Monstrous Dreams of Reason: Body, Self, and Other in the Enlightenment

Monstrous Dreams of Reason: Body, Self, and Other in the Enlightenment

Monstrous Dreams of Reason: Body, Self, and Other in the Enlightenment

Monstrous Dreams of Reason: Body, Self, and Other in the Enlightenment

Synopsis

"This collection of twelve previously unpublished essays explores the conflicts sparked by the extraordinary range of new ideas and material possibilities in the eighteenth-century British Empire, reading the Enlightenment less as a set of axioms than as a variety of cultural and ideological formations. The essays demonstrate how profoundly eighteenth-century formulations of gender, race, class, and sexuality have, through their challenges to a less empirical, rational, and universalizing past, set the terms for debates in the centuries that followed. They explore a wide range of texts, from Georgic poetry to crime stories, from illness narratives to travel journals, from theatrical performances to medical discourse, and from political treatises to the novel." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Excerpt

Mita choudhury and laura J. rosenthal

The problems raised during the enlightenment have neither been solved nor forgotten. As in the eighteenth century, so they manifest themselves now in both explicit philosophical reflections and unselfconscious practices in sites ranging from political debate, academic argument, and theological controversy, to theater, medical research, travel narratives, fiction, poetry, journalism, and even popular culture. To note one recent example, the Fox network’s popular X-Files, which premiered in 1992, recycles some of the most appealing debates about enlightenment. Here fbi agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully track down clues that may or may not lead to paranormal activity, supernatural presence, alien visitations, horrifying scientific experiments, or the manipulations of a secretive, authoritarian government. Mulder, a figure of neo-gothicism, comprehends nature as vast, mysterious, and elusive. Scully, initially assigned to keep tabs on Mulder’s covert operations, contests Mulder’s otherwordly explanations of paranormal phenomena with the full force of Enlightenment skepticism. Although possibly once abducted by aliens herself, Scully consistently demands and sometimes finds more mundane scientific reasons for the apparently unreasonable. in each episode, with ritualistic regularity, they rehearse the same debate: does human survival depend upon the discovery and harnessing of nature’s rational laws or does it depend upon a psychic link with the alternative narratives of the uncanny, the spiritual, the passionate, the otherworldly, or the irrational? Does survival depend on the embracing or the eradicating of difference? Does science honor or objectify the human body? Much of the show’s appeal lies in the tensions and longing between these characters, for neither is as interesting without the other: it is as if they are constantly performing Terry Castle’s brilliant insight that the Enlightenment itself produces the uncanny. Elaborate plots about human/alien hybrid clones become plausible only in the face of Scully’s relentless skepticism; and yet, perhaps a bit more self-consciously than in most science fiction, the terror of forced hybridity with space aliens also invokes anxieties about promis-

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