Nervous Acts: Essays on Literature, Culture and Sensibility
'This collection of essays from 1969-93 explores the impact of anatomy and physiology on the Enlightenment
"republic of letters".
Nowadays phrases such as "shattered nerves" have a metaphoric meaning, but George Rousseau was one of the first to show how the "bloody
flesh-and-neural body" was the source of all talk of nerves and nervousness. From the beginnings of neurology in the 1660s,
discussion of "nerves, spirits, fibres" fed into the wider "social fabric", creating new ways to describe the world of emotions and
experience. Indeed, "adroit wordsmiths" were in the neuroscientific vanguard as they explored the "nervous body", writers like
Tobias Smollett, Laurence Sterne and scientific poet Erasmus Darwin. Rousseau pioneered this field of interdisciplinary studies,
and these essays on science and culture are as impressive for their erudition as for their insight.'
The Guardian, 15 January 2005
'Here we see the origins of a distinctively modern understanding of human nature, one that sees consciousness and
identity as the outcome
of the workings of the nervous system … these essays demonstrate an impressive breadth of learning and a determination to unite the study
of areas of culture that are too often deemed to be incommensurable. An interdisciplinary approach of this kind enriches our understanding
of both science and literature. It may even occasion reflection on the historical roots of some of our most deeply embedded notions of self
S. Jacyna, Brain, 2005
'A scintillating collection … by an acknowledged authority in the medical and literary history of the nerves.'
Laurence Brockliss, Oxford University
'… an indispensable resource for any future study of the anthropology of the imagination.'
Geoffrey Sill, Rutgers University