—in collaboration with the 18th- and 19th-Century Atlantic Cultures workshop—

Lynn Festa, English, Rutgers University
“Lousy Bodies”

Please note unusual time and location:
this event will be from 12-1:30 pm, Logan Center 801.

Focusing on representations of—and from the point of view of—the louse, this paper examines how Hooke’s treatise on the microscope and the riddle as well as doggerel verse and occasional prose written from the point of view of the louse experiment with the distance between human and parasite, between eater and eaten. The louse finds in the human body an “all-you-can-eat” buffet but it never picks up the tab, a non-reciprocal arrangement that cannot be easily enfolded into the (ostensible) quid pro quo of the market, the political contract, or even the golden rule. The fact that the human body teems with life that is not solely its own proclaims the lie of that basic unit of modernity— the autonomous, self-possessed individual—and exposes the difficulty of defining the threshold of individual beings, where one body—one life—ends and another begins.  The devices, material and linguistic (literal and literary), that I focus on in this paper—the microscope, the pun, the riddle, and the it-narrative—both exploit and undercut anthropomorphism, engineering a deliberate estrangement of sensation, perception, and perspective that makes visible the entangled relations of humanity, other creatures, and inanimate things.

The paper, to be read in advance, is available here. For the password, please email Bill Hutchison at hutch@uchicago.edu.

This event is made possible thanks to the generous support of the Nicholson Center for British Studies. It is free and open to the public. Persons who require assistance to participate fully should contact Sam Rowe at strowe@uchicago.edu or Allison Turner at acturn@uchicago.edu in advance.