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"The Biopolitics of Feeling is a work of tremendous synthesizing reach and power. Shifting the whole frame in which we conceive of race and sex across the vast project of nineteenth-century American sentimentality, Kyla Schuller brings the biopolitical turn to the realm of Americanist criticism with an exemplary rigorousness and vision. Her book is a major accomplishment." — Peter Coviello, author of Tomorrow’s Parties: Sex and the Untimely in Nineteenth-Century America

"With scintillating attention to a telling archive, Kyla Schuller has taken nineteenth-century sentimentalism toward a set of critical consequences within the realm of biopower at large, speaking to a wide range of readers from science studies to critical race, feminist, affect, and materiality studies. Schuller's talents for excavation enable a rich and supple, necessarily defamiliarizing account of the traffic among gender, race, sexuality, and the political that comes back around to inform our presents anew." — Mel Y. Chen, author of Animacies: Biopolitics, Racial Mattering, and Queer Affect


The Biopolitics of Feeling: Race, Sex, and Science in the Nineteenth Century  (Duke UP, 2018) unearths the forgotten, multiethnic sciences of impressibility—the capacity to be affected over time—to uncover how biopower developed in the United States. I challenge dominant interpretations of biopower and literary cultures to reveal how biopower, or modern political power that works primarily at the level of organic life itself, emerged within the discourses and practices of sentimentalism. The Biopolitics of Feeling overturns interpretations of sentimentalism as primarily concerned with emotional feeling and cultural production, revealing sentiment to function as a widespread technology of individual discipline and species modulation that enabled the deployment of biopower and its sciences of sex and race difference. The book excavates a vast apparatus that regulated the capacities of sensory and emotional feeling in an attempt to shape the evolution of the national population through analyses of materials as diverse as evolutionary theories, gynecological sciences, abolitionist poetry and other literary texts, feminist tracts, child welfare reforms, and the literature of black uplift movements. 

This wide-ranging historical and theoretical work exposes the overlooked role of sex difference in population management and the optimization of life, illuminating how models of binary sex function as one of the key mechanisms of racializing power. In so doing, I seek to overturn long-accepted frameworks of the nature of race and sex difference, offer key corrective insights to modern debates surrounding the equation of racism with determinism and the liberatory potential of ideas about the plasticity of the body. Overall, the book illuminates sentimentalism as an extensive regulatory enterprise that works to optimize the individual and species body. It thereby reframes contemporary notions of sentiment, affect, sexuality, eugenics, and heredity, revealing the sensory and affective body to lie at the heart of modern power.

Read the introduction online

Read a Q&A at The Nation

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