imagining the unimaginable.
The Poetics of Early Modern Astronomy.
BEZZOLA LAMBERT, Ladina
Amsterdam/New York, NY, 2002, IX, 182 pp.
Internationale Forschungen zur Allgemeinen und Vergleichenden Literaturwissenschaft 58
“Lambert’s impressive book is certain to greatly influence later studies of early modern science. Her methodology and careful attention to rhetorical figures contribute to a more complete understanding of this important period in science history.”
Revue d’Histoire des Sciences, No.25, Vol.12, 2005
“…rich in detail and […] very useful…”
The British Journal for the History of Science, Vol.38, No.1, March 2005, p.105-6.
How is it possible to imagine what is unknown and therefore unimaginable? How can the unimaginable be represented? On what materials do such representations rely? These questions lie at the heart of this book.
Copernican theory redefined the role and importance of the imagination even as it implied the moment of its crisis. Based on this claim, Ladina Bezzola Lambert analyzes seventeenth-century astronomical texts – particularly descriptions of the moon and treatises written in support of the theory of the plurality of worlds – to show how early modern astronomers questioned the role of the imagination as a tool to visualize the unknown, but also how, pressed by the need to support their theories with convincing descriptions of other potential worlds, they sought to overcome the limitations of the imagination with a sophisticated rhetoric and techniques more commonly associated with poetic writing. The limitations of the imagination are at once a problem that all of the texts discussed struggle with and their recurrent theme.
In the first and last chapter, the focus shifts to a more explicitly literary context: Ariosto’s Orlando furioso and the work of Italo Calvino. The change of focus from science to literature and from the narratives of the past to contemporary ones serves to emphasize that the issues relating to the imagination, its limitations and creative means, are basically the same both in science and literature and that they are still relevant today.
Table of Contents:
1 How Metaphors Matter: Astolfo’s Lunar Journey in the Orlando furioso
2 Images Proposed in Jest: Galileo’s Sidereus nuncius and the Dialogue
3 The Stuff that Dreams are Made of: Kepler’s Somnium
4 Worlds of Words: Cyrano de Bergerac’s Lune and Soleil
5 Metaphors as Systems of Thought: Fontenelle, Cyrano, Wilkins and Huygens
6 Representing the Unimaginability of the Imaginable: Italo Calvino’s Castello dei destini incrociati and Le città invisibili