Thesis ID: CBB001562369

Organs of Meaning: The “Natural” Human Body in Literature and Science of the Late Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries (2001)


Engelstein, Stefani Brooke (Author)

University of Chicago
Meltzer, Françoise

Publication Date: 2001
Edition Details: Advisor: Meltzer, Francoise
Physical Details: 234 pp.
Language: English

My dissertation juxtaposes scientific texts with the work of Heinrich von Kleist, William Blake, and E. T. A. Hoffmann to investigate the eighteenth-century obsession with the human body, particularly its reproductive and regenerative functions, as the focal point of an emergent modern concern with the relationship of the subject to freedom, nature and mechanization. My first chapter examines naturalist and medical works on obstetrics and regeneration together with Blake's formulation of a non-transcendent creation myth. Blake manipulates the language and imagery of (re)generation to reveal the complicity of naturalists, painters and poets in a reification of nature which ricochets back onto humanity. Blake hoped his art would serve as a catalyst for the replacement of the infinite splitting process of "natural," sexual reproduction with an integrative regeneration in which humanity would recognize and embrace its contiguity with interactive surroundings. My second chapter reexamines Kleist's famous dialogue "On the Marionette Theater" as a subversion not only of classical aesthetics and romantic notions of immanence, but also of late eighteenth-century medical and military attitudes towards amputation and prostheses. At stake in this endeavor is both a risk to real bodies, and an equally paralyzing destabilization of the entire system of signification. Kleist's dialogue offers no middle ground between an ideological usurpation of the body and a catastrophic dissociation of meaning from any material foundation. My third chapter explores the relation between Hoffmann's work and that of such naturalists such as Lazzaro Spallanzani, whom Hoffmann reincarnates as a character. The broached boundary between life and artifact in Hoffmann's work calls into question the origin of (re)production within the text and outside it, paradoxically both fragmenting and fusing art, artifice, artist, offspring and procreator. Hoffmann's texts interrogate the body's instrumentality, and engage the notion that organs are themselves the unconscious sovereigns of which the subject is merely an instrument. By exploring the historical moment in which our conception of nature coalesces, my work not only provides insight into the expectations and fears which continue to surround predictive medical technologies, but also illuminates alternative visions of nature and our place in it.


Description Cited in Diss. Abstr. Int. A 62 (2002): 2412. UMI order no. 3019912.

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Authors & Contributors
Viscomi, Joseph
Keller, Eve
Kim, Julie C.
Greenfield, Susan C.
Clark, Andrew
Goldstein, Amanda Jo
Asclepio: Archivo Iberoamericano de Historia de la Medicina
Österreichische Zeitschrift für Geschichtswissenschaften
Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies
Berichte zur Wissenschaftsgeschichte
Naturwissenschaftliche Rundschau
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
University of Minnesota Press
Wallstein Verlag
Cambridge University Press
Yale University Press
Science and literature
Human body
Poetry and poetics
Scientific literature
Blake, William
Hoffmann, Ernst Theodor Amadeus
Shelley, Percy Bysshe
Coleridge, Samuel Taylor
Darwin, Erasmus
Wordsworth, William
Time Periods
19th century
18th century
17th century
20th century
16th century
Great Britain
London (England)

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