In the spring 2001 issue of Critical Inquiry, Mary Poovey reopened the question of organic form and its functioning in literary criticism.1 She began by quoting an account of the model system in biology, which the authors described as ‘an object or process selected for intensive research as an exemplar of a widely observed feature of life (or disease)’. The authors she cited noted the importance of model organisms (such as mice) for laboratory research, insofar as laboratory research is interested in identifying typical problems and solutions, and they noted as well the self-reinforcing character of model systems. Even self-consciousness and criticism of such systems, they said, tended only to strengthen the hold of the model system on practice. After quoting them, Poovey went on to ask: ‘Does contemporary literary criticism have a model system?’


Religious Belief Organic Form Eighteenth Century Literary Criticism Historical Category 
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  1. 3.
    W.K. Wimsatt, ‘Organic Form: Some Questions about a Metaphor’, in Romanticism: Vistas, Instances, Continuities, ed. David Thorburn and Geoffrey Hartman (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1973), pp. 13–37.Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    In W.K. The Wimsatt, The Versal Icon: Studies in the Meaning of Poetly (Lexington, KY: University of Kentucky Press, 1994), p. 4.Google Scholar
  3. 5.
    I cite James’s essay because it is perhaps the best known of a series of considerations of the usefulness of religion. The first and most important of these is Jeremy Bentham’s An Analysis of the Influence of Natural Religion on the Temporal Happiness of Mankind, which largely disappeared from view after Bentham published it under the pseudonym Philip Beauchamp in 1822. It has recently been published as The Influence of Natural Religion on the Temporal Happiness of Mankind, ed. Delos McKown (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2003). See also John Stuart Mill’s ‘The Utility of Religion’, in Essays on Ethics, Religion and Society, ed. J.M. Robson, Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, X (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1969), pp. 403–28.Google Scholar
  4. 6.
    Key texts are Roland Barthes, Mythologies (Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1957); Derrida, The Truth in Painting, trans. Geoff Bennington and Ian McLeod (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1987); and Paul De Man, ‘Form and Intent in the American New Criticism’, in Blindness and Insight: Essays in the Rhetoric of Contemporary Criticism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1971), pp. 20–35.Google Scholar
  5. 7.
    W.K. Wimsatt, ‘The Structure of Romantic Nature Imagery’, in English Romantic Poets: Modern Essays in Criticism, ed. M.H. Abrams (New York: Oxford University Press, 1960), pp. 25–36.Google Scholar
  6. 8.
    The professions that Kant described as those of the higher faculties - law, medicine, and theology - all correspond to this model insofar as they are all professions of the book. See Immanuel Kant, The Conflict of the Faculties, trans. Mary Gregor (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press,1979). See also the discussions of Kant’s Conflict in Bill Readings, The University in Ruins (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996), esp. pp. 56–9; and Ian Hunter, Rival Enlightenments: Civil and Metaphysical Philosophy in Early Modern Germany (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), pp. 375–6.Google Scholar
  7. 9.
    tan Watt, The Rise of the Novel (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1957). The most sweeping challenge to Watt’s narrowly characterized tradition of the novel is Michael McKeon’s The Origins of the English Novel: 1660–1740 (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987).Google Scholar
  8. 10.
    John Barrell, The Idea of Landscape and the Sense of Place: 1730–1840: An Approach to the Poetry of John Clare, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1972) p. 1. Barrell’s opening pages develop this notion with great subtlety and exactitude.Google Scholar
  9. 11.
    John Dixon Hunt, “Ut Pictura Poesis”: The Garden and the Picturesque (1710–1750)’, in The History of Garden Design:TheWestern Tradition from theRenaissance to thePresent Day, ed. Monique Mosser and Georges Teyssot (London: Thames & Hudson, 2000), p. 231.Google Scholar
  10. 12.
    Barrell, Idea ofLandscape, pp. 5–6. He quotes from a Gilpin fragment published in C.P. Barbier, William Gilpin (Oxford, 1963), p. 177.Google Scholar
  11. 13.
    Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Goethes Botanical Writings, trans. Bertha Mueller (Woodbridge, CT: Ox Bow Press, 1989).Google Scholar
  12. 14.
    My account here intersects with post-structuralist discussions of the non-human and mechanical as models for human choice. See particularly Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1983).Google Scholar
  13. 16.
    Robert Smithson, The Collected Writings, ed. Jack Flam (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1996), p. 42.Google Scholar

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© Frances Ferguson 2005

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