Collations: Book Forum on David Coombs’s Reading with the Senses in Victorian Literature and Science
The V21 Collations: Book Forum welcomes Elaine Auyoung, Nate Crocker, and Anna Gibson in conversation about David Sweeney Coombs’s Reading with the Senses in Victorian Literature and Science (Virginia, 2019). Coombs’s book is a fascinating intervention into our understanding of the physiology of reading. Provocatively juxtaposing nineteenth century physiological epistemologies of perception alongside Victorian literature, Coombs illuminates the conception, in scientific and literary writing, of reading as an embodied practice––a key to understanding “the continuities [and antinomies] between reading and perceiving” and to reimagining “the relationship between literal and figurative language” (36). Rethinking the reciprocity of nineteenth century physiological sciences and literature in this way sheds new light on the contemporary “descriptive turn” by inserting it into a longer intellectual history of “knowledge by description.”
Coombs begins by deftly explicating developments in early Victorian sciences concerned with the relation between sensation and perception in connection with their later criticism in the radical empiricism of William James. He then turns to compelling readings of George Eliot, Thomas Hardy, Vernon Lee, and Walter Pater, showing how their respective projects are shaped by understanding reading through “analogies to various kinds of perceptual experiences but also as itself an embodied practice instantiating those perceptual experiences” (11). The payoff is not merely a methodological one. By unfolding the entanglements of literature and reading, as well as the epistemologies which have informed and shaped these entanglements, Coombs directs us back out to the world our methodologies might shape and avows a more hopeful and generative anti-austerity in both our work and our politics.
|Reflection by Elaine Auyoung||Reflection by Nate Crocker||Reflection by Anna Gibson|
Justin Raden, Convener and Co-Editor
Maeve Adams, Co-Editor