Travis Lau responds to Elisha Cohn

Like Elisha, I deeply resonated with Morgan’s methodology of thinking across the scientific and literary divide. By working “against an agonistic account of the two cultures,” The Outward Mind exemplifies an interdisciplinary method that understands science and literature “as rhetorics that might be flexibly and widely called on” by different actors in seemingly different contexts (17).  Elisha’s use of “agonistic” seems particularly appropriate – Morgan refuses to pit science and literature in a struggle for dominance over what constitutes “the aesthetic” in which there is a winner or loser, protagonist and antagonist. Rather, Morgan’s inhabitation of what Elisha has beautifully described as the “play and entanglement” between literature and science results in a much more generous account of “concepts at work,” particularly through the networks and critical objects that connected Victorian aesthetic thinkers. Elisha’s description of Morgan’s book as a reparative project prompts me to think about what the stakes are of such a reparative gesture. In the case of The Outward Mind, are we recovering a more sensuous, material Victorian period, a “thicker” notion of the aesthetic, or a more dialectical, “mutual defamiliarization” of science and literature? (261) My sense is that Morgan’s work offers us all of those things.

Elisha’s concluding question about a “molecular commons” reminds me of recent work by Jordy Rosenberg who expressed reservations about what they call the “onto-primitivism” of object-oriented ontology and new materialism. For Rosenberg, the anti-subjective turn risks becoming entirely ahistorical or even replicating the “commodity-logic of late capitalism itself.”[1] I wonder how Morgan’s work resists this reductionist model of the molecular as the unit of ontological wonder that Rosenberg and others have rightly questioned as a new theoretical vogue.

[1] Rosenberg, Jordana. “The Molecularization of Sexuality: On Some Primitivisms of the Present.” Theory & Event. 17.2 (2014)

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