Autobiography and Natural Science in the Age of Romanticism : Rousseau, Goethe, Thoreau book cover
1st Edition

Autobiography and Natural Science in the Age of Romanticism
Rousseau, Goethe, Thoreau

ISBN 9781138278363
Published November 28, 2016 by Routledge
182 Pages

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Book Description

Set against the backdrop of a rapidly fissuring disciplinary landscape where poetry and science are increasingly viewed as irreconcilable and unrelated, Bernhard Kuhn's study uncovers a previously ignored, fundamental connection between autobiography and the natural sciences. Examining the autobiographies and scientific writings of Rousseau, Goethe, and Thoreau as representative of their ages, Kuhn challenges the now entrenched thesis of the "two cultures." Rather, these three writers are exemplary in that their autobiographical and scientific writings may be read not as separate or even antithetical but as mutually constitutive projects that challenge the newly emerging boundaries between scientific and humanistic thought during the Romantic period. Reading each writer's life stories and nature works side by side-as they were written-Kuhn reveals the scientific character of autobiographical writing while demonstrating the autobiographical nature of natural science. He considers all three writers in the context of scientific developments in their own times as well as ours, showing how each one marks a distinctive stage in the growing estrangement of the arts and sciences, from the self-assured epistemic unity of Rousseau's time, to the splintering of disciplines into competing ways of knowing under the pressures of specialization and professionalization during the late Romantic age of Thoreau. His book thus traces an unfolding drama, in which these writers and their contemporaries, each situated in an intellectual landscape more fragmented than the last, seek to keep together what modern culture is determined to break apart.



Bernhard Kuhn is Associate Professor of English at Union College, USA.


'This well-conceived study puts Bernhard Kuhn in the middle of recent arguments about the nature of autobiography in Romanticism. Deftly balancing a close reading of texts with a broad understanding of Romantic culture, this book remains focused, balanced, and necessarily multi-lingual, as it moves through its detailed and subtle argument, layer-by-layer.' Larry H. Peer, Brigham Young University, USA ’Kuhn’s prose is clear and accessible, even when dealing with complex philosophical and scientific theories. The organisation of the book into smaller subsections, each with a signpost pointing to the broader thesis, ensures readability. Moving seamlessly between literary criticism and historical analysis, Kuhn offers a valuable new perspective on the cultural work of Romantic life writing as it responds to the shaping influence of socio-cultural and scientific discourse.’ British Society for Literature and Science 'This short but ambitious book makes an important contribution to our understanding of the close links between literature and science during the later eighteenth and the first half of the ninteenth century.' Biography 'Kuhn's work looks at autobiography and natural science as ever-changing modes of writing, and shows how the 'dynamic interaction' between the two discourses challenges the growing division between the humanities and the sciences, and refutes the still entrenched thesis of 'the two cultures'. The Romantic period is used to transcend some still lingering dogmatism about science and humanities in Kuhn's eloquently written book.' Centaurus 'In Autobiography and Natural Science in the Age of Romanticism, Bernhard Kuhn offers a significant and learned study of three towering figures in the history of literature and science. Kuhn is at his best in moments of inspired close reading of each author, on the one hand, and in well-grounded surveys of each writer’s very extensive corpus on the other... [Kuhn] contributes meaningfully to t