Devin Garofalo on nebulae and formal abstraction (1/8)

Our first talk of the new year will be presented by Dr. Devin Garofalo, who joins us from University of North Texas. A scholar of nineteenth-century poetics and environmental humanities, Devin will be sharing a talk entitled, “‘What’s a world, more or less?’: Nebular Planetarity and Formal Abstraction in Victorian Skies.” The talk will take place on Wednesday, January 8 at 3pm in Denny 359 (the Germanics Dept. seminar room). Please also join us afterwards for happy hour with the speaker at the College Inn Pub from 4:30.

Devin writes:

In “System of the Heavens” (1846), Thomas De Quincey wonders: “What’s a nebula, what’s a world, more or less?” De Quincey’s contemporaries were some of the first to identify nebulae for what they are: clouds of interstellar dust and gas, many of which consolidate over slow time into planetary systems. Of particular interest to thinkers from John Herschel to Elizabeth Barrett Browning are nebular forms, which “sho[w] how difficult it is to assign correctly the figure of an object which has no outline, but shades away insensibly on all sides.”

In their attempts to map nebulae and thereby resolve formal abstraction, Victorian astronomers resorted to figurative modes of representation. But figures, like eyes and telescopes, are prone to failure. This talk takes seriously the inadvertent work of analogical failure. It does so to explore how such failure might make visible an Earth which disfigures the liberal subject and thereby unsettles the colonial “we” of the Anthropocene; which, in Elizabeth Povinelli’s terms, “turn[s] away from certain forms of existence” and “withdraw[s]” from normative ways of knowing; which does not passively await figuration but is a co-conspirator in the project of representing our Victorian—and increasingly no-analog—present.