Systems of Life: Biopolitics, Economics, and Literature on the Cusp of Modernity

Systems of Life: Biopolitics, Economics, and Literature on the Cusp of Modernity

Systems of Life: Biopolitics, Economics, and Literature on the Cusp of Modernity

Systems of Life: Biopolitics, Economics, and Literature on the Cusp of Modernity

Synopsis

Systems of Life offers a wide-ranging revaluation of the emergence of biopolitics in Europe from the mid- eighteenth to the mid-nineteenth century. In staging an encounter among literature, political economy, and the still emergent sciences of life in that historical moment, the essays collected here reopen the question of how concepts of animal, vegetable, and human life, among other biological registers, had an impact on the Enlightenment project of thinking politics and economics as a joint enterprise. The volume's contributors consider politics, economics, and the biological as distinct, semi-autonomous spheres whose various combinations required inventive, sometimes incomplete, acts of conceptual mediation, philosophical negotiation, disciplinary intervention, or aesthetic representation.

Excerpt

Richard A. Barney and Warren Montag

The best way to learn any Science, is to begin with a regular System, or
a short and plain Scheme of that Science, well drawn up into a narrow
Compass.

isaac watts, The Improvement of the Mind (1741)

That the fitness of any system or machine to produce the end for which
it was intended, bestows a certain propriety and beauty upon the whole,
and renders the very thought and contemplation of it agreeable, is so
very obvious that nobody has overlooked it.

adam smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759)

In the eighteen years between Isaac Watts’s and Adam Smith’s remarks regarding the utility of systematic thinking at the middle of the eighteenth century, we find a conceptual arc—in miniature— that fits the broader development of European thinking about “system” from the early eighteenth century to the early nineteenth. Both authors stress the attractions of systematic efficiency and coherence, for instance, but whereas Watts focuses his appreciation on the relatively narrow compass of the epistemological benefits for knowledge formation (where “science” could designate any field of developed expertise), Smith expands system’s importance to apply potentially to any kind of practical, social, or scientific enterprise whose “end” also incorporates a definitively aesthetic dimension of “ftness” or “beauty.” Not quite three de cades after his brief consideration of the relevance of “system” to sympathy in The Theory of Moral Sentiments, Smith would demonstrate all the more emphatically the significance of systematicity to an ambitious project articulating the complex relations of po liti cal economy in his Wealth of . . .

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