Minds in Motion: Imagining Empiricism in Eighteenth-Century British Travel Literature - Transits: Literature, Thought & Culture, 1650-1850 (Hardback)
  • Minds in Motion: Imagining Empiricism in Eighteenth-Century British Travel Literature - Transits: Literature, Thought & Culture, 1650-1850 (Hardback)
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Minds in Motion: Imagining Empiricism in Eighteenth-Century British Travel Literature - Transits: Literature, Thought & Culture, 1650-1850 (Hardback)

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Hardback 286 Pages / Published: 31/08/2017
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The central claim of Minds in Motion is that British travel writing of the long eighteenth century functions as an epistemological playing field where authors test empiricist models of engagement with the world while simultaneously seeking out the role of the self and the imagination in producing knowledge. Whether exploring the relationship between the senses and the mind, the narrative viability of experimental detachment, or the literary dynamics of virtual witnessing, eighteenth-century travel authors persistently confront their positionality and raise difficult questions about the nature and value of first-hand experience. In one way or another, they also complicate empiricist ideals by exploring the limits of individual perception and the role of the imagination in generating and relating knowledge. While the genre is often viewed as either numbingly documentary or non-literary and commercial, travel literature actually operates at the front line of the period's intellectual developments, illustrating both how individual writers grapple with philosophical ideals and how these ideals filter into the lives of ordinary people. Indeed, travel literature directly engages the scientific and philosophical concerns of the period, while it is also widely, avidly read; as such, it offers models for cognitive and rhetorical practices that are evaluated and either embraced or rejected by readers (in a process of identification not unlike that which occurs in early English fiction). Moreover, because eighteenth-century travel literature is so crucial to the development of so many fields-from botany to the novel-it illustrates vividly the divisive energies of discipline and genre formation while also archiving the shared aims and methods of what will become discrete fields of study. Travelogues as diverse as Margaret Cavendish's Blazing World (1666) and Samuel Johnson's Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland (1775) reveal the epistemological circuitry of the eighteenth century and historicize the absorption of the philosophical tendencies that have come to define modernity.

Publisher: Bucknell University Press
ISBN: 9781611488272
Number of pages: 286
Weight: 631 g
Dimensions: 239 x 156 x 24 mm


MEDIA REVIEWS
In a series of compelling case studies, Thell shows authors of travel narratives repeatedly encountering the central problem of any empirical project: how to relay a personal, particular experience in a way that renders it public and universal, how to invent knowledge that can exist outside the viewpoint of the knower. The standard theoretical resource for work of this stamp is Bruno Latour's Actor-Network Theory. . . [But] Thell's resource is more surprising; she locates the invention of the scientific observer in the authorial voice of travel narratives. . . . Travel narratives therefore relied on a double act of imagination. They afforded their readers the delight of imagining strange new worlds -- the typical imagination-work we associate with literature. . . . But travel narratives also manufactured a new kind of witness, the rational observer necessary to science, humanism, and progress. Taken as a genre, travel narrative literally imagines that person into being. This is the second, and more magnificent, variety of imagination work: the one that involves a profound personal transformation. From this mixed melange of hack authors and opportunists, aristocrats and idle travelers, editors and fabulists, a new species of person was born.--Los Angeles Review of Books
Throughout this stimulating volume, Thell. . . is impressively attuned to her chosen texts' original historical and philosophical contexts, whilst also demonstrating sophisticated knowledge of recent scholarship across a range of debates and issues. [This book, ] accordingly, open[s] up interesting new perspectives on travel writing across the long eighteenth century, and greatly advance our understanding of key debates associated with travel and travellers in this period.--Studies in Travel Writing
Drawing on a rich archive of eighteenth-century travel writing, Thell makes the point that British travel writers of this period used their works to figure out and articulate how the mind operates as it processes the world. . . . Thell's meticulousness is reflected in her consistently rigorous use of evidence, which makes her book valuable not only for its insightful take on empiricism, but also for its fascinating readings of well-known texts. To use a convenient example, Johnson's Journey has received much scholarly attention, but Thell still manages to teach her readers to encounter it anew. . . . Minds in Motion will appeal to scholars interested in the intersections between literature and science as well as those intrigued by the exciting new forms that scholarly writing can take. As a reader, I was most struck by how Thell constantly invites her readers to visualize the act of reading through the viewing of realist paintings. Defoe's concept of immersive reading, for instance, is illustrated with a visual analysis of Johannes Vermeer's The Geographer (1669), and the rest of the book is punctuated by portraits of the traveller-writers whom Thell examines, to show how they are often lost in thought. . . . Minds in Motion is a memorable and tightly argued book that is an important contribution to the field.--Eighteenth-Century Fiction
In Minds in Motion: Imagining Empiricism in Eighteenth-Century British Travel Literature, Thell compellingly connects travel literature, the imagination, and the concept of motion. The introduction is lovely, with what I always consider a hallmark of Real Work: a sense of discovery, of almost startled pleasure, a let me share this with you! . . . This is a book about the literary forms that scientific contexts take; it made me think more literally about the 'vehicle' in tenor/vehicle. . . . my personal favorite takeaway was the skillful close readings and prosodic analyses. A memorable book.--SEL: Studies in English Literature 1500-1900
As Anne M. Thell puts it in the introduction to her fine book on empiricism and eighteenth-century travel writing, Minds in Motion excavates the 'prehistory of objectivity that predates the term itself, which does not take on its modern form until the early nineteenth century' (10). While other scholars have described the gradual separation of the realms of the aesthetic and the scientific in the early modern period, Thell pays attention to the ways in which the two were nonetheless hopelessly entangled with each other, perhaps nowhere more so than in the popular genre of travel writing. . . . Minds in Motion is a well-written book that offers an important intervention in studies of travel writing, the history of science, and the prehistory of fiction. The book has its own capacity to travel and drive knowledge across disciplinary borders: it will be of interest to scholars and students of these subjects working outside as well as within literary studies, outside as well as within British studies, and outside as well as within the eighteenth century.--Digital Defoe

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