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    Margaret Cavendish and the rhetoric and aesthetics of the microscopic image in Seventeenth-Century England

    Clucas, Stephen (2022) Margaret Cavendish and the rhetoric and aesthetics of the microscopic image in Seventeenth-Century England. In: Walters, L. and Siegfried, B. (eds.) Margaret Cavendish: An Interdisciplinary Perspective. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, pp. 51-68. ISBN 9781108780780.

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    In his 1989 article ‘Rhetoric and Graphics in Micrographia’, John T. Harwood argued that in presenting his microscopic findings to the public Robert Hooke employed a ‘rhetoric of graphics’, that is a range of ‘strategies for linking not only text and image but larger segments of texts and images to make a broader argument about mechanical philosophy.’ In this paper I consider how Hooke and Henry Power sought to rhetorically establish the truthfulness of the visual images produced by their instruments, and how a counter-rhetoric of the image was established by Margaret Cavendish in her critique, "Observations upon experimental philosophy", using a very different set of strategies, aimed at discrediting and undermining the mechanical philosophy whilst simultaneously establishing the authority of her own method of philosophising. Although Cavendish’s attitudes towards the use of the microscope and experimental philosophy have already received a fair amount of critical attention, up to now critical accounts have tended to focus on her contestation of male-dominated scientific practices rather than on the epistemological and aesthetic issues surrounding the status of the visual image in the natural philosophy of the period. In this chapter I examine the ways in which the micrographic texts of Hooke and Power sought to lend credibility to the microscopic enterprise by emphasising the image as the appearance of the truth of nature itself, and how Cavendish sought to overturn this through an attack on the new ‘visual technology’ of the microscope and the visual images which it produced. In particular I will look at Cavendish’s appeal to the contemporary aesthetic ideal of the pictorial “likeness”. Book synopsis: Margaret Cavendish's prolific and wide-ranging contributions to seventeenth-century intellectual culture are impossible to contain within the discrete confines of modern academic disciplines. Paying attention to the innovative uses of genre through which she enhanced and complicated her writings both within literature and beyond, this collection addresses her oeuvre and offers the most comprehensive and multidisciplinary resource on Cavendish's works to date. The astonishing breadth of her varied intellectual achievements is reflected through elegantly arranged sections on History of Science, Philosophy, Literature, Politics and Reception, and New Directions, together with an Afterword by award-winning novelist Siri Hustvedt. The first book to cover nearly all of Cavendish's major works in a single volume, this collection brings together a variety of expert perspectives to illuminate the remarkable ideas and achievements of one of the most fascinating and prolific figures of the early modern period.


    Item Type: Book Section
    School: Birkbeck Faculties and Schools > Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences > School of Creative Arts, Culture and Communication
    Depositing User: Stephen Clucas
    Date Deposited: 07 Jul 2022 12:10
    Last Modified: 09 Aug 2023 12:53


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