on a vital principle,organicism considered life as independent of the soul and therefore immanentand ultimately materialist. The famous debate between John Abernethy andWilliam Lawrence, taking place as a series of lectures in the 1810s, may beconsidered as the culmination of this conflict (see Ruston 38 – 63). Abernethypresupposes a vital principle in all of animated nature which he, in line withRomantic philosophy of nature, calls “Anima Mundi” (52). Lawrence is fiercelyopposed to this notion, famously stating that an “immaterial and spiritual beingcould not have been discovered amid the blood and filth of the dissecting-room”(7 –8). Instead, he considers life to depend solely on the organization of matter(see Lawrence 120 – 1), a notion that was heavily attacked at the time buteventually became the basis for the modern biological understanding of life.In the early decades of the nineteenth century, biology was based on theconception of the human and animal body as a self-sufficient organism: thisnewly emerging discipline defined the modern scientific concept of human andanimal life as based on the organization of matter. Hence, today’s knowledge ofhumans, animals and plants is to a large degree the outcome of the formation ofbiology in the Romantic period. For the emerging scientific system, thesetransformations were indeed groundbreaking since they brought about anepistemic shift from the previous worldview to the modern scientific concept ofthe human.At the same time, literature and art sought to find new ways of depicting the2 See, for instance, Raymond Williams: “In its modern form the concept of ‘literature’ did notemerge earlier than the eighteenth century and was not fully developed until the nineteenthcentury.” (46)
Discovering the Human 19human and human life. Enlightenment and Romantic aesthetics and poetics canonly be understood against the backdrop of the new scientific understanding ofthe human and, in turn, the scientific discoveries only make sense when consideringthe cultural conceptions of human life. During the one and a halfcenturies investigated in this volume, one can speak of a strong interplay ofscience and literature (see Rousseau 1969). Literature and art, therefore, do notmerely reflect the discoveries made in the life sciences during the Ages of Enlightenmentand Romanticism, but, in a combined effort, they sought to find anew understanding of human life.Around 1800, the question “What is life?” dominated both the cultural andscientific production. The quest for an answer not only led to the concept of thehuman as a self-sustaining organism but also triggered the notion of the organicartefact. The impact of the life sciences on holistic aesthetics is stressed byDenise Gigante in her recent book Life:As the concept of vital power sparked a preoccupation with self-generating and selfmaintainingform, it quickened the category of the aesthetic, elevating natural researchersinto natural philosophers attempting to account for a mysterious powerburied deep within the structures of nature. Life scientists focused on the dynamics oforganic form in an effort to explain how form emerged and maintained itself, despitethe physical laws of an environment that worked, meanwhile, to reduce it to its constituentparts. Aesthetic theorists and practitioners alike focused on the vitality ofform. (5)Around the middle of the nineteenth century, the joint endeavour of the lifesciences and the arts ends. The early nineteenth century, then, saw the formationof the modern system of science and with it the demarcation of the individualscientific disciplines. By the end of the Romantic period, science and the arts hadevolved into two different cultures. Although Romantic Naturphilosophie soon“came to be dismissed as a sort of pseudoscience by the new breed of professionalscientists” (Gigante 255, n. 64), two concepts remained: the human asan immanent and finite organism, and art, especially literature, as an autonomoussystem of cultural production.6. Discovering the HumanThe focus of Discovering the Human lies on the decades in which this transitiontowards modern art and modern human nature takes place and yet this volumealso goes beyond this scope. This collection of essays goes back to a conference ofthe same title held in Berlin in 2009, and it situates itself in a tradition that looksat literature, art and culture in the light of scientific and medical development.
20Ralf Haekel / Sabine BlackmoreThe essays collected in this volume are grouped into three sections –Eighteenth-Century Science and the Arts, Romantic Science and the Arts, and The Humanand Media Change –, each of which corresponding differently to our greatertopic: the discovery of the human. These correspondences are both historicaland topical and thus provide a deeper understanding of the essays and theirquest for “the human” negotiated in the emerging life sciences and the artsthroughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.The first group of essays revolves around the idea of Eighteenth-CenturyScience and the Arts. The volume opens with Christoph Heyl’s chapter on WilliamHogarth whose works serve as a stark reminder that eighteenth-centurydevelopments in the life sciences and the “discovery of the human” met withconsiderable scepticism. In his essay, Heyl investigates Hogarth’s attitude toscience in general and to the activities of the medical profession in particularwhich appears to have been utterly negative. Figures such as the bizarre scientificimpostor, the unscrupulous quack, the mad scientist and the incompetent, evilor perhaps even diabolic doctor frequently appear in his engravings. Hogarth’svastly influential prints helped to keep such stock characters alive and to developthem further. However, in spite of his deeply entrenched scepticism, Hogarthwas not entirely immune from scientific thought, and Heyl reveals that somescientific concepts did find their way into his challenging depictions of “thehuman”.Mascha Hansen’s essay focuses on a gender-related aspect of eighteenthcenturyscientific development: the fate of the wives (or sisters) as assistants ofmale scientists and their own subsequent careers as female scientists in a maleworld. Hansen looks at some of the prevailing images of female scientists, e. g.Caroline Herschel, in the late eighteenth century and the strategies with whichwomen accepted or deflected such images, using letters and memoirs to revealthe importance intellectual women attached to science in their lives.The first group closes on Sladja Blazan’s change of perspective and integrationof “the non-human”, or the ghost, in Immanuel Kant’s Dreams of aSpirit-Seer. Within the secure framework of an anonymously published treatise,Kant produced one of the most important writings on what can be called ghosttheory. Blazan demonstrates how Kant’s preoccupation with spirit-seeing in hisearly work entails some of the central ideas developed in his critical writings onmorality, ultimately exposing the ethical underpinnings of spectrality. Highlightingthe connection between a general “sense of morality” to “spirit conjuration”,Blazan identifies telling echoes of Kant’s pre-critical writings onspirit-seeing within his later critical and moral philosophy in order to contextualizethe complexities involved in eighteenth-century ideas about the free,self-determining subject.The second group of essays is concerned with Romantic Science and the Arts
Discovering the Human 21and continues the lines carefully developed throughout the Enlightenment.Slowly reaching the epistemological change around 1800 and its inherent discoveryof the human and establishment of the life sciences, the essays illuminatethe virulent debate on the human, its Romantic scientific concepts and artisticand literary negotiations.Amalgamating the exterior and interior landscape of the human, CatherineClinger’s opening essay investigates visual material of the late eighteenth- andearly nineteenth-century German physician Johann Christian Rosenmüller whopursued a strong research interest in otorhinolaryngology. The essay discussessubterranean imagery found within the representational procedures and aestheticdebates formed at the junctures between art, medicine and science; specifically,the description of caves previously unacknowledged in the histories ofmedicine or print. The innate quality of interiority that exists in the chamber of acave makes it the ideal setting in literature for dreams and psychological crises.In the visual culture of medicine, however, the representation of cavernous spaceoffered, according to Clinger, a unique perspective on anatomical metaphorizationand was integrated into medical discussions of the brain and of consciousness.Continuing the focus on science and gender established in the first part of thebook, Ulrike Kristina Köhler’s essay on the gothic novel determines the relationshipbetween women and science in popular fiction. The connection betweenscience – at the time still a predominantly male business – and the debateon female education does not immediately come to mind when thinking aboutGothic fiction. Nevertheless, Köhler argues that the Gothic contains a subtlepledge for an education of women including the sciences. Ann Radcliffe’s heroinesin The Mysteries of Udolpho and The Romance of the Forest, for instance,both receive an education in science and pursue their scientific aspirations.Moreover, Köhler continues, the female Gothic actually expresses a demand for afemale approach to science in order to counterbalance the male system.That the life sciences in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centurieswere acutely aware of the anthropomorphic distortions resulting from the use ofmetaphors, similes and analogies is shown by Felix Sprang. Revealing the relationshipof the discovery of the human and the fate of plant life, Sprang focuseson how the metaphorical umbrella term “life” became increasingly problematicin the emerging discipline of botany. With new inquiries into the ecology, thereproductive systems and the “behaviour” of plants, conceptions of life weremore and more reserved for the animal world, including human beings, anddeemed unacceptable with respect to plants. Illustrating this process, Sprangturns to the metaphorical field used to describe the active movement of plants.The investigation of plant movement and its repercussions with respect tochanging conceptions of “life” are discussed in botanical tracts of the late
22Ralf Haekel / Sabine Blackmoreeighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, most notably in Erasmus Darwin’spoem The Botanic Garden (1799). Sprang argues that the process of discoveringthe human around 1800 was essentially rooted in downgrading plant life.In the third and last part of this volume, the focus shifts from the historicalangle towards The Human and Media Change – i.e. the notion that the aforementionedreconfigurations also have a massive impact on the media in whichthe human is represented. Covering the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries aswell as foreshadowing the developments of the early twentieth century, theessays explore a wide range of aspects intricate to the relationship between thediscovery of the human and different media in which this discovery is conveyed.Hania Siebenpfeiffer’s essay, which opens this final section, examines the verybeginning of literary science fiction in the seventeenth and eighteenth centurieswith special focus on the narration of the extraterrestrial other. While JohannesKepler in 1604 still used the Lucian narrative of a dream-voyage to present histheory of the planets’ movements, a more literary mode of outer-space travel isinaugurated by Francis Godwin in The Speedy Messenger of 1638. Godwin’s novelmarks the beginning of a literary master narrative that combines the extrapolationof technical skills with an estrangement of former scientificknowledge. By confronting the theological idea of the human with new conceptsof cosmic order, Godwin’s was the first novel to revaluate a pre-scientific discursiveframework, thus opening up a new and enthralling debate on the essenceof human beings that lasted throughout the eighteenth century.The ensuing chapter by Helga Schwalm, focusing on Samuel Johnson’s Life ofBoerhaave, investigates the interrelation of lives of medical professionals and ofpoets in eighteenth-century biographical writing. Schwalm argues that Johnson’sfascination and literary engagement with the lives of physicians bears asignificance beyond his obvious interest in medicine and its cultural dissemination.Against the topological charge of the physician’s scepticism and atheism,Johnson constructs Boerhaave as a modern practicing physician, a man ofscience, and a professional, both exemplary in piety and in method. At the sametime, Johnson, by implicit analogy, establishes himself as a professional authorand sceptical biographer.Birgit Mara Kaiser’s essay introduces one of the most important Romanticconcepts of the life sciences: electricity. Her particular interest is the impact ofthe theory of electricity on the works of the German dramatist Heinrich vonKleist. Referring to Foucault’s writings, Kaiser argues that as life became increasinglyconceptualized as biological, and as the human evolved as an empiricalobject at the turn of the nineteenth century, scientific explorations ofelectricity allowed for alternative conceptions of the human. The poetic engagementswith, and adaptations of, theories of electricity were, according toKaiser, ways to reconfigure the human, contesting his discursive sedimentation
Discovering the Human 23in the new life sciences as organic self-organization. She shows that literary textschallenged both the idea of the human as interiority and conscious reflexivity,and the belief in the empirical verifiability of life. Given Kleist’s insistence on anaffectivity rendered in electrical terms, his texts display the inhuman limits ofthe human.The volume ends with an outlook, an investigation of the human in the earlycinema of the twentieth century. Ute Berns analyses James Whale’s highly successfulfilm adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, focusing on the way inwhich the medium of film reflects the story’s theories of life. In her novel, MaryShelley envisions a scientist who artificially creates “human” life from parts ofdead human bodies and animals. Modern critics have drawn an analogy betweenShelley’s scientist and twentieth-century film directors, cameramen and editorswho mechanically create “artificial life” on cinema screens. Berns highlights thescientific discourses of anatomy/surgery and electricity/light in Whale’sFrankenstein (1931), discussing the complex meta-cinematic gestures thesescientific discourses engender in the context of film history and within amodernist framework. Rather than arguing that the self-reflexive potential of theFrankenstein narrative had to wait for the modern medium of film to be realized,she shows that this meta-fictional and meta-narrative potential can actually betraced back to the way in which Romantic novelists and poets re-conceptualizedboth the sciences of life and the human around 1800.To sum up, Discovering the Human highlights the transformative processes inthe sciences and the arts resulting in the discovery of the human at the dawningof the modern age. This volume aims at contributing to recent discussions aboutthe importance of the life sciences and the arts during the Enlightenment, Romanticismand beyond. The essays in this collection challenge former notions ofthe discovery of the human and seek to spark further research in the interplay ofthe life sciences and the arts fathoming the human – its nature and the underlyingconcept of life – as a central epistemological category of both the eighteenthas well as the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.ReferencesAbernethy, John. Surgical Observations on Injuries of the Head. London: Longman, Hurst,Rees, Orme, and Brown, 1810. Online.Abrams, M.H. The Mirror and the Lamp. Romantic Theory and the Critical Tradition.Oxford: Oxford UP, 1971. Print.Agamben, Giorgio. The Open: Man and Animal. Stanford: Stanford UP, 2004. Print.Aristotle. On the Soul. Parva Naturalia. On Breath. Transl. W.H. Hett, Cambridge, Mass.:Harvard UP, 1957. Print.
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