Literature and Theatre

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Rosalind Powell

This chapter demonstrates how analogies and models are used in literature about Newtonian astronomy to communicate a cognitive experience of outer space. The argument centres on a series of educational dialogues on astronomy – John Harris’s Astronomical Dialogues, James Ferguson’s The Young Gentleman and Lady’s Astronomy, and Benjamin Martin’s The Young Gentleman and Lady’s Philosophy – and astronomical poems by John Hughes, David Mallet, Elizabeth Carter, Richard Blackmore, and Mark Akenside. The chapter surveys a series of analogical techniques for transmitting knowledge about space: conversation, the use of models such as orreries and globes as physical analogies that permit a range of cognitive and somatic experiences, explanatory domestic analogies that make comprehensible the vast scales and unseen forces of space, the Newtonian concept of an infinite universe as physico-theological trope, and the possibilities and restrictions of imaginative journeys into space. These examples demonstrate how the use of analogy transforms astronomy from an abstract and solitary philosophy into a polite, communal activity. From domestic familiarity to imaginative journey amongst the stars, the analogies surveyed in this chapter are shown to facilitate connections between the known and the unknown.

in Perception and analogy
Abstract only
Rosalind Powell

The introductory chapter outlines the concept of seeing scientifically in eighteenth-century Newtonianism. It introduces the significance of topographical poetry, the imagination, and physico-theology for the book’s argument and outlines a definition of analogy and its critical treatment in literature and science. The introduction ends with an overview of subsequent chapters.

in Perception and analogy
Rosalind Powell

This chapter focuses on responses to Newton’s Opticks. It considers the endurance of analogical associations between light and the divine, and the ways in which this analogy is used to explain both sensory and extra-sensory knowledge in the context of empiricist approaches to light. Drawing on light analogies in Richard Blackmore’s Creation, David Mallet’s Excursion, Henry Baker’s The Universe, Thomas Hobson’s Christianity the Light of the Moral World, Lady Mary Chudleigh’s Song of the Three Children Paraphras’d, and James Thomson’s Seasons, the chapter demonstrates how these works refer to both light’s physical properties and its analogical associations with the acquisition of knowledge and the divine. The first section considers the relationship between light and perception in poetry and physico-theology after Newton by looking at the Neoplatonic concept of signs and tokens in the natural world. The second section investigates the ways in which light’s properties are incorporated into novel accounts of the creation of the world in rewritings of Genesis by William Whiston, John Hutchinson, and Thomas Hobson. The concluding section explores how light analogies are frequently employed to negotiate the tension between empiricist perception and divine revelation.

in Perception and analogy
Poetry, science, and religion in the eighteenth century
Author: Rosalind Powell

Perception and analogy explores ways of seeing scientifically in the eighteenth century. It discusses literary, theological, and didactic texts alongside popular works on astronomy, optics, ophthalmology, and the body to demonstrate how readers are prompted to take on a range of perspectives in their acquisition of scientific knowledge. With reference to topics from colour perception to cataract surgery, the book examines how sensory experience was conceptualised during the eighteenth century. It argues that by paying attention to the period’s documentation of perception as an embodied phenomenon we can better understand the creative methods employed by disseminators of diverse natural philosophical ideas. This book argues for the central role of analogy in conceptualising and explaining new scientific ideas. It centres on religious and topographical poetry by writers including James Thomson, Richard Blackmore, Mark Akenside, Henry Brooke, David Mallet, Elizabeth Carter, and Christopher Smart. Together with its readings of popular educational dialogues on scientific topics, the book also addresses how this analogical approach is reflected in material culture through objects – such as orreries, camera obscuras, and Aeolian harps – that facilitate acts of perception and tactile engagement within polite spaces. The book shows how scientific concepts become intertwined with Christian discourse through reinterpretations of origins and signs, the scope of the created universe, and the limits of embodied knowledge.

Rosalind Powell

Chapter 5 addresses poetic representations of embodied perception including disturbed or inhibited sight, compensatory sensibility, and the interplay between the nerves and the senses in the construction of knowledge and experience. The models of embodied perception offered here correspond with a preoccupation with the limits of knowledge in contrast to the camera obscura model explored in Chapter 4. The first section of the chapter outlines a mid-century emphasis on the body’s role in individual perception by exploring descriptions of sight in topographical poetry by Thomas Gray, James Thomson, and Mark Akenside, together with accounts of sensory description in the work of the blind poet Thomas Blacklock. The subsequent section addresses models of spiritual perception and embodiment in Edward Young’s Night Thoughts and the religious poetry of William Blake. The second half of the chapter introduces the impact of Hartleian associationism and eighteenth-century accounts of the nerves and sensation. Finally, poetic examples from Akenside to Coleridge demonstrate the emergence of the Aeolian harp as an analogy for imaginative creation and sensory engagement.

in Perception and analogy
Abstract only
Rosalind Powell

Looking to the presentation of colour in Thomson’s Seasons, Blackmore’s Creation, Akenside’s The Pleasures of Imagination, Mallet’s Excursion and several other topographical poems, this chapter demonstrates how explanatory descriptions of their occurrence and perception in the natural environment become for writers a way to stimulate the reader’s empirical perception and knowledge. The relationship between natural philosophy, subjectivity, and experience is established in the first section through an investigation of Newton’s optical experiments. The second section considers challenges to the analogical significance of colour categories by looking at representations of the rainbow and individual colours in a range of religious, natural philosophical, and literary examples. Alternatives to Newton’s account of colour production and perception are also explored: Louis-Bertrand Castel’s materialist theory, George Berkeley’s equation of both colours and physical phenomena as non-material in Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous, and Christopher Smart’s religious poetry, which provides an anti-Newtonian spectrum. The chapter closes by presenting three analogical tropes that poets use to describe the effect and experience of perceiving colour in the natural world: colour as painting or dye, colour as tapestry or weaving, and colour as clothing or covering.

in Perception and analogy
Rosalind Powell

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.

in Perception and analogy
Open Access (free)
James Baldwin’s Search for a New Film Form
Hayley O’Malley

James Baldwin was a vocal critic of Hollywood, but he was also a cinephile, and his critique of film was not so much of the medium itself, but of the uses to which it was put. Baldwin saw in film the chance to transform both politics and art—if only film could be transformed itself. This essay blends readings of archival materials, literature, film, and print culture to examine three distinct modes in Baldwin’s ongoing quest to revolutionize film. First, I argue, literature served as a key site to practice being a filmmaker, as Baldwin adapted cinematic grammars in his fiction and frequently penned scenes of filmgoing in which he could, in effect, direct his own movies. Secondly, I show that starting in the 1960s, Baldwin took a more direct route to making movies, as he composed screenplays, formed several production companies, and attempted to work in both Hollywood and the independent film scene in Europe. Finally, I explore how Baldwin sought to change cinema as a performer himself, in particular during his collaboration on Dick Fontaine and Pat Hartley’s documentary I Heard It Through the Grapevine (1982). This little-known film follows Baldwin as he revisits key sites from the civil rights movement and reconnects with activist friends as he endeavors to construct a revisionist history of race in America and to develop a media practice capable of honoring Black communities.

James Baldwin Review
Maureen Kelleher

James Baldwin’s arrest in Paris in December 1949 gave birth to his perfect storm. His ten days in Fresnes jail weakened him physically and emotionally. He made it out, but upon release he was mired in self-doubt and enveloped in a bout of depression. He returned to his hotel, ready to try to get back to his life, however daunting that effort would be. The hotelier’s demand that he settle his bill, and do it quickly, awakened his obsession with suicide. He simply could not handle one more obstacle in his path; he chose to kill himself in his room. Ironically, he saved his life when he jumped off a chair with a sheet around his neck. In a matter of seconds his death wish was replaced by his equally obsessive need to write, witness, think, party, drink, challenge, and love.

James Baldwin Review
Open Access (free)
Cora Kaplan

The distinguished critic Professor Cheryl A. Wall (1948–2020) was the Board of Governors Zora Neale Hurston Professor of English at Rutgers University, New Brunswick. Her path-breaking scholarship in two highly influential monographs, Women of the Harlem Renaissance (1995) and Worrying the Line: Black Women Writers, Lineage, and Literary Tradition (2005), helped to ensure that twentieth-century Black women writers were recognized and valued for their power, genius, and complexity. Her most recent book, On Freedom and the Will to Adorn: The Art of the African American Essay (2018), places the essay form at the center of African American literary achievement. Throughout her long career she supported and enabled Black students, and championed racial diversity and gender equality at every level of the university. An Associate Editor of James Baldwin Review, she was the most generous and astute of readers, as well as a wise editor. In this memorial section, fifteen colleagues, former students, and interlocutors share their remembrances and honor her legacy.

James Baldwin Review