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Intangible Materialism

Intangible Materialism: The Body, Scientific Knowledge, and the Power of Language

Ronald Schleifer
Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Intangible Materialism
    Book Description:

    Ronald Schleifer shows how discoveries of modern physics have altered conceptions of matter and energy and the ways in which both information theory and the study of literature can enrich these conceptions. Expanding the reductive notion of “the material” as simply matter and energy, he formulates a new, more inclusive idea of materialism._x000B_

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-6780-2
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction: Materialist Literature
    (pp. xiii-xxvi)

    In his critique of what he calls “the modernist project” and I call Enlightenment modernism, Bruno Latour argues that “matter is not given but a recent historical creation” (1999, 207). “Philosophers and sociologists of techniques,” he writes,

    tend to imagine that there is no difficulty in defining material entities because they are objective, unproblematically composed of forces, elements, atoms. Only the social, the human realm, is difficult to interpret, we often think, because it is complexly historical and, as they say, “symbolic.” But whenever we talk of matter we are really considering . . . apackageof former crossovers...

  5. 1. Intangible Materialism
    (pp. 1-34)

    Intangible Materialismexamines the possibility of a conception of materialism and matter beyond the reductionism of Cartesian mechanics and its heirs. It aims at substantiating Norbert Wiener’s assertion that information is as basic to any contemporary concept of materialism as matter and energy are to that concept in classical science. Wiener’s global aim is to account for a complex materialist worldview without recourse to notions of “ghosts” in the machines of matter and without recourse to an absolute mechanistic reductionism that seems to blind itself to a host ofmaterialphenomena. To this end,Intangible Materialismfocuses on semiotics, information...

  6. 2. The Faces of Consilience: Levels of Understanding and the Negative Science of Semiotics
    (pp. 35-70)

    At the beginning of Stephen Gaukroger’s masterful intellectual biography of Descartes, he tells a remarkable story. “Since the eighteenth century,” he writes,

    there has been in circulation a curious story about Descartes. It is said that in later life he was always accompanied in his travels by a mechanical life-size female doll which, we are told by one source, he himself had constructed “to show that animals are only machines and have no souls.” He had named the doll after his illegitimate daughter, Francine, and some versions of events have it that she was so lifelike that the two were...

  7. 3. Material Voices: Tourette Syndrome, Neurobiology, and the Affect of Poetry
    (pp. 71-96)

    In this chapter, I examine the relationship of poetry to the neurobiological condition known as Tourette syndrome in order to describe a kind of physiological materialism that situates itself within the hierarchy of levels of organization I examined in the preceding chapter. Tourette syndrome is clearly an organic condition that involves, among other symptoms, the seeming emotion-charged use of language, the spouting forth of obscene language that, as researchers note, “may represent,” among other symptoms, “a common clinical expression of underlying central nervous system dysfunction” (Fahn and Erenberg 1988, 51).¹ That Tourette syndrome entails the automatic outpouring of emotionally charged...

  8. 4. The History of the Hand: Peirce’s Index, Attention, and the Power of Narrative
    (pp. 97-126)

    Chapter 3 examines the relationship between physiological materialism of voice and the formal affective elements of poetry; this chapter examines the relationship between the evolutionary materialism of the hand and the elements of literary narrative. Near the end of the preceding chapter, I suggested—almost hidden in a footnote—that Darwinian accounts of evolution are “similar” to linguistic notions of the arbitrary nature of the sign and to Oliver Sacks’s description of the conventionality of space-experience as more or less “convenient.” The similarity, as I noted there, is between the accidental and more or less arbitrary nature of the “proximate”...

  9. 5. Pain, Memory, and Religious Suffering: Materiality and the Subject of Poetry
    (pp. 127-170)

    In this chapter, I describe the relations among pain, memory, and religious suffering. In doing so, I take up, in another register, the physiology of voices I examined in Tourette syndrome, the communality and semiotics I examined in the evolution of the work of our hands, and the hierarchy of materialism I am tracing throughoutIntangible Materialismaltogether. This is clear in the particular nature of pain, which, as Ariel Glucklich says, “is conscious by definition” (2001, 96; see Jackson 2002, 18, 148) even while, as Roselyne Rey notes, the “anatomical and physiological foundation” of pain makes it in important...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 171-206)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 207-220)
  12. Index
    (pp. 221-244)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 245-245)