Kate Flint Responds to Elisha Cohn

To begin, again, with Middlemarch.  Unarguably written out of the close knowledge of mid-Victorian psycho-physiological theory that Eliot shared with Lewes, this novel repeatedly calls our attention to the “bodymind.” Its animation of a molecular commons does not, however, imply a leveling, or democratizing, of humanity through a shared “physical basis of life” so much as it calls attention to mobility, flux, and difference – flux that pertains, too, to the vibrancy of the extra-human material world.  This is the world – a far from democratic world – which Eliot’s characters, and by extension ourselves, must navigate.  Yet the novel is also, and rightly, a poster-text for the discussion of ethical dilemmas and of moral-philosophical claims, albeit ones resting on a bedrock of Eliot’s sustained conviction in common human sympathy (even if sympathy, of course, is vulnerable to variations in physiological responses). To turn back to Morgan’s conclusion that we are likely to remain chronically unsure “about which disciplines and practices persuasively account for aesthetic experience and which do not” (264), should we also adopt a state of comfortable uncertainty when it comes to adjudicating the degree to which the affects and feelings attendant on aesthetic responses inflect our socio-political understandings and beliefs, as well as our moral choices and responses, and as well as our rationalized articulations of such abstract principles as fairness, justice and good?  This seems a curiously passive inference to draw, and if for this reason alone, Cohn raises a crucial point when she wonders what would have happened if Morgan had turned more to the long form of the novel, even one as dependent as Middlemarch on the imbrication of body, mind, and feeling.

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