Minding the Body: the Animate Body in Antebellum American Literature

This event will be part of the Humanities Center Colloquium series, which provides Pitt faculty and students, as well as members of the broader community with an opportunity to engage in an intimate conversation about an important humanities-centered work-in-progress. This event will bring to campus Matt Rebhorn, a faculty member in English at James Madison University, to discuss portions of his forthcoming book, Minding the Body: The Animate Body in Antebellum American Literature. As with our other colloquium events, attendants will have the opportunity to read a portion of Professor Rebhorn’s book in advance and then on the day of the event, Professor Rebhorn and two respondents, Nancy Glazener and Carol Bove, will each offer some brief remarks and responses, to be followed by a lively conversation. Owing to its incredibly interdisciplinary focus, especially in terms of its investigation of questions within medicine and health more broadly, this event will make an important contribution to Pitt’s Year of the Humanities.

Building on a range of archival material involving early medicine, philosophy, and health, Professor Rebhorn’s book explores the heated debates between “regular” and “irregular” medicine in the antebellum period. While the founding of the American Medical Association in 1847 spoke to the institutionalization of the mind-over-body ontology inherent in regular medical practice, alternative medicine—such as Thomsonianism and homeopathy—challenged regular medicine by imagining the body’s animate consciousness. By focusing on the ways that artists such as Herman Melville, Edwin Forrest, Robert Montgomery Bird, Edgar Allan Poe, Walt Whitman, and Louisa May Alcott imagined the body in this way, that is, that the body seems to have a mind of its own, Professor Rebhorn argues that they achieved two interrelated ends. First, by wrestling with this conceptualization of the body and of consciousness more generally, they changed how people read a novel, why people acted on the stage in the way they did, and what constituted the rhythm of poetic expression. Second, by understanding the body in this way, these artists used their texts to articulate a new kind of subjectivity for figures often linked to their bodies, such as chattel slaves, working-class laborers, and women. As he argues, some of the most aesthetically innovative as well as some of the most politically resistant modes of expression in the antebellum period were catalyzed by the way these various artists “minded the body.”

This event is also sponsored by the Humanities Center. Read more here.


Thursday, October 22, 2015

Location and Address

Humanities Center (602 Cathedral of Learning)