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Intangible Materialism

The Body, Scientific Knowledge, and the Power of Language

Ronald Schleifer

Publication Year: 2009

Taking as his point of departure Norbert Weiner’s statement that information is basic to understanding materialism in our era, 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. Schleifer’s project attempts to bridge the divisions between the humanities and the sciences and to create a nonreductive materialism for the information age. He presents a materialistic account of human bodily experience by delving into language and literature that powerfully represents our faces, voices, hands, and pain. For example, he examines the material resources of poetic “literariness” as it is revealed in the condition of Tourette’s syndrome. Schleifer also investigates gestures of the hand in the formation of sociality, and he studies pain as both a physiological and phenomenological experience. This ambitious work explores physiological analyses, evolutionary explanations, and semiotic descriptions of materialism to reveal how aspects of physical existence discover meaning in experience.

Published by: University of Minnesota Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

In chapter 2 of this book, I cite Stephen Jay Gould’s remarkable description of the encyclopedic procedure of Darwin’s work. “Whenever he introduces a major subject,” Gould writes, “Darwin fires a volley of disparate facts, all related to the argument at hand—usually the claim that a particular phenomenon originated as a product of history. ...

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Introduction: Materialist Literature

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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, ...

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1. Intangible Materialism

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pp. 1-34

Intangible Materialism examines 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. ...

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2. The Faces of Consilience: Levels of Understanding and the Negative Science of Semiotics

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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, ...

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3. Material Voices: Tourette Syndrome, Neurobiology, and the Affect of Poetry

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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. ...

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4. The History of the Hand: Peirce’s Index, Attention, and the Power of Narrative

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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. ...

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5. Pain, Memory, and Religious Suffering: Materiality and the Subject of Poetry

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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 throughout Intangible Materialism altogether. ...


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pp. 171-206


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pp. 207-220


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pp. 221-244

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About the Author

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Ronald Schleifer is George Lynn Cross Research Professor of English and adjunct professor in the College of Medicine at the University of Oklahoma. ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780816667802
E-ISBN-10: 0816667802
Print-ISBN-13: 9780816644681

Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2009

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Materialism in literature.
  • Materialism.
  • Human body in literature.
  • Human body (Philosophy).
  • Literature and science.
  • Literature -- Philosophy.
  • Semiotics.
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