Steven Meyer

Associate Professor of English
PhD, Yale University
MA, Yale University
BA, Princeton University
research interests:
  • Literature and science
  • Literature and philosophy
  • Twentieth-century poetry
  • Literary theory and criticism
  • American literature
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    • Washington University
    • CB 1122
    • One Brookings Drive
    • St. Louis, MO 63130-4899
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    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.”

    Courses

    • L14 343: Two Cultures: Literature and Science
    • L14 564: Science Studies/Literary Studies
    • L14 3552: Introduction to Literary Theory
    • L14 439: Deleuze and Guattari: Theory as/of Collaboration
    • L14 257: The Art of Poetry
    • L14 4240: Topics in American Literature II: Jamesian Modernism
    • L14 585: Mellon Dissertation Seminar: Vertical Seminar: The Neurosciences and Humanities
    The Cambridge Companion to Literature and Science

    The Cambridge Companion to Literature and Science

    In 1959, C. P. Snow lamented the presence of what he called the 'two cultures': the apparently unbridgeable chasm of understanding and knowledge between modern literature and modern science. In recent decades, scholars have worked diligently and often with great ingenuity to interrogate claims like Snow's that represent twentieth- and twenty-first-century literature and science as radically alienated from each other. The Cambridge Companion to Literature and Science offers a roadmap to developments that have contributed to the demonstration and emergence of reciprocal connections between the two domains of inquiry. Weaving together theory and empiricism, individual chapters explore major figures - Shakespeare, Bacon, Emerson, Darwin, Henry James, William James, Whitehead, Einstein, Empson, and McClintock; major genres and modes of writing - fiction, science fiction, non-fiction prose, poetry, and dramatic works; and major theories and movements - pragmatism, critical theory, science studies, cognitive science, ecocriticism, cultural studies, affect theory, digital humanities, and expanded empiricisms. This book will be a key resource for scholars, graduate students, and undergraduate students alike.

    Irresistible Dictation: Gertrude Stein and the Correlations of Writing and Science

    Irresistible Dictation: Gertrude Stein and the Correlations of Writing and Science

    Before Gertrude Stein became the twentieth century's preeminent experimental writer, she spent a decade conducting research in both the leading psychological laboratory and the leading medical school in the United States. This book unearths the turn-of-the-century scientific and philosophical worlds in which the young Stein was immersed, demonstrating how her extensive scientific training continued to exert a profound influence on the development of her extraordinary literary practices. As an undergraduate, Stein worked with the philosopher William James and the psychologist Hugo Münsterberg at the Harvard Psychological Laboratory, investigating secondary personalities and automatic writing. Later, at Johns Hopkins Medical School, she was involved in cutting-edge neuroanatomical research in the laboratory of Franklin Mall, the leading anatomist and embryologist of the day, and his assistant Lewellys Barker, the author of the first English-language textbook to describe the nervous system from the standpoint of the newly established neuron doctrine. Just as scientists reconceived relations among neurons as a function of contact or contiguity, rather than of organic connection, Stein radically reconceptualized language to place equal weight on the conjunctive and disjunctive relations among words. In the course of a broad reevaluation of Stein's career, the author situates this major postromantic thinker in the lineage of poet-scientists such as Wordsworth, Goethe, and Shelley, as well as in an important line of speculative thinkers that extends from Emerson to William James, Alfred North Whitehead, and Ludwig Wittgenstein, and emerges today in figures as disparate as the bioaesthetician Suzanne Langer, the technoscience theorist Donna Haraway, and the neuroscientists Francisco Varela, Gerald Edelman, and J. Allan Hobson. These two lines share the perspective that William James designated radical empiricism. A groundbreaking interdisciplinary study, Irresistible Dictation aims both to explicate Stein's radically experimental compositions and to bring the radical empiricist philosophical tradition into focus through the lens of her writing.