Science, Reading, and Renaissance Literature

Science, Reading, and Renaissance Literature : The Art of Making Knowledge, 1580-1670

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Science, Reading, and Renaissance Literature brings together key works in early modern science and imaginative literature (from the anatomy of William Harvey and the experimentalism of William Gilbert to the fictions of Philip Sidney, Edmund Spenser and Margaret Cavendish). The book documents how what have become our two cultures of belief define themselves through a shared aesthetics that understands knowledge as an act of making. Within this framework, literary texts gain substance and intelligibility by being considered as instances of early modern knowledge production. At the same time, early modern science maintains strong affiliations with poetry because it understands art as a basis for producing knowledge. In identifying these interconnections between literature and science, this book contributes to scholarship in literary history, history of reading and the book, science studies and the history of academic disciplines.
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Product details

  • Paperback | 232 pages
  • 151 x 228 x 13mm | 344g
  • Cambridge, United Kingdom
  • English
  • 8 Halftones, unspecified
  • 0521037689
  • 9780521037686
  • 1,529,545

Table of contents

List of figures; Acknowledgements; Introduction: making early modern science and literature; 1. Model worlds: Philip Sidney, William Gilbert and the experiment of worldmaking; 2. From embryology to parthenogenesis: the birth of the writer in Edmund Spenser and William Harvey; 3. Reading through Galileo's telescope: Johannes Kepler's dream for reading knowledge; 4. Books written of the wonders of these glasses: Thomas Hobbes, Robert Hooke and Margaret Cavendish's theory of reading; Afterword: fiction and the Sokal hoax; Notes; Index.
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Review quote

'Nowadays, we tend to think of science and literature as two cultures which have little in common, but Elizabeth Spiller's excellent study, Science, Reading, and Renaissance Literature, explores an age when these disciplines were united by a 'shared aesthetics of knowledge'. Spiller skilfully dismantles our current assumption that 'literature is fiction and science is fact', arguing that early modern writers understood that 'knowledge involves form as well as content ... Spiller's perceptive parallel readings of texts usually kept separate is a valuable addition to scholarship on the early modern period, as well as to the study of science and literature.' The Times Literary Supplement 'Original, learned and compelling. Spiller's superb discussion of Cavendish places her appropriately in very serious company.' Studies in English Literature '... richly-documented pages, written in a clear and pleasant style ...' Cahiers Elisabethains '... a rewarding contribution to the intersections between literature and natural philosophy. ... powerful and rewarding, in large part thanks to her striking combinations of authors within chapters and her vigorous readings of a wide range of texts.' Minerva '... she has opened the door to a complicated and complex area of study. Her linking of these radically different writers in seemingly disparate disciplines, her focus on sensory perception, and her discussion of the generation of knowledge are perceptive and illuminating ... the book is well worth the read.' Dr John Holmes, Lecturer in English, University of Reading "Spiller offers some fascinating insights into how both imaginative and scientific writers in this great age of discovery used texts to create new knowledge through the process of reading. [...] Spiller's perceptive parallel readings of texts usually kept separate is a valuable addition to the scholarship on the early modern period, as well as to the study of science and literature." Times Literary Supplement "A similarly original, learned, and compelling book... Fascinating chapters brilliantly pair Sidney's Defence of Poesy and William Gilbert's On the Magnet, the accounts of creation/generation in Spenser's Faerie Queene with William Harvey's Disputations, Galileo's Starry Messenger and Johann Kepler's response in Dream, and finally Robert Hooke's Microcosmographia with Margaret Cavendish's writings, which present a vitalist theory of reading to oppose the mechanism of Hobbes and Hooke. Spiller's superb discussion of Cavendish places her appropriately in very serious company. Studies in English Literature "Spiller's study of the practices of making knowledge charts new territory in the growing field of scholarship on science and demonstrates the powerful utility of literary analysis. Rather than place literature in the service of science or harvest scientific texts for their literary insights, Spiller sets the two discourses (which share a great deal) on equal footing, providing a truly interdisciplinary analysis of what it meant to make knowledge in the Renaissance." Sixteenth Century Journal Cynthia Klestinec, Georgia Institute of Technology "Science, Reading, and Renaissance Literature is a smart and engaging contribution to our production of knowledge" The Spenser Review Mary Floyd-Wilson
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About Elizabeth Spiller

Elizabeth Spiller is Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies at the Department of English, Texas Christian University. She has published in a number of journals including Renaissance Quarterly, Criticism, Studies in English Literature, and Modern Language Quarterly.
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