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Experimental Life

, 320 pages

2 line drawings

November 2013



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Experimental Life

Vitalism in Romantic Science and Literature

Winner, 2013 BSLS Book Prize, British Society for Literature and Science

Winner, 2014 Michelle Kendrick Memorial Book Prize, Society for Literature, Science, and the Arts

If the objective of the Romantic movement was nothing less than to redefine the meaning of life itself, what role did experiments play in this movement? While earlier scholarship has established both the importance of science generally and vitalism specifically, with regard to Romanticism no study has investigated what it meant for artists to experiment and how those experiments related to their interest in the concept of life.

Experimental Life draws on approaches and ideas from contemporary science studies, proposing the concept of experimental vitalism to show both how Romantic authors appropriated the concept of experimentation from the sciences and the impact of their appropriation on post-Romantic concepts of literature and art.

Robert Mitchell navigates complex conceptual arenas such as network theory, gift exchange, paranoia, and biomedia and introduces new concepts, such as cryptogamia, chylopoietic discourse, trance-plantation, and the poetics of suspension. As a result, Experimental Life is a wide-ranging summation and extension of the current state of literary studies, the history of science, cultural critique, and theory.

Robert Mitchell is a professor of English and director of the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies in Science and Cultural Theory at Duke University. He is author of Sympathy and the State in the Romantic Era: Systems, State Finance, and the Shadows of Futurity.

"A superb and outstandingly researched study."

"Theoretically informed and inventive, Experimental Life is one of those good books that links the concerns of Romantic scholars to broader discussions in the arts and sciences."

"In addition to its compelling history of experimentation in art and science, Experimental Life also marks many before unapprehended relations among different sectors of Romantic studies, and will no doubt generate a good deal of further experiments with Romantic literature and science-which, as Mitchell proposes, is what marks any experiment's real success."

"Mitchell's book displays wide erudition and an ambitious interdisciplinary agenda."

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