Fictions of the Cosmos: Science and Literature in the Seventeenth Century

Hardcover | November 15, 2011

byFrédérique Aït-Touati

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In today’s academe, the fields of science and literature are considered unconnected, one relying on raw data and fact, the other focusing on fiction. During the period between the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, however, the two fields were not so distinct. Just as the natural philosophers of the era were discovering in and adopting from literature new strategies and techniques for their discourse, so too were poets and storytellers finding inspiration in natural philosophy, particularly in astronomy.
           
A work that speaks to the history of science and literary studies, Fictions of the Cosmos explores the evolving relationship that ensued between fiction and astronomical authority. By examining writings of Kepler, Godwin, Hooke, Cyrano, Cavendish, Fontenelle, and others, Frédérique Aït-Touati shows that it was through the telling of stories—such as through accounts of celestial journeys—that the Copernican hypothesis, for example, found an ontological weight that its geometric models did not provide. Aït-Touati draws from both cosmological treatises and fictions of travel and knowledge, as well as personal correspondences, drawings, and instruments, to emphasize the multiple borrowings between scientific and literary discourses. This volume sheds new light on the practices of scientific invention, experimentation, and hypothesis formation by situating them according to their fictional or factual tendencies.
 

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In today’s academe, the fields of science and literature are considered unconnected, one relying on raw data and fact, the other focusing on fiction. During the period between the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, however, the two fields were not so distinct. Just as the natural philosophers of the era were discovering in and adopting...

Frédérique Aït-Touati is a teaching fellow in French at St John’s College at the University of Oxford. Susan Emanuel has translated many books from French, including The End of Sacrifice: Religious Transformations in Late Antiquity by Guy G. Stroumsa, also published by the University of Chicago Press.
Format:HardcoverDimensions:272 pages, 9 × 6 × 0.9 inPublished:November 15, 2011Publisher:University Of Chicago PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0226011224

ISBN - 13:9780226011226

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Table of Contents

Introduction

PART ONE * COSMIC IMAGINATION
 
1 Kepler Sets the Earth in Motion
Genealogy of the Dream: From Ludus Philosophicus to the Game of Fiction * The Dynamics of the Voyage: A Thought-Experiment * Vision in the Voyage * The Place of Fiction
2 Godwin, Wilkins, Cyrano: From the Optical Voyage to Mechanical Voyage
The Man in the Moone * A World in the Moon * From Heavens to the Sky: Cyrano’s Other World * Conclusion: Dreams and Fictions

PART TWO * CONJECTURAL MACHINES

3 Fontenelle: Unveiling the Spectacle of the World
Machine and Spectacle * Order of the Narrative, Harmony of the World * Fontenelle’s Visions
4 Huygens: The Theoretical Voyage of the Cosmotheoros
Hypotheses, Conjectures, Fictions * Architectonics of the Narrative * Conclusion: Hypotheses and Narratives

PART THREE * OBSERVING MONSTERS

5 Robert Hooke: “The Armed Eye”
Micrographia * From Enargeia to Evidence * Hooke the Astronomer * Poetics of Proof * Conclusion: Instruments and Images
6 Margaret Cavendish: The Battle of Instruments
“A High Heel to a Short Leg” * A Teratology of Knowledge * The Empire of Fiction * Conclusion
Conclusion

Notes * Bibliography * Index

Editorial Reviews

“Fictions of the Cosmos is one of the most original and engrossing books to appear in ages from within the whole field of literature and science. What Frédérique Aït-Touati does is to put aside the merely analogical use of science by literary figures, and instead to examine the way natural philosophers and literary figures shared productive strategies about how to narrate the physical world. Drawing from the history of philosophy, classical literature, motifs, and rhetoric, she shows vividly how some of the key figures of the scientific revolution (among others, Kepler, Huygens, Hooke, and Margaret Cavendish) constructed their stories of nature. Fictions deepens our understanding of early modern science, showing how writing gave ontological weight and persuasive force to the universes evoked: micro-realities and cosmologies, instruments and voyages to other worlds. It is a remarkable book.”