Vita

Pearl Brilmyer will begin as Assistant Professor at the University of Pennsylvania in fall 2016. She is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Oregon. She received her Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from the University of Texas at Austin and has previously taught at New York University, Pratt Institute, and the Brooklyn Institute for Social Research. She has also been a visiting scholar in the department of Comparative Literature at NYU and the department of Philosophy at the New School for Social Research as well as a visiting predoctoral fellow at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science.

Her research interests include literary and philosophical realism, theories of will and drive (Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Wundt), questions of materiality and temporality in feminist and queer theory, and problems of description and characterization. She has recently published in PMLA and Representations, and is currently completing an edition of the South African writer Olive Schreiner’s 1926 novel, From Man to Man; or Perhaps Only (with design by Minna Sakaria).

The Intimate Pulse of Reality:
Sciences of Character in Fiction and Philosophy, 1870-1920

ICI Project 2014-16

This project tracks a series of literary interventions into scientific debates of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, showing how the realist novel generated new techniques of description in response to philosophical problems of agency, materiality, and embodiment. In close conversation with developments in the sciences, writers such as George Eliot, Thomas Hardy, and Olive Schreiner portrayed human agency as contiguous with, rather than opposed to, the pulsations of the natural world. The human, for these realist authors, was not a privileged being, nor even a discrete entity, but rather a node in a web of interconnected life forms.

Focusing on works of English fiction published between 1870-1920, I argue that the historical convergence of a British materialist science and a vitalistic Continental natural philosophy led to the rise of what I call a “dynamic realism,” a realism attentive to the dynamic forces productive of character. Through the literary figure of character, I argue, turn-of-the-century realists explored what it meant to be an embodied subject, how qualities in organisms emerge and develop, and the relationship between nature and culture more broadly.