Enlightenment as Self-Scrutiny – Self-Knowledge as ‘Autopsy’ (“To See For Yourself”)

Posted: June 13, 2017 in Uncategorized

Body Criticism is a celebration of visual culture as well as a major contribution to our understanding of the history of the human body. At its core is a profound exploration of the innovative strategies developed in the eighteenth century for making visible the unseeable aspects of the world. In the process it uncovers and analyzes the persistence of a remarkable set of body metaphors deriving from both aesthetic and medical practices. For Barbara Stafford, all forms of representation are metaphors for cognitive processes in a society, and the historian’s job is to reconstruct the metaphors in order to shed light on the society.

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What has happened to the magic of learning? Playful illusions, spellbinding games, and lifelike automata were once integral to education. Artful Science reveals the exhilarating but paradoxical intertwining of enchantment with enlightenment in the early modern period. A cross-disciplinary guide to intellectual high and low life of the eighteenth century, Artful Science makes the case for the pedagogical opportunities inherent in an oral-visual culture. Barbara Stafford draws on an extraordinary range of historical sources and popular imagery, exploring from a new perspective the perceptual cognition that she so deftly analyzed in Body Criticism. Her important reinterpretation also casts many well-studied paintings as instances of an instructive art of demonstration.

Artful Science opens by describing the evolution of mathematical recreations and their relationship to the middle class’s increasing leisure time. Subsequent chapters focus on the problem of distinguishing legitimate science from virtuoso fraud; the public performance of experiments; and early attempts to create informative and attractive natural history exhibits. Throughout, Stafford emphasizes the concern for telling truth from fiction in a world of alluring technology.

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John Bender is Jean G. & Morris M. Doyle Professor in Interdisciplinary Studies, Forum on Contemporary Europe Research Affiliate, Professor of English and of Comparative Literature.

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Ends of Enlightenment explores three realms of eighteenth-century European innovation that remain active in the twenty-first century: the realist novel, philosophical thought, and the physical sciences, especially human anatomy. The European Enlightenment was a state of being, a personal stance, and an orientation to the world. Ways of probing experience and knowledge in the novel and in the visual arts were interleaved with methods of experimentation in science and philosophy. This book’s fresh perspective considers the novel as an art but also as a force in thinking. The critical distance afforded by a view back across the centuries allows Bender to redefine such novelists as Defoe, Fielding, Goldsmith, Godwin, and Laclos by placing them along philosophers and scientists like Newton, Locke, and Hume but also alongside engravings by Hogarth and by anatomist William Hunter. His book probes the kinship among realism, hypothesis, and scientific fact, defining in the process the rhetorical basis of public communication during the Enlightenment.

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John Bender
Enlightenment Fiction and the Scientific Hypothesis
Representations, No. 61,
Special Issue: Practices of Enlightenment (Winter, 1998), pp. 6-28
University of California Press


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