Rosalind Powell
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Understanding the eye
in Perception and analogy
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This chapter investigates how the eye was understood medically, philosophically, and analogically in the first half of the eighteenth century. It outlines how figures of sight, blindness, and recovery of sight were employed both before and after significant ophthalmological developments in the middle of the period. Drawing on anatomical treatments of the eye and vision by William Chesselden and William Porterfield, the chapter begins by investigating analogies for eyesight in poetry by Henry Brooke and Richard Blackmore that figure the eye as a perfect, designed instrument that is akin to a camera obscura. It explores how descriptions and models for the processes of vision are largely distanced from the individual’s experience of sight as well as the implications this has for the valuation of sighted and non-sighted experience. The chapter then focuses on eighteenth-century engagements with Molyneux’s Question by considering its implications for thinking about individualised sensory experience as the source of knowledge, the relationship between the senses, and competing philosophical accounts of interactions between the perceiving individual and the lived environment. The final section considers surgical interventions by William Chesselden and John Taylor of Hatton Garden. The chapter closes with a reading of Richard Jago’s fictionalised explorations of blindness and recovered sight in Edge-Hill.

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Perception and analogy

Poetry, science, and religion in the eighteenth century


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