Catastrophizing: Materialism and the Making of Disaster

Catastrophizing: Materialism and the Making of Disaster

by Gerard Passannante

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When we catastrophize, we think the worst. We make too much of too little, or something of nothing. Yet what looks simply like a bad habit, Gerard Passannante argues, was also a spur to some of the daring conceptual innovations and feats of imagination that defined the intellectual and cultural history of the early modern period.

Reaching back to the time between the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, Passannante traces a history of catastrophizing through literary and philosophical encounters with materialism—the view that the world is composed of nothing but matter. As artists, poets, philosophers, and scholars pondered the physical causes and material stuff of the cosmos, they conjured up disasters out of thin air and responded as though to events that were befalling them. From Leonardo da Vinci’s imaginative experiments with nature’s destructive forces to the fevered fantasies of doomsday astrologers, from the self-fulfilling prophecies of Shakespeare’s tragic characters to the mental earthquakes that guided Kant toward his theory of the sublime, Passannante shows how and why the early moderns reached for disaster when they ventured beyond the limits of the sensible. He goes on to explore both the danger and the critical potential of thinking catastrophically in our own time.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780226612355
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication date: 03/25/2019
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 240
File size: 5 MB

About the Author

Gerard Passannante is associate professor of English and comparative literature at the University of Maryland, College Park. He is the author of The Lucretian Renaissance: Philology and the Afterlife of Tradition, also published by the University of Chicago Press.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations

Introduction. Catastrophizing: A Beginner’s Guide
1. Leonardo’s Disasters
2. Earthquakes of the Mind
3. Shakespeare’s Catastrophic “Anything”
4. The Earthquake and the Microscope
5. Disaster before the Sublime; or, Kant’s Catastrophes
Afterword. Catastrophizing in the Age of Climate Change


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