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The Outward Mind

Materialist Aesthetics in Victorian Science and Literature

Benjamin Morgan

The Outward Mind

Benjamin Morgan

368 pages | 30 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2017
Paper $35.00 ISBN: 9780226462202 Published May 2017
Cloth $105.00 ISBN: 9780226442112 Published May 2017
E-book $10.00 to $35.00 About E-books ISBN: 9780226457468 Published May 2017
Though underexplored in contemporary scholarship, the Victorian attempts to turn aesthetics into a science remain one of the most fascinating aspects of that era. In The Outward Mind, Benjamin Morgan approaches this period of innovation as an important origin point for current attempts to understand art or beauty using the tools of the sciences. Moving chronologically from natural theology in the early nineteenth century to laboratory psychology in the early twentieth, Morgan draws on little-known archives of Victorian intellectuals such as William Morris, Walter Pater, John Ruskin, and others to argue that scientific studies of mind and emotion transformed the way writers and artists understood the experience of beauty and effectively redescribed aesthetic judgment as a biological adaptation. Looking beyond the Victorian period to humanistic critical theory today, he also shows how the historical relationship between science and aesthetics could be a vital resource for rethinking key concepts in contemporary literary and cultural criticism, such as materialism, empathy, practice, and form. At a moment when the tumultuous relationship between the sciences and the humanities is the subject of ongoing debate, Morgan argues for the importance of understanding the arts and sciences as incontrovertibly intertwined.
Introduction: Materialist Aesthetics

Part One: Toward a Science of Beauty

1. Form: Harmony and Attunement in Empirical Aesthetics
2. Response: The Scale of Affect in Physiological Aesthetics

Part Two: The Outward Turn

3. Materiality: Walter Pater and Late-Victorian Materialisms
4. Practice: William Morris’s Socialist Physiology
5. Empathy: Counting Words with Vernon Lee and I. A. Richards
Epilogue: Wildean Neuroaesthetics

Review Quotes
"In this excellent study Morgan makes a strong case for taking Victorian aesthetic thought much more seriously than it was taken in the past. In an introduction and five chapters, plus a fascinating epilogue on Wildean neuroaesthetics, Morgan blends insights from literature, science, philosophy, and art history to tell a fascinating story of the ways in which scientific approaches to aesthetic experience during the Victorian period 'resonated with a close attention to embodiment, the senses, and the materiality of the arts' (from the introduction). Framing his discussion with early-19th-century natural theology and the laboratory psychology of the early 20th century, the author offers not only a detailed account of the main figures who shaped aesthetic thought in the Victorian period but also an impressively detailed account of the afterlife of these ideas in the work of thinkers such as Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Susanne Langer, and John Dewey. The volume deals with how questions 'of a materialist, embodied aesthetic theory' are central to the capacity of 'the sciences to conceptually and methodologically transform humanistic practice.' As he introduces a new perspective on the relation between aesthetic theory and science, Morgan provides readers with a rich, deep understanding of the human condition. Recommended."
The British Journal for the History of Science
"The Outward Mind is most remarkable for its staggering scope. Morgan draws together the history of Kantian aesthetics, Linnaean concepts of artistic response, early natural theology, Victorian narrative history and art criticism, and twentieth-century literary formalism into a tightly woven narrative that tells the story of how humans understand their relations to art. Morgan clearly and cogently illuminates a dizzying web of networks between writers, artists, natural theologians and physiologists – a feat that will arouse the interest of both literary scholars and historians of science. Most exciting is the book’s unexpected but nonetheless convincing pairings of figures like Walter Pater, William Morris, Thomas Hardy and Vernon Lee with scientists like Grant Allen, James Sully, Alexander Bain and Edmund Gurney."
Modern Intellectual History
"Morgan builds a new history of life out of past efforts. The Outward Mind explores the Victorian heyday of what he calls 'materialist aesthetics,' through which 'the plane of meaning recurrently collapses into the plane of materiality'.... It might be that The Outward Mind offers a prehistory of what Jameson famously diagnosed as 'the waning of affect' under postmodernism."
Joseph Bristow, University of California, Los Angeles
“Morgan’s outstanding study decisively transforms the existing scholarship on Victorian aesthetic theory. A book of immense scope, The Outward Mind weaves together a unique array of sources, from the leaders of the Edinburgh Aesthetic Club to brilliant theorists such as Walter Pater and Vernon Lee. Moreover, Morgan provides students of the humanities with conceptual tools and historical analyses that can productively address developments in emergent fields such as neuro-aesthetics.”
John Plotz, Brandeis University
“Filled with significant scholarly arguments and critical insights, The Outward Mind offers an account of scientific and aesthetic thought as locked in a frequently dialectical and always dialogic relationship. It is very likely to jumpstart a series of new investigations within the field.”
Nicholas Dames, Columbia University
The Outward Mind is a remarkable achievement. It is the most generous, broadly conceived, and philosophically sensitive account of Victorian scientific aesthetics available. By writing the history of an aesthetics that refused history, Morgan poses important questions: how do we want to imagine the embodiment of aesthetic experience, and what kinds of history are appropriate to that imagination?”

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