Thesis ID: CBB648068070

Resonating Subjects: Music and Emotion in Victorian Evolutionary Thought (2019)


Piilonen, Miriam Shulman (Author)
Butler, Mark J. (Advisor)

Northwestern University
Butler, Mark J.
Publication date: 2019
Language: English

Publication Date: 2019
Physical Details: 253

For much of the twentieth-century, English-language music scholars were reticent to speculate about the origins of music. In recent years, however, the study of music’s evolutionary origins has been revitalized. Resonating Subjects brings a critical-historical perspective to this renewed convergence of music studies and evolutionary science. Through close examinations of foundational music-evolutionary texts, I offer an interdisciplinary interpretive method that can be brought to bear not only on historical ideas but on contemporary musical thought. In Victorian Britain, thinkers like Charles Darwin and Herbert Spencer invoked music in their evolutionary writings. My work closely examines their music-evolutionary claims and discovers a novel philosophical affordance for music that crystallized alongside nineteenth-century evolutionary science: music as a special kind of evolutionary boundary-drawing device, valued for its power to trace or obscure the conceptual borders between human and animal. I further demonstrate that music’s special adjudicative function was bound up with emerging ideas about emotion. Darwin, for one, posited a sexual selection origin for music where musical sensations are analogized with animalistic amorousness. Victorian paranormal psychologist Edmund Gurney organized his Darwinian account of music perception around the pleasure of listening to one’s favorite melodies. Resonating Subjects depicts resonances between the origins of music, Victorian evolutionary thought, and theories of emotion as they became entwined with anxieties about what it means to be human. I show that by invoking music as a key example of evolutionary forces in action, evolutionary thinkers like Darwin, Spencer, and Gurney attempted to naturalize what it feels like to be properly human.

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Authors & Contributors
Burkhardt, Frederick
Darwin, Charles Robert
Secord, James A.
White, Paul S.
Brotman, Charles M.
Browne, E. Janet
Isis: International Review Devoted to the History of Science and Its Cultural Influences
Victorian Studies
Comptes Rendus Biologies
Critical Inquiry
Current Anthropology
Filosofia e História da Biologia
Cambridge University Press
University of Chicago
Oxford University Press
Palgrave Macmillan
Random House
Emotions; passions
Human-animal relationships
Metaphors; analogies
Science and literature
Darwin, Charles Robert
Spencer, Herbert
Carnegie, Andrew
Darwin, Erasmus
Durkheim, Émile
Hooker, Joseph Dalton
Time Periods
19th century
18th century
20th century, early
Great Britain
United States

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