Inhuman Depressions: A Cognitive Ecology of Holes in Early Modern English Literature Open Access

Guevara, Perry Daniel (2016)

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"Inhuman Depressions" plumbs the affective depths of subterranean life in sixteenth and seventeenth-century literature to argue that feeling is coextensive with the natural world. Minded states are enacted not only by the brain but also by a neural body that innervates its environment. The goals of this project are twofold. The first is a sustained engagement with cognitive science, ecocriticism, and queer theory to consider the ways in which "depression" functions not only as a figure of negative affect but also as a concave space of surprising ecological depth. Within an early modern cosmology where Galenic humors materialized emotions, matters of the brain became entangled with earthly matter. The second goal is to create discursive space for often overlooked nonhumans--stones, plants, insects, vermin--who inhabit these earthly depressions and who, in spite of their small size, perform vital roles within a larger cognitive ecology. I therefore take up the figure of a "hole" as an environmentally cosmopolitan site where humans unearth their nonhuman allegiances and where emotion is expressed even across the species divide. Through readings spanning the period from Shakespeare to Milton, I offer an interdisciplinary account of the ways in which select scenes of feeling instantiate affective ecologies where emotions, that, on the surface, may appear intrinsically human and therefore anthropocentric, become decidedly inhuman. Chapter one investigates the cognitive and environmental dimensions of depression in Shakespeare's Hamlet. My second chapter proposes that Milton's pharmacological knowledge of medicinal plants, coupled with his monism, results in cross-species eroticism predicated on anatomical similitude in Paradise Lost. Chapter three turns to behavioral biology to consider possibilities of insect emotion in Titus Andronicus and Dekker and Massinger's Virgin Martyr. The final chapter explores bodily holes as sites of indeterminate sexuality in Othello to argue for a concept of transitional sex that is attentive to movement, opacity, and nonhuman materiality.

Table of Contents


Theoretical Surroundings: Dirty Holes and Science's Tropology. 1

Chapter 1.

Hamlet's Inhuman Depression: The Cognitive and Environmental Dimensions of Dirt in Shakespeare. 26

Chapter 2.

Milton's Plant Eyes: Minimal Cognition, Similitude, and Sexuality in Paradise Lost. 71

Chapter 3.

Buzz Kill: Insecticide and Parasitic Emotion on the Early Modern Stage. 120

Chapter 4.

Desdemona's Dildo: Making Do with Fetish Objects and Minding the Trans Body in Othello. 163

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