Knowledge and Representation through Baroque Eyes: Literature and Optics in France and Italy ca. 1600-1640

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Knowledge and Representation through Baroque Eyes: Literature and Optics in France and Italy ca. 1600-1640

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Title: Knowledge and Representation through Baroque Eyes: Literature and Optics in France and Italy ca. 1600-1640
Author: Nader-Esfahani, Sanam ORCID  0000-0001-9402-094X
Citation: Nader-Esfahani, Sanam. 2016. Knowledge and Representation through Baroque Eyes: Literature and Optics in France and Italy ca. 1600-1640. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
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Abstract: The scientific discoveries and inventions of the early seventeenth century, which include Johannes Kepler’s inverted retinal image, the refinement of lenses, and the invention of the telescope, transformed the status of vision in the acquisition of knowledge, thus modifying the nature of what is known and even challenging how things are known. Rather than focus on philosophical oppositions between seeing and looking, or on artistic practices such as linear perspective or anamorphosis in literature’s engagement with vision, this study privileges instead a dialogue with early modern optics. Deriving a theoretical framework from the scientific debates about vision and its instruments, which brings attention to the historically charged concepts of mediated perception, the visible and the invisible, and natural and mechanical sight, I examine how French and Italian authors in the early seventeenth century engaged with ocular and optical motifs to question the sense of sight and its authority.

My corpus describes vision as indispensable to the observation and knowledge of the world, although the texts also expose the vulnerability of the sense of sight to error because of natural limitations or an inability to recognize the true form behind deceitful appearances. As such, they elucidate a crisis of knowledge and representation that characterizes the earlier decades of the seventeenth century. Based on the dynamics between the eye and visual aids as they appear in the scientific community, I identify two distinct visual modes in the literary texts, which correspond to the natural eye and the instrumentalized one, assisted and enhanced by a lens. The authors considered here, which include Béroalde de Verville, Traiano Boccalini, Agrippa d’Aubigné, and the writers involved in the polemics around Giambattista Marino’s L’Adone and Pierre Corneille’s Le Cid, present the two visual modes as existing in tension, which I define as “baroque vision.” The analyses of the literary texts demonstrate how the integration of lenses, be it through explicit references to optical devices or through more abstract portrayals that parallel the operations of the eye and the instrument, becomes emblematic of other concerns, from debates regarding discontent about dissimulation to discussions of poetic practice.
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Citable link to this page: http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:33493303
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