Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Recap - Phrenological Genres

Our first meeting of the academic year brought together Sci-Lit stalwarts with first-time attendees (with a particularly strong showing from the HPS MPhil cohort!), to discuss all things phrenological.

As ever, the conversation ranged widely, from discussions of the impact of urbanisation to the characters of software engineers, Walt Whitman's phrenological reading to the psychic effects of Fantastic Voyage-style adventures inside one's own head. Amongst other topics, we explored the role of physical analogies in these texts, from the cartographic nature of phrenology as mapping the mind and brain, or constructing a chambered house inhabited by different faculties; as well as the roles of analogy and allegory more generally. We thought about how these texts could reveal the consequences of a society based solely (from dress and jewellery to doctors and jurisprudence) on phrenological principles, or of the role for free will if character were truly fixed by crania. We discussed the perennial appeal of phrenology as a test-case for policing the boundaries of scientific disciplines and practitioners, right from its first development: was this really an 'outré science', as Tennyson had it, and if so what did that mean? As highlighted from the outset, generic form was also analysed as one way of accessing an early 19thC world of interdisciplinary (or predisciplinary?) writing and reading of texts.

Finally, as promised, a performance of the 'Phrenology' song from Broadway Musical Florodora (1899) can be found here.


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