Steven Meyer

Associate Professor of English
Steven Meyer

Steven Meyer teaches English and American literature and modern intellectual history, specializing in twentieth- and twenty-first-century poetry, the history of modernism, Literature and Science, and the extensive cross-disciplinary tradition that derives from psychologist and philosopher William James and Anglo-American mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead. He is author of Irresistible Dictation: Gertrude Stein and the Correlations of Writing and Science (Stanford UP, 2001), which, among other things, established the interdisciplinary contours of Stein’s writing by demonstrating how her training in physiological psychology at Radcliffe and turn-of-the-century neuroanatomy at Johns Hopkins profoundly influenced the subsequent development of her innovative literary practices. In addition to the primary focus on Stein, Irresistible Dictation contains chapters on Emerson, James, Whitehead and Wittgenstein. Professor Meyer also co-edited the special issue of Configurations: A Journal of Literature, Science, and Technology on “Whitehead Now.” More recently he has edited The Cambridge Companion to Literature and Science (2018), described by one reviewer as “providing a comprehensive, consistently informative, frequently enlightening survey of what is an extremely varied and theoretically challenging interdisciplinary field” and “an invaluable resource for students and scholars working in any areas of Literature and Science studies.”

Professor Meyer’s interests in the Belgian philosopher of science Isabelle Stengers, French sociologist of science Bruno Latour and British literary critic and poet William Empson have contributed to the development of an ongoing book project examining expanded empiricist practices which have variously built on James’s and Whitehead’s joint approach. (James referred to this shared perspective as involving attention to “radical empiricism,” “pragmatism,” “a pluralistic universe” and “varieties of religious experience”; no less influentially Whitehead viewed it under headings like “the philosophy of organism,” “process and reality” and “religion in the making.”) In Robust Empiricisms: Jamesian Modernism between the Disciplines, 1878 to the Present, Professor Meyer proposes that over the past century researchers in areas of inquiry from speculative philosophy to science studies, evolutionary developmental biology to literary criticism, and neurophysiology to poetry and fiction have followed James – and Whitehead’s extensions of James’s epoch-defining investigations – in exploring modes of feeling and thought long obscured by the focus of more traditional empiricisms on sensation-like phenomena. This year (2019-2020) he is a fellow at the Whitney Humanities Center at Yale, where he is working on a complementary study of the poetry of MacArthur Award- and Bollingen Prize-winner Jay Wright, which fits squarely in the Jamesian modernist tradition. Cadences of an African American Culture attends especially to the challenges posed by Wright’s uniquely wide-ranging disciplinary palette.

Recent courses taught by Professor Meyer include “Strange Rhythms: Intro to Twentieth-Century Poetry,” “Affect Theory: from Eve Sedgwick to Henry James and Back,” “Poetic Listening: Poetry and Science Studies,” “Advanced Literary Theory: Deleuze on Literature, Art and Film,” “Pragmatism and the Novel: Henry James and William James” and “The Stein Era.”

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