Ph.D. Candidate, Department of English, Brown University
2019 to 2020
Fictional Brains: Reflecting on the Neural Subject in the Nineteenth-Century American Novel
In Fictional Brains I argue that the social novel was the laboratory in which emerging theories of embodied cognition developed sensible forms for 19th-century American audiences. While the relationship between the novel and the sciences tends to be treated through the language of transmission (from the sciences into the novel), I contend that scientific and literary discourse function in a circuit—irreducible to each other, yet inextricable. Drawing on recent scholarship in the history of epistemology and literary phenomenology, I position the novel as a key experimental site for transmitting and transforming the epistemic claims of discourses on the brain into socially legible experiences. Accordingly, this project reads the history of the brain through the phenomenology of the novel and recontextualizes scientific concepts like force, causality, and reflexivity through the operations of 19th-century narrative forms.