Daston and Park 1998

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"In placing wonder and wonders at the center of our narrative, we have had to challenge the traditional historiography of science and philosophy in fundamental ways. Most obviously, we have let go of not only the usual periodization, which divorces the medieval from the early modern study of nature, but also the much more basic ideas of distinct stages, water-sheds, new beginnings, and punctual or decisive change. These narrative conventions, imported into intellectual histoey from 18th- and 19th-century political historiography, only distort the nonlinear and nonprogressive cultural phenomena we describe. For the most part our story is not punctuated by clearly distinguished epistemes or turning points, but is instead undulatory, continuous, sometimes cyclical." (17)

The Topography of Wonder

Gervase of Tilbury, Otia imperialia (ca. 1210)

  • wonders come from novelty and ignorance of cause (23)
  • paradoxography

periphery of the circular world -- more marvels (e.g. East)

language of wonders links to language of romances (33)

marvels were not necessarily threatening or an expression of anxiety; too far away

"At their most transgressive, they served to satirize courtly and aristocratic culture or to figure a fantasy realm of freedom from the sexual restrictions and pervasive poverty of European culture. The wonders of the East had overwhelmingly positive associations; liberating precisely on account of their geographical marginality -- unlike, say, the real and proximate difference represented by a resident Jewish population -- they were viewed with a relatively benign and tolerant eye." (34)

goose barnacle tree, lamb cabbage: 35-6

wonder and religion: Augustine, Vincent of Beauvais, Thomas of Cantimpre use marvels to show God's omnipotence; wonder as a religious emotion (43ff.)

  • "The Augustinian framework of the thirteenth-century encyclopedias fell away as their audience expanded and shifted to include lay and vernacular readers. In the process, the marvelous natural phenomena they contained shed their vestigial associations with the fear of divine retribution, to emerge as objects of unadulterated pleasure and fascination." (48)

extraordinary species vs. extraordinary individuals (monsters)

  • many monsters were only prodigious signifiers, and therefore died after birth according to Isidore (53)

credibility: opened space for imaginative exploration rather than exacting belief; different medieval models for belief (60ff.)

  • monsters and prodigious births, though, had to be entirely credible if they were to portend anything

The Properties of Things

"wonders were also commodities: to be bartered, bought, sold, collected, and sometimes literally consumed" (67)

"Medieval collections bore little resemblance to early modern or modern museums. They functioned as repositories of wealth and of magical and symbolic power rather than as microcosms, sites of study, or places where the wonders of art and nature were displayed for the enjoyment of their proprietors and the edification of scholars and amateurs." (68)
"The medieval collection, in other words, was not a musaeum but a thesaurus ("treasure" -- the term most commonly used to refer to it) in the sense of a repository of economic and spiritual capital." (74); treated as monetary reserve, like gold or gems

also reservoirs of power, not just symbolic but literal/supernatural (74); mostly institutional collections until later middle ages

marvels of automata: 89ff.

Wonder Among the Philosophers

"academic natural philosophers interpreted wonder as the usual response not only to the rare and unfamiliar, but also to the phenomenon of unknown cause ... [they] rejected wonder as inappropriate to a philosopher" (110)
  • instead saw natural order as imbued with "habits" or "rules"
  • wonders as praeter naturam -- i.e. the "preternatural" (see 121)

Augustine portrayed curiosity as a form of incontinence that scattered the body's energies (123)

Ramon Llull, Llibre de meravelles (c.1310); story of Felix sent to explore the world by his father; found explanations, but they never dispel his wonder, which is rooted in Augustinian reverence for creation (125)

Marvellous Particulars

"preternatural philosophy": "rehearsed new empirical methods of inquiry and new types of physical explanation" (137)

healing waters (138ff.)

Ulisse Aldrovandi, describing his collection in 1595:

"Today in my microcosm, you can see more than 18,000 different things, among which 7000 plants in fifteen volumes, dried and pasted, 3000 of which I had painted as if alive. The rest -- animals terrestrial, aerial and aquatic, and other subterranean things such as earths, petrified sap, stones, marbles, rocks and metals -- amount to as many pieces again. I have had paintings made of a further 5000 natural objects -- such as plants, various sorts of animals, and stones -- some of which have been made into woodcuts. These can be seen in fourteen cupboards, which I call the Pinacotheca. I also have sixty-six armoires, divided into 4500 pigeonholes, where there are 7000 things from beneath the earth, together with various fruits, gums, and other very beautiful things from the Indies, marked with their names, so that they can be found." (Aldrovandi, qtd on 154)

Francesco Calzolari of Verona collected similarly

Johannes Kentmann, Nomenclatura rerum fossilium (1565); Calculorum qui in corpore ac membris hominum innascuntur (1565)

  • early colelctor of rocks and stones
  • kept them in an armoire divided into 26 categories

collections served many purposes

  • "places for research, where medical scholars could study the range of variation possible in human and animal anatomy, or where they could explore the healing properties of natural substances"
  • "operated as tools in professional and social self-fashioning, allowing their proprietors to build reputations, careers, and networks of clients and patrons through visits and the exchange of objects as wella s through their written works"
  • to transfer the emotion of wonder from the objects themselves to their erudite and discriminating owner" (158)

Giambattista della Porta, Phytognomonica (1588); relationship between plants' "signatures" and what governs them

Cardano, "subtlety"

Monsters: A Case Study

evolution of c16-17 attitudes as one of naturalization as monsters become sites of scientific inquiry;

  • reject that teleological model;
  • example of monsters as portentious in late c17, and proponents of rationalization in medieval era (176)
"Instead of three successive stages, we now see three separate complexes of interpretations and associated emotions -- horror, pleasure, and repugnance -- which overlapped and coexisted during much of the early modern period, although each had its own rhythm and dynamic." (176)
"Earlier, learned treatises offering ominous interpretations o mosnters had flourished alongside those that furnished strictly natural explanations. But by the 1670s theologians as well as physicians and natural philosophers increasingly rejected portents as politically and religiously volatile. It is this emergent unison among elites, rather than a coherent and novel movement to naturalize monsters and other prodigies, that requires explanation." (176)

Ravenna monster -- composite of sins, like memory palaces (178)

Lycosthenes (183)

printing made an avalanche of new material/prodigies available; seemed like a final reckoning; Lycosthenes even included 18 blank pages at the end of his 1552 edition o Julius Obsequens's c4 book on prodigies, "so that readers could register portents as they occurred" (187)

natural and supernatural, first and second causes, not mutually exclusive in early modern period (192)

James Duplessis, A Short History of Human Prodigious and Monstrous Births (1680)

  • manuscript
  • was Samuel Pepys' servant; sold his mss. and memoirs to Royal Society president Hans Sloane in 1730
  • contains image of hermaphrodite with flap

Leibniz saw monsters as evidence of Nature's diversity (201)

Varchi; earliest repugnance toward monstrous births (202)

c18: begin to see frenzy for attaching form to function; anatomies of monsters (204)

"The essence of the new attitudes toward nature among natural philosophers was not so much naturalization as subordination: the subordination of anomalies to watertight natural laws, or nature to God, and of citizens and Christians to established authority." (208)

Strange Facts

c17 collecting; becomes "curiosities"; diverse group socially and economically

"We argue that marvels played a brief but key role in forging a new category of scientific experience: the fact detached from explanation, illustration, or inference." (220)

Francis Bacon -- owes much to preternatural philosophy; wanted to look not just at the perfection of nature, but attested accounts of witchcraft, divination, and sorcery (222); this would 1) "correct natural philosophical axioms derived only from commonplace phenomena" and 2) "pave the way for innovations in the mechanical arts" (222)

for Bacon, art is nature under constraint ;"Nature under the compulsion of art resembled nature erring in the variability of ffects visible in both cases, revealing possibilities hardly glimpsed under ordinary conditions. When nature wandered from its wonted paths without the prodding of art, the marvels thereby produced mimicked the variability induced by art -- or rather, marvels were proto-art, naturing anticipating art" (222-3)

  • similar instances: resemblances of form
  • singular instances: exceptional species within a genus
  • deviating instances: marvelous individuals
  • bordering instances combined two species
  • instances of power: wonders of art (225)
"The function of the preternatural cluster was as much destructive as constructive: marvels would be the battering ram that broke down the axioms of Aristotelian natural philosophy and would clear the way for the new axioms of Bacon's interpretation of nature. A mind awakened by wonders would reject syllogisms based solely on the familiar and the commonplace." (227)

however, whereas preternatural philosophy looks for proximate causes, Bacon wants to look to deeper common causes that govern even the exceptions (227)

late seventeenth century's appetite for "strange facts" shows "much of what was distinctive about 17c scientific empiricism, particularly the collective empiricism promoted by the new scientific academies of the late seventeenth century" (236)

"The strange facts of the 17c natural philosophy were the Ur-facts, the prototypes of the very category of the factual. Strange facts defined many (though not all) of the traits that have been the hallmarks of facticity ever since: the notorious stubbornness of facts, inert and even resistant to interpretation and theory; their angular, fragmentary quality; their affinity with concrete things, rather than with relationships. The disparity between strange facts and modern matter-of-fact facts is equally revealing: strange facts were anything but robust, seldom public, and too singular to be amalgamated into sums or tallied in tables. The strange facts of early modern natural philosophy show that scientific facticity has a history, one that begins but by no means ends in the 17c." (236)
"What chiefly distinguished the new empiricism of facts from the old empiricism of experience aws not experiment but the sharp distinction between a datum of experience, experimental or observational, and any inference drawn from it. The distinction between explanandum and explanans -- hoti and dioti -- was as old as Aristotle, but the epistemological autonomy and centrality of matters of fact in 17c natural philosophy was unprecedented." (237)

17c facts neither certain nor robust (238); strange facts were "rare and came unbidden," making them hard to study

sociality of strange facts -- were investigated "as a collective" (241) "in order to cool down the more hot-tempered natural philosophers and to protect the fragile sociability that made collective inquiry feasible and fruitful, academicians came to show a distinct preference for facts rather than explanations and theories as the subject matter of their discussions" (242) -- "collective empirical research would rein in individual theoretical ambitions" (243)

"Strange facts were stubborn unto obduracy, challenging not just this or that theory but flying in the face of all theories. Their opacity in the fact of interpretation, natural philosophical as well as religious, splintered accounts into fragments, blocking all narrative connections of significance or sense. The accounts asked where and when and whom, but no longer why there, why then, why them (the queries posed to portents), or even the natural philosophical how. Strange facts were the prototypical facts because they were the most inert they were impartial among competing systems and theories because equally immiscible with all of them." (244)
"Natural philosophy was sociable because it had become collaborative, and it had become collaborative not only because it had become factual, but also because no Maecenas had appeared to foot the bills for assistants and equipment." (245-6)
"These new evidentiary criteria signaled a new metaphysics that favored nature's regularities over its variability, as well as a new epistemology that feared the acceptance of the false more than the exclusion of the true." (252)

Wonders of Art, Wonders of Nature

Wunderkammer of King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden, constructed under direction of Augsburg merchant and collector Philipp Hainhofer

cabinets stocked with items "that drew nature and art together in mutual emulation"; "a personification of nature as an elevated kind of artisan" (261)

Aristotelian tradition opposed art and nature, because art couldn't generate; artifacts "lack ontological identity, or 'natures'" -- "no essence of either form or matter stamps them as what they are; they are therefore necessarily posterior to and parasitic upon natural objects" (264)

  • this opposition maintained into 17c

collections as "theaters in which old and new relationships between art and nature played off against one another, symbolized in the objects and their physical arrangement" (265)

published guides instructed visitors; see Witkam, Catalogues of All the Chiefest Rarities in the Publick Anatomie Hall of the University of Leyden and Balsiger, The Kunst- und Wunderkammern

princes' collections "shared at least one important function, namely to display the prince's mgnificence and taste before foreign dignitaries and potentates" (266)

scholars' collections, "their ostentation tended to be that of learning rather than of wealth" (267) -- "a thin line between pharmaceuticals and rarities such as unicorn horns and bezoars" (267)

diversity of collection: "The actual physical arrangement of many collectiosn (in contrast to the more systematic classifications of catalogues and inventories) was often calculated to highlight this heterogeneity." (267)

  • encyclopedism; "'encylopedism' pays tribute to the ampleness of the collections, which embraced so many and such wildly contrasting objects; it draws textual support from a few contemporary visions of the Wunderkammer as a microcosm of the universe, notably Flemish physician Samuel Quicchelberg's treatise on an ideal museum, which is to be organized as a'universal theater'" (272)
  • even as they can be described as encyclopedic, the wunderkammern differ greately from, e.g., Gesner's Historia animalium
"Early modern accounts of museums occasionally use the word 'microcosm,' but in a special sense. The museumw as not intended to represent the entire macrocosm in miniature, but rather, as French physician Pierre Borel had inscribed over the door of his own cabinet, 'it is a microcosm or Compendium of all rare strange things'" (272)
    • Nehemiah Grew tried to make his catalogue of the Repository of the Royal Society encyclopedic, including things common (not just marvelous or rare) -- but this was itself rare (272)
"The strategy of display piled one exception upon another, provocatively subverting or straddling the boundaries of familiar categories. ... Not only did individual objects subvert commonplaces or shatter categories; from every nook and cranny uncontable rarities clamored simultaneously for attention. The cabinets paid visual tribute to the variety and plenitude of nature, albeit very partially sampled. Stuffed with singularities, they astonished by copiousness as well as by odity. Collectors did not savor paradoxes and surprises, they piled them high in overflowing cupboards and hung them from the walls and ceilings. The wonder they aimed at by the profusion of these heterogeneous particulars was neither contemplatives nor inquiring, but rather dumbstruck." (273)

cabinet objects blurred boundary between art/nature (e.g. carved ivory, jewel-encrusted shells); those objects that could be classified tended to mimic the other category: art imitating nature (automata, trompe l'oeil), nature imitating art (figured stones and plants)

  • differed from natural history images; "whereas most natural history images aimed for an idealized representation that could stand in for an entire species, the cabinet images tended to capture all the idiosyncracies of a particular specimen, especially if the specimen was a marvel and therefore sui generis" (285)

Palissy, grotto made entirely of ceramic casts of plants/animals, made to look just like nature

Bacon: marvels show nature's nearest approach to art, give clues to usefulnesss

Descartes: automata show all nature is mechanical

Boyle: nature is a "notational entity"; all is inspired by God, divine labor -- nature as artifact of God; entire world as automata full of nested automata; "automata eliminated the need for servants, in particular one who might rival the deity, and at the same time kept God's hands free of demeaning labor." (298)

Cudworth, More, Leibniz: dissatisfied with mechanical explanation, saw nature as partially ensouled

The Passions of Inquiry

"intricate minuet of wonder and curiosity" during early modern period

  • separate during medieval period [wholesome wonder vs. morbid curiosity, patristic writers]
  • converged at end of 17c
  • separated again by 1750

three parts: "first, the 17c transformation of curiosity from a species of lust to one of greed, which had important consequences for the preferred objects of curiosity; second, the mid-17c convergence of wonder and curiosity into a psychology of natural philosophical inquiry; and third, the divergence of curiosity and wonder in the first half of the 18c, when wonder was demoted from premiere philosophical passion to its very opposite, and once-frivolous curiosity took on the virtuous trappings of hard word" (305)

Hobbes: curiosity distinguishes man from beast; curiosity is inatiable, never quenched, keeps man moving/thinking/alive

The Enlightenment and the Anti-marvelous

suspicion of enthusiasm; coupling of wonder and fear

marvelous objects as illusions

anti-marvelous aesthetic of nature -- uniformity and regularity was equivalent with beauty (358)

Counter-Enlightenment wistful nostalgia for age of wonders, snuffed out by age of reason; "this persistent tradition has greatly distorted the historical understanding of wonder as both passion and object. Its nostalgia ... is rooted in an image of Enlightenment as the cultural and intellectual analogue of the transition from childhood to adulthood." (360-1)