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This chapter explores the emergence of a new kind of anatomical knowledge in the early modern period, arguing that such anatomical knowledge inaugurates a new conception of the relation between the body and the state. This conception can be seen in the work of Hobbes, Descartes and Locke and is also bodied forth in the art and literature of the period. The chapter reads this emerging prosthetic imagination as it is pictured in Rembrandt’s images of anatomised bodies, and in the development of a novelistic account of interior being, as it imagined in More, Francis Bacon and Margaret Cavendish. The chapter ends with an exploration of the prosthetic imagination as it is given its fullest early modern expression in Cervantes’ Don Quixote.
This chapter focuses on the novel of the twenty-first century to suggest that we are seeing now a new way of understanding the forms in which the novel pictures the world. The chapter opens with an exploration of the terms in which climate change and advances in the medical creation of artificial life have together shifted our understanding of the relationship between nature and culture. In light of Dipesh Chakrabarty’s argument that the eco-crisis sees the collapse of culture into nature, the chapter suggests that the contemporary novel is involved in the picturing of a world that becomes thinkable when the opposition between nature and culture has been overcome. It then goes on to read this new kind of world picturing, as it comes to expression in twenty-first-century novels by three of the major writers of the contemporary novel – Margaret Atwood, J. M. Coetzee and Don DeLillo. It is possible to see in these writers, the chapter argues, the culmination of the prosthetic imagination as I have traced it through the history of the novel, a culmination in which the capacity to picture the world is won from the novel’s intimacy with the resistance of our bodies and environments to the forms in which we seek to make them imaginable and habitable.
This Introduction outlines the theoretical, historical and technological contexts against which the exploration of the prosthetic imagination will unfold, in the chapters that follow. It develops an account of the relationship between mimesis and prosthesis, by teasing out a theoretical relationship with Auerbach’s Mimesis. It then demonstrates the ways in which the emerging prosthetic condition requires us to rethink the legacies of twentieth-century thought, and our conception of the historical function of the novel in imagining our lifeworlds.
This chapter, the second of two chapters on the eighteenth-century novel, focuses on the contractive urge in the novel of the period, and the attempt to picture organically whole bodies in the novel form as it develops from Fielding, Sterne and Richardson to Burney and Goethe. It suggests that this strand in the eighteenth-century novel, in opposition to the expansive drive explored in the previous chapter, is shaped by a desire for what Coleridge theorises as an organic aesthetic, but it argues too that even as the novel of the period is invested in such pictures of organic completion, it opens up forms of distance between mind and body which are the province of the prosthetic imagination.
In The Prosthetic Imagination, leading critic Peter Boxall argues that we are now entering an artificial age, in which our given bodies enter into new conjunctions with our prosthetic extensions. This new age requires us to reimagine our relation to our bodies, and to our environments, and Boxall suggests that the novel as a form can guide us in this imaginative task. Across a dazzling range of prose fictions, from Thomas More's Utopia to Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake, Boxall shows how the novel has played a central role in forging the bodies in which we extend ourselves into the world. But if the novel has helped to give our world a human shape, it also contains forms of life that elude our existing human architectures: new amalgams of the living and the non-living that are the hidden province of the novel imagination. These latent conjunctions, Boxall argues, are preserved in the novel form, and offer us images of embodied being that can help us orient ourselves to our new prosthetic condition.
This chapter, the second of two chapters focusing on the nineteenth-century prosthetic imagination, suggests that the Gothic tradition offers another way of thinking about the dead hand. It reads dead-handedness, or mortmain, as it runs through the Gothic novel of the period, from Shelley to Poe to Stoker, Stevenson and Wilde, to suggest that the Gothic offers an undertow to the work of the realist novel in transforming dead flesh into living being. The Gothic works against the realist novel, in is refusal of the animating work of narrative; but as the chapter reads this opposition, it suggests a shared investment, in both the realist and the Gothic traditions, in the tension between dead and living material, under the conditions produced by industrialisation, and by emerging information technologies.
This chapter reassesses the role of the novel in producing an economy of scale within which to picture the eighteenth-century body, under colonial conditions. It suggests that the novel of the period is driven by two imperatives, at once to produce an expanded picture of the body at a remove from itself and to produce an opposite image of a bound, organically complete body, which is proof against the alienating effects of colonial distance. The chapter then goes on to explore the first of these two drives, as it is expressed in the novel from from Aphra Behn to Daniel Defoe to Jonathan Swift and Sarah Scott.
This chapter traces the emergence of a prosthetic modernism in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It suggests that the literature of the fin de siècle, from Bellamy and Wells to Gilman and Wilde, registers a shifted relation between the interior and the exterior of being and between the figurations of surface and depth in the artwork, produced by the development of a new period in the history of modernity. This shifted relation is discernible in the late-century realism, but it is in the first stirrings of the modernist form that it comes to a new kind of expression. The chapter reads this new modernist relation between inside and outside, between surface and depth, as it is given expression in the novels of Edith Wharton and Henry James, particularly in The House of Mirth, and in What Maisie Knew. These works depict a duplication of consciousness, a sense that the novel imagination encounters itself always at remove from itself, but they also produce a new formal means of giving this duplicated consciousness a unity, of bringing depths onto the modernist surface of the artwork.
This chapter follows on from the last to trace the development of the prosthetic modernism discernible at the turn of the twentieth century, as it works through the modernist novel from Proust, Joyce, Stein and Woolf up to the extended late modernist work of Samuel Beckett. The chapter reads Beckett’s reception of Proustian and Joycean modernism, from his novels of the thirties and forties up to his late work Company and suggests that this reception might best be understood as a poetics of twining. Beckett offers an extended reflection on the ways in which the modernist novel performs a mode of twining, a joining together of mind with prosthetic extension; but he also enacts a specific form of untwining, which demonstrates how the novel has always shown the unbound, the disaggregated, to be a constituent part of the terms in which it conducts its binding properties.
This chapter focuses on the picture of the dead hand, as it recurs across the nineteenth-century novel, from Wollstonecraft to Austen to Dickens, Zola, Eliot and Melville. It suggests that the obsession with the dead hand arises from the capacity of the novel to engage with biomaterial, and to make of such material the living stuff of being. The novel enters into a conjunction with the prosthetic – with the dead hand – to give animation to our being, as it is reshaped by the forces of industrialisation. But the chapter also argues that the novel encounters a resistance, a refusal of prosthetic material to give way to the demands of mind – a refusal which is central to the operation of the prosthetic imagination.