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Erica Fretwell Seminar: “Sensory Experiments in 19th-Century America” (American Literature and Sciences Series)
January 25, 2021 @ 3:30 pm - 5:00 pm
Sensory Experiments in 19th-Century America
What makes race an elemental fact of consciousness? How does psychophysics, the “failed” science of sense experience, reframe our understanding of aesthetics? At the nexus of metaphysics, aesthetics, and empiricism, psychophysics opens up an alternate genealogy of feeling, in which the sensorium constitutes not the moral grounds of sentiment but the more phenomenological foundation of lived experience. Organized around the introduction and first chapter of Sensory Experiments: Psychophysics, Race, and the Aesthetics of Feeling (2020), this seminar tracks the development of “psychophysical aesthesis,” a set of nineteenth-century literary and cultural experiments that drew on psychophysical concepts, methods, and vocabularies to address the granular sensory experiences that mediate the volatile relation between self and social world. Within this context, two distinct yet linked Civil War “bodies” – phantom limbs and photographic spirits – suggest how feeling became a “wild fact” of consciousness (c.f. William James) both subject to yet capable of evading biopolitical capture.