CatastrophizingMaterialism and the Making of Disaster

CatastrophizingMaterialism and the Making of Disaster

Gerard Passannante

Print publication date: 2019

ISBN: 9780226612218

Publisher: University of Chicago Press


Catastrophizing argues that the seismic encounter between early modern culture and materialism (the view that the world is composed of nothing but matter) can be understood through a history of mental disasters. As early modern thinkers pondered the insensible causes and material stuff of the cosmos, they both conjured up disasters out of thin air and responded to those disasters as if they 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 great catastrophizers to the mental earthquakes that guided Kant toward his theory of the sublime—the book shows how and why the early modern mind reached for disaster when it ventured beyond the limits of the sensible. It also makes a case for the critical potential of thinking catastrophically in our own time.