Title: Andrew W. Mellon Professor of the Humanities
Office: Benson 310
- BA first class, University of York, 1966
- DPhil, University of York, 1971
- I have sabbatical leave from Vanderbilt in the coming academic year (2011-12) in which I aim to research a book for Princeton University Press entitled, Scurvy, the Disease of Discovery. During that period I shall be a visiting fellow at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, London.
- I worked extensively on this topic in the late 1990s while researching my book, Preserving the Self in the South Seas (2001), and it struck me then that scurvy was a subtler phenomenon than recent cross-over books such as Stephen Bown’s suggest, where a loose triumphalism seems to prevail (`How a Surgeon, a Mariner and a Gentleman Solved the Greatest Medical Mystery of the Age of Sail’). In one obvious sense scurvy was a disease of discovery because it afflicted people pushing at the boundaries of the Indian and the Pacific Oceans. In these remote places access to supplies of fresh food and water were intermittent at best, and it was observed how the diet aboard ship after a time caused languor, depression, cramps, blood-blisters and alarming changes to the tissue of the gums. But there is another sense in which scurvy is the disease of discovery. While it hindered discoveries of new lands, cultures and species, it also resisted every attempt at its own elucidation: it challenged the efficacy of experimental knowledge and it blurred the facts on which experiment relied. `Nothing seems analogous to it . . . no disease is related to it’ (Trotter 1792: 106, 122). It caused `a falling down of the whole soul,’ according to Thomas Willis. Thomas Trotter was so struck by the peculiarity of its effects that he assigned them to `the genius of the distemper,’ as if it were inventing itself (Trotter 1792: 149). In many accounts it is common to find that the symptoms not only breach the division between body and mind but also merge with the scene of suffering: ships are found to rot alongside their crews, and the ocean itself is infected. John Byron noticed that while his men came down with scurvy the sea turned red, a metamorphosis similar to that witnessed by the elder Forster on Cook’s second voyage, to which we owe the remarkable exclamation of the Ancient Mariner: `The very deep did rot, O Christ! ’
- The fundamental assumption of empirical practice is that the senses are grossly normal, fit to hear or see what an average human being is capable of hearing or seeing. Specifically this is the assumption that the `genius’ of scurvy overturned. Nerves were so abraded by it that victims died from the sound of a gunshot, or shrieked with agony at the smell of flowers, or mistook the sea for rolling meadows, or became so sick for home Thomas Trotter named the condition `scorbutic nostalgia.’ In order to determine how these alterations in the fields of vision, audition, smell and memory occur in cases of scurvy, I am collaborating with James May and Fiona Harrison, neurologists in the Vanderbilt Medical School who have been running a series of experiments on scorbutic mice. We are about to run tests to measure changes in temperament, aggression, memory and smell among mice with depleted stores of vitamin C. If it is possible to identify the causes of these changes, it will allow new insights not only into the journals and sketches of voyagers and explorers, but also into the more unaccountable passages of the disease. For instance, when Bernardin St Pierre arrived in Mauritius, badly afflicted with scurvy, he said the trees smelled of excrement—the same trees he was to describe so lyrically in Paul et Virginie.
- Scurvy: the Disease of Discovery, contracted by Princeton University Press for publication in 2012.
- Maritime Reenactments, co-edited with Nigel Rigby, to be published by Palgrave 2012.
- The Things Things Say, in press with Princeton University Press for publication in Summer 2011. The book was written while on a visiting fellowship at King’s College, Cambridge.
- In the eighteenth century a new kind of prose fiction—first person narratives of things such as coins, coaches, clothes, animals and insects—emerged alongside the novel, the oriental tale, spy narratives and pornography. The experiences of these things for the most part are not happy and, like the king of Brobdingnag when he hears Gulliver boasting of his knowledge of gunpower, they accuse human beings of inhumanity. What standard of humanity can be invoked by a thing? The answer, on the basis of their testimony, is a value outside the rights and practices of civil society, beyond the reach of institutionalised self-interest. They inhabit a state of nature, either privative, like Hobbes’s, or full, like Rousseau’s or Locke’s. The aspiration of a thing to be an author, an agent capable of speech and self-constitution outside an established community, endowed with unconditional right of uttering sentiments that give it form of life entirely original and its very own, echoes that of the human authors who stand behind them: impoverished professionals who are obliged to part with whatever they invent so that they can have shelter and food. That is to say, things find common ground with humans at the rim of the commercial world where the circulation of commodities (including print) and the ownership of property has few consolations left for them. Neither the human nor the thing is an apologist for a system of global exchange that leaves them in pain and beggary; nor are they willing to take on the duties and obligations that herd under the name of the person, the artificial representative within the state who bears the persons of other persons. Instead they occupy the Hobbesian position of author, which he also called the natural person: a pre-civil solitaire with rights as yet unmortgaged to a social contract. Under certain emergencies, some pleasurable and others painful, humans and things are driven towards this edge, where the hierarchies not only of state but also of matter, imagination and divinity, get upset and rearranged. The benefits of this disorder are freedom that may be expressed in a variety of ways: as idolatry or godhead; as the overload of the nerves Defoe’s Roxana and Charles Gildon’s talking coins call ‘the Sence of things;’ as ‘radical first personality’ that is primordial and original; as a reflexive sensibility that transports matter and flesh into sympathies indistinguishable from metempsychosis; as the conduct of a narrative where the aim is not to represent a sequence of events but to cause them to happen, as if reading and writing themselves were events; but most of all, as the handling of pen and ink, the first and last badges of true authorship.
- Settler and Creole Re-enactment, co-edited with Vanessa Agnew, Palgrave Macmillan, London and New York, 2009.
- The Evolution of Sympathy in the Long Eighteenth Century, London: Pickering and Chatto, 2009.
- The argument of this book is that sympathy ranges between six modes: reflexive, mechanical, moral, dramatic, `compleat’ and horrid. The Cartesians are interested in what could be termed self-sympathy, a passion that arises from the surprise incident to the discovery of one’s own agency with regard to affect. An ex-Cartesian, Bernard Mandeville, argued that sympathy had nothing to do with reflection or the will, that it was an immediate and involuntary reaction to scenes of distress, and therefore without moral value. Moral sense philosophers such as Shaftesbury and Hutcheson, taking issue explicitly with Mandeville, urged the opposite, saying that benevolence was hardwired into the affections, and that sympathy was its most visible virtuous outcome. The stoicism of Adam Smith complicated the relation between spectacles of suffering and their spectators, since the latter were moved to action not by natural signs of woe or pain, but by the dramatic skill of the victim, in whose interest it lay to dissemble the extremity of his or her sensations. Compleat sympathy, a possibility allowed under various conditions by Smith, Hume and Burke, results from a full substitution of one feeling `person or character’ (to use Smith’s terminology) for another, without limits or provisos. When person or character is replaced by something else—say an inanimate object, an animal, or a corpse—the sixth mode of sympathy comes into play, named by Milton horrid. This sympathy knows no limits with regard to the self or subject, and none with regard to that with which it engages. The book ends with a consideration of how horrid sympathy shapes two companion texts, Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels and Coetzee’s The Lives of Animals.
- Sterne’s Fiction and the Double Principle, republished by Cambridge University Press in paperback, Spring 2008.
- Preserving the Self in the South Seas, 1680-1840, University of Chicago Press, 2001.
- Exploration and Exchange: British and American Narratives of the Pacific 1680-1900, ed. Jonathan Lamb, Vanessa Smith and Nicholas Thomas, University of Chicago Press, 2000.
- Voyages and Beaches: Europe and the Pacific 1769-1840, ed. Alex Calder, Jonathan Lamb and Bridget Orr, University of Hawaii Press, 1999.
- The Rhetoric of Suffering: Reading the Book of Job in the Eighteenth Century, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995.
- Sterne’s Fiction and the Double Principle, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989.
- SPECIAL JOURNAL ISSUES
- Extreme and Sentimental History, a special issue of Criticism devoted to historical re-enactment, ed. Vanessa Agnew and Jonathan Lamb, 46:3 (2004), 323-523.
- The South Pacific in the Eighteenth Century: Narratives and Myths, ed. Jonathan Lamb, Robert Maccubbin and David F. Morrill (Eighteenth-Century Life special issue 18:3, Johns Hopkins University Press, November 1994), pp. 242.
- RECENT ARTICLES AND CHAPTERS
- `Sympathy with Animals and Salvation of the Soul,’ The Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation 52:1 (Spring 2011), 69-85.
- `“The true words at last from the mind in ruins”: J.M. Coetzee and Realism,’ in J.M. Coetzee’s Austerities, ed. Graham Bradshaw and Michael Neill, Farnham: Ashgate, 2010, pp. 177-189.
- `Making Babies in the South Seas,’ in Christa Knellwolf and Margarete Rubik eds., Stories of Empire: Narrative Strategies for the Legitimation of Imperial World Order, Trier: Wissenschaftlicher Verlag, 2009, 121-36.
- `Scientific Gusto versus Monsters in the Basement,’ Eighteenth-Century Studies 42:2 (2009) 309-20.
- `“Something odd is happening:” Captain Cook’s last days,’ Enlightenment and Dissent 25 (2009), 287-97.
- `Historical Re-enactment, Extremity and Passion,’ in The Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation 49:3 (Fall 2008), 239-50.
- `Horrid Sympathy,’ in Unrespectable Radicals: Popular Politics in the Age of Reform, ed. Michael T. Davis and Paul Pickering (Aldershot and Burlington: Ashgate, 2008), 91-105.
- `The Superiority of the Undone: Built Ruins and Ruined Patriots,’ in The Ruin and The Sketch in the Eighteenth Century, ed. Peter Wagner et al., Trier: Wissenschaftliger Verlag: 2008, 83-96.
- `Swift, Leviathan and the Person of Authors,’ in Swift’s Travels: Eighteenth-Century British Satire and its Legacy, ed. Nicholas Hudson and Aaron Santesso, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008, 25-38.