Light without Heat

Light without Heat : The Observational Mood from Bacon to Milton

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In Light without Heat, David Carroll Simon argues for the importance of carelessness to the literary and scientific experiments of the seventeenth century. While scholars have often looked to this period in order to narrate the triumph of methodical rigor as a quintessentially modern intellectual value, Simon describes the appeal of open-ended receptivity to the protagonists of the New Science. In straying from the work of self-possession and the duty to sift fact from fiction, early modern intellectuals discovered the cognitive advantages of the undisciplined mind.

Exploring the influence of what he calls the "observational mood" on both poetry and prose, Simon offers new readings of Michel de Montaigne, Francis Bacon, Izaak Walton, Henry Power, Robert Hooke, Robert Boyle, Andrew Marvell, and John Milton. He also extends his inquiry beyond the boundaries of early modernity, arguing for a literary theory that trades strict methodological commitment for an openness to lawless drift.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 312 pages
  • 152 x 229 x 20.57mm | 614g
  • Ithaca, United States
  • English
  • 1501723405
  • 9781501723407

Review quote

"David Carroll Simon presents an exciting new orientation for our reading of some of the foundational writers of the new sciences of the seventeenth century and the poets that followed them. The aim of Light without Heat is less to convince you of its rightness than to offer you new ways to think about the things it considers." -- William N. West, Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literary Studies, Northwestern University "In Light without Heat, David Carroll Simon explicitly writes against the common critical notion that scientific investigation in the seventeenth century is defined by its method and the stringency of its procedures. Simon's work is a distinctive contribution to the field, and he puts forward a controversial argument. This argument leads to some bracing, original, and accomplished close readings that reveal new and surprising features of literary and philosophical works." -- Alan Stewart, Columbia University "David Carroll Simon aims to recapture a forgotten perspective on what it means to know (and to emotionally experience) the natural world, and he succeeds marvelously. Instead of inevitably privileging method and rigor, this book expounds upon a different conceptual space-that of nonchalance, discomposure, languorous drift, digression, and abandonment-as characteristic of the `observational mood' of the early modern poets, scientists, and philosophers with whom Simon here tarries. Easygoing waywardness, Simon shows at every turn, aids perception by expanding its reach-this the better to catch the natural world's astounding variety and strangeness. Though Light without Heat makes an argument for emotional cool as a condition for a certain kind of intellectual freedom, this book itself glows. It's been awhile since I've encountered a work about the seventeenth century that makes so much look so wonderfully different. And Simon's final chapter on Edenic labor in Milton's Paradise Lost is a subtle tour de force." -- Richard Rambuss, Brown University "A major contribution to critical understanding of the history of emotion and the scientific revolution, written with a clarity that can stun, Light without Heat is a paragon of its own brave argument. Reconstructing the blithe `observational moods' that accompanied the methodological rigors of new scientific experimentalism, David Carroll Simon takes the risk of thinking with his authors, rather than simply about them. Fully participating in the softly focused, experimental moods they make available-lax and elastic self-forgettings whose very dispassion expands the field of perceptual awareness-Simon inducts his reader into the virtues (and pleasures) of a world made permanently strange. This recovery of the affective dimension of `the experimental life' irrevocably expands our understanding of the prehistory of objectivity, not to mention leaving the reader with the most subtly compelling re-reading of the poetry of Marvell and Milton in years." -- Joanna Picciotto, University of California, Berkeley "[B]y finding other forms of thinking within literature, and by practicing other forms of reading within criticism,... even the most familiar of texts come to be seen in a whole new light.... David Carroll Simon's magisterial Light without Heat [is] a highly thoughtful and revisionary study of the scientific imagination and, specifically, of the quality of thought that characterizes it in the seventeenth century. ... Simon challenges the consensus that the New Science was responsible for prioritizing this mode of investigation [objectivity] by exploring what he calls the latter's 'observational mood': a quality of Montaignean carelessness... an aimless and patient witnessing that is neither driven nor teleological." -- Catherine Bates * SEL: Studies in English Literature 1500-1900 *
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About David Carroll Simon

David Carroll Simon is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Chicago.
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