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Sweet Science

Romantic Materialism and the New Logics of Life

Sweet Science

Romantic Materialism and the New Logics of Life

Today we do not expect poems to carry scientifically valid information. But it was not always so. In Sweet Science, Amanda Jo Goldstein returns to the beginnings of the division of labor between literature and science to recover a tradition of Romantic life writing for which poetry was a privileged technique of empirical inquiry.

Goldstein puts apparently literary projects, such as William Blake’s poetry of embryogenesis, Goethe’s journals On Morphology, and Percy Shelley’s “poetry of life,” back into conversation with the openly poetic life sciences of Erasmus Darwin, J. G. Herder, Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, and Étienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire. Such poetic sciences, Goldstein argues, share in reviving Lucretius’s De rerum natura to advance a view of biological life as neither self-organized nor autonomous, but rather dependent on the collaborative and symbolic processes that give it viable and recognizable form. They summon De rerum natura for a logic of life resistant to the vitalist stress on self-authorizing power and to make a monumental case for poetry’s role in the perception and communication of empirical realities. The first dedicated study of this mortal and materialist dimension of Romantic biopoetics, Sweet Science opens a through-line between Enlightenment materialisms of nature and Marx’s coming historical materialism.

336 pages | 6 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2017

History of Science

Literature and Literary Criticism: British and Irish Literature

Philosophy of Science


"Gorgeously written and masterfully argued, Sweet Science is a supreme achievement by Goldstein. . .will serve as an exemplar in the field of Romantic literature and science and inspire and educate seasoned and budding academics alike. Engaging poetry and science with equal amounts of dedication and rigour, Goldstein effectively transforms how we perceive both. Particularly striking is the way she makes her argument with precision and care, constantly orienting it within the existing Romantic materialist discourse and clearly outlining for the reader how her argument is to be located and understood in relation to the arguments that have been made by Marjorie Levinson, Kevis Goodman, Denise Gigante, Noel Jackson, and others."

The British Society for Literature and Science

"Goldstein’s scholarship is comprehensive, rigorous, and impressively wide-ranging; her engagement with Romantic criticism is generous even in disagreement. I was delighted to find in Goldstein’s book, in addition to bold, precise, and persuasive argumentation, some features that do not consistently appear in scholarly work, and whose intermittent presence enliven the whole: impassioned lyricism, sly wit and wordplay, and in the last chapter especially, expressions of political anger and hope. A startlingly original study, Sweet Science sets a new standard for scholarship on Romantic poetry and sciences of life."

The BARS Review (British Association for Romantic Studies)

“This is a field-changing book. Both original and gripping, the arguments Sweet Science mounts will alter how we think about poetry and science, the figurative language of poetry, and how poetry becomes, through Goldstein’s rich and ingenious reading of Lucretius, a genuinely scientific mode of knowing.”

Jon Klancher, Carnegie Mellon University

"Amanda Jo Goldstein's Sweet Science fuses her own generation’s ethos of reparative reading--its readiness to be summoned into strangeness by language and letters--with both a level of erudition (across disciplines, languages, and genres), and a practice of argumentation (clear, consistent, and self-accounting) that are associated with earlier practices of scholarship and of critical reading. In other words, this study is itself a work of sweet science. Just as its arguments trouble the truism that the natural sciences are always progressive (here, Lucretius joins with post-classical physics, Goethe with twenty-first-century ontogeny), so its own extraordinary conduct and achievement challenge the other half of that truism, showing that the human sciences can indeed progress."

Marjorie Levinson, University of Michigan

Sweet Science is a singular contribution. It decisively rethinks the history and critical grasp of the life sciences as they converge in literature and science in Romanticism, and its implications for critical theory and the rise of ecosemiotics are equally compelling.”

Theresa M. Kelley, University of Wisconsin–Madison

“Goldstein’s Sweet Science has been anticipated with a keenness unusual for a first book. It does not disappoint. More than a valuable rereading of Blake, Erasmus Darwin, Goethe, and Percy Shelley, this book offers a new chapter in the recent recovery of Lucretianism as a powerful shaping force in European literature and thought. It challenges longstanding assumptions about nature and culture, materialism and figuration, some that derive from the Romantic period itself. In the neo-Lucretian alternative excavated by Goldstein, the work of poetry is not inimical to, or even quite distinct from, the work of empirical science. Instead, empiricism and poetics emerge as interanimating one another, fully cooperative in the work of making a world. It is a bold thesis, deftly argued, with implications spelled out for the young Marx and, indeed, for ourselves.”

James Chandler, University of Chicago

"Richly suggestive, the book discovers poetry in the Romantic life sciences, and a science of life in Romantic poetry. Goldstein frequently enacts this chiasmus in her own writing, which is not only elegant but also rich in metaphors that render philosophy and theory material and palpable."

Studies in English Literature 1500-1900

"The brilliance of Goldstein’s analysis. . . will certainly spur new investigations in the interrelated areas of Romantic science and Romantic poetry. But perhaps even more importantly, her work transforms conventional thinking about historical materialism and the Darwinian progression that often underwrites it by exploding their linearity and individual insularity that ensue from the monopoly of current scientific and philosophical models."


European Romantic Review

"[Sweet Science] convincingly argue[s] that poets, novelists, and scientists of the long nineteenth century played key roles in generating theories of vital materialism, ecological relation, and material signification that have grown in prominence within the humanities and social sciences over the last several decades."

Review 19

"This is a timely, innovative, and fascinating study of the neo-Lucretian tradition in Romantic-period literature, which concentrates on Blake, Goethe, and Percy Bysshe Shelley."

Eighteenth-Century Studies

Table of Contents

Introduction: “Sweet Science”
a. Tingeing the Cup with Sweet
b. Undisciplined Romantics
c. The “Poetry of Life”
d. Matter Figures Back
e. Chapters and Scope
Chapter 1. Blake’s Mundane Egg: Epigenesis and Milieux
a. Into the Egg
b. The Missing Baumeister
c. From Epi- to Autogenesis
d. Epigenesis and Milieux
e. Beholding
f. Epigenesis, an Epilogue
Chapter 2. Equivocal Life: Goethe’s Journals on Morphology
1. Goethe and the Equivocal Matter of De rerum natura
a. Endlessly Small Points, 1785–86
b. Life Is Not a Power
c. Equivocity
2. Obsolescent Life
d. Going to Dust, Vapor, Droplets
e. Trying Not to Think about Sex
f. Natural Simulacrum
g. Writing Decadent Life
Chapter 3. Tender Semiosis: Reading Goethe with Lucretius and Paul de Man
1. Phenomenality and Materiality in Goethe and Lucretius
a. The Skins or Signs of Things
b. Another “Rhetoric of Temporality”
c. Atoms, Letters, Figures
2. Tender Empiricism
d. Kant’s Immodesty
e. Active like an Object
Chapter 4. Growing Old Together: Lucretian Materialism in Shelley’s The Triumph of Life
a. Prologue: Montaigne’s Face
b. Morphology and Shelley’s “Shapes”
c. Shelley, Wrinkled
d. Life, Triumphant
e. A Thousand Unimagined Shapes
f. What Shares the Air
g. Atmospheres of Sensation
h. Historical Material
Chapter 5. A Natural History of Violence: Allegory and Atomism in Shelley’s The Mask of Anarchy
a. “The Occasion of the Massacre at Manchester”
b. Ghastly Masquerade
c. Events Take Shape
d. Material Poetic Justice
e. Atomic Prehistories for The Mask of Anarchy
f. Getting Didactic
g. As Nature Teaches
h. Pedagogy of Knowledge-Power
i. The Power of Assembly
Coda: Old Materialism, or Romantic Marx


Modern Language Association: MLA Prize for a First Book

American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies: Oscar Kenshur Book Prize

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