Uncertain Disease: Nostalgia, Eighteenth-Century Medicine, and Romantic Poetics

Kevis Goodman
UC Berkeley

This book project examines the exchanges and relays between eighteenth-century medicine and the emergent discipline of aesthetics, before these were fully separate fields. Its specific point of entry for this larger problem is the curious case of nostalgia, once considered and studied as an international disability of modern mobility, whose historical niche was the unprecedented convergence of wartime and maritime travel, new modes of transportation, land clearances, emigrations, and rising homelessness. Nostalgia was motion sickness, in short, mediating between physiology and historicity. What happened to that disease and unease formerly known as nostalgia, once it was ousted from medical discourse? Uncertain Disease addresses that question by analyzing the ways in which the task of negotiating the balance (or imbalance) between somatic and world motions itself traveled from the human and medical sciences to Romantic era aesthetics or, as it was called in Britain, criticism. Specifically, I argue for a Romantic poetry and poetics whose aims were not, as in medicine, just therapeutic, but which retained the unsettling experience of expanding or enforced movement as the basis for competing ideas about the reading process and the relationship between literary form and its effects, whether affective, ethical, or political.