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Title: Subtle engines : the poetics and politics of early modern machines
Author: Giersberg, Tullia
ISNI:       0000 0004 5368 3861
Awarding Body: King's College London
Current Institution: King's College London (University of London)
Date of Award: 2015
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Early modern machine culture bridges a gap between mechanical and rhetorical forms of wit – between technē and poiēsis or the sciences and the arts – and as such constitutes an important repository for our understanding of the period’s polysemous forms of literary production. This thesis uncovers and investigates some of the as-yet little examined textual lives of an eclectic array of instruments, engines, machines, and mechanisms in the works of Spenser, Jonson, Milton and their contemporaries, exploring the literary, political, and religious implications of mathematical instrument-making, the rise of the new science, and the advent of the mechanist philosophy. Both as metaphors and as rhetorical strategies, machines – and the narratives of cultural authority attaching to them – offer writers and inventors a means not only of intervening in public controversy, but also and especially of creating new and various forms of political agency. Mathematical instruments exert a particularly powerful influence on the political imagination of Tudor England, I argue in my first chapter. Throughout the period, the elaborate iconographies of globe and astrolabe in particular speak to us of the making – and expose the limits – of contemporary political fictions, surviving as extravagant records of personal and national ambition. For Edmund Spenser, contemporary machines and engines hold important potential as metapoetic devices. In The Faerie Queene, a number of ‘subtile engins’ closely allied with interrelated notions of linguistic and spiritual artifice serve to distance the poem’s moral allegory from the mechanisms of its own production, enabling Spenser to reflect upon and mediate the vexed politics of literary invention in post-Reformation England. Ben Jonson, meanwhile, conceives of machines as rhetorical strategies for 3 socio-political commentary. His unique and lasting interest in – and hostility towards – Cornelis Drebbel and the magico-mechanical marvels he introduced at the Jacobean court represents primarily a response to changing attitudes towards cultural authority during the early Stuart reign, precipitated by new technologies and ideas about the nature of invention on the one hand, and by the advent of Galilean astronomy and a number of spectacular visual technologies on the other. Early modern prosthetics and emergent visions of the Cartesian body-machine inaugurate surrogate kinds of textual agency in the political and religious polemics of the Civil War. In Royalist invective, historical, medical and proverbial attitudes towards prosthetic hands in particular serve to restore broken Royalist identities, sustain textual critiques of Parliamentarian rebellion, and ultimately enable the post-Restoration rewriting of the Interregnum as an artificial graft upon the nation’s body politic. At the same time, various existing and emergent notions of the early modern automaton give rise to a polemical counter-narrative in the political and religious prose of John Milton, who seeks to exert authorial control over the monarchy’s self-validating rhetorical mechanisms by implicating the Caroline state in the machine’s ontological determinacy. For him, as for the other writers I study, to uncover the rhetorical potential of machines is to (re)discover the animating power of the written word.
Supervisor: Crawforth, Hannah Jane ; Palmer, Patricia Ann Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available