"Nerve poetry and Fiber Art: Biosemiosis and Erasmus Darwin," Amanda Jo Goldstein (Cornell)

Friday, April 14, 2017 - 5:00pm
Hamilton 516
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Apr 14 - The talk unfolds the critical genealogy of the new biological discourses of epigenetics, neural plasticity, and biosemiotics through their forgotten precedents in Enlightenment and Romantic neuroscience and poetics. It revives Erasmus Darwin’s pioneering theory of the animal nervous system to focus on his genre of didactic poetry as a neurologically informed pedagogical program. Rejecting the ethics, politics, and pertinence of an ideal of human freedom as freedom from every extrinsic and natural determination, the talk discovers in the deep history of epigenetic neuroscience an earlier modern sense of “plasticity” that grasped biotic matter as teachable down to the first nerve. Darwin’s under-appreciated form of didactic poetry knew how to exploit this kind of educable corporeality – and might have something to teach us about how to comport with our physical and cognitive plasticity.

Amanda Jo Goldstein is Assistant Professor of English at Cornell University. She works on European Romanticism and the life sciences, with special interest in rhetoric and figuration, pre-Darwinian biology, and materialist theories of history, poetry, and nature. Her first book is Sweet Science: Romantic Materialism and the New Sciences of Life (University of Chicago Press, forthcoming in May 2017)