This essay reminds readers of the nineteenth-century origins of the disciplinary divide between scientific, formal-theoretical knowledge on the one hand and particularizing, creaturely knowledge on the other, arguing that we literary critics have tended to reify this divide even when we have sought to be more “scientific” in our methods. Logic falls on the far side of this divide; because we typically regard it as a consummately scientific and formalized practice, we presume that it is antithetical to our own. The essays in this collection amply demonstrate that this is not the case, and that logic can and has been set in a productive dialogue with both literature and literary criticism. Indeed, during the nineteenth century itself, disciplinary and methodological distinctions, although under construction, had not yet calcified, and so prompted self-conscious explorations of method rather than dictating its norms. Citing the extraordinary methodological flexibility of Victorian scientists and writers Lewis Carroll and James Clerk Maxwell, this essay reminds us that our relation to science and theoretical abstraction need not be a zero-sum game.
Andrea Henderson is professor of English at the University of California, Irvine. She is the author of Romantic Identities: Varieties of Subjectivity, 1774–1830 (1996) and Romanticism and the Painful Pleasures of Modern Life (2008). Her most recent book, Algebraic Art: Mathematical Formalism and Victorian Culture (2018), is a study of formal abstraction in Victorian mathematics and literature.
Andrea Henderson; Afterword. Poetics Today 1 March 2020; 41 (1): 141–150. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/03335372-7974142
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