Boyle, Jen E., Anamorphosis in Early Modern Literature: Mediation and Affect.
Jen E. Boyle examines 'the "double" action of the anamorphic experience' (p. 4) in early modern literature and techno-science. Her brief review of Jacques Lacan's interpretation of Hans Holbein's The Ambassadors emphasizes her preoccupation with a double perspective. What Boyle touches upon in her monograph but fails to state explicitly is that the viewer's gaze is mediated by the Lacanian stain, represented by the flattened skull. The stain is important because the main portrait and the skull are incompatible. It represents an intermediary third perspective over which the main portrait has mastery.
However, Chapter 1 defines anamorphosis as Epicurean interplay between a living and imagined experience. Boyle then examines the Camera Obscura, and what Jean Leurechon terms the hole through which images are projected. Boyle recognizes that the hole 'serves as a kind of anamorphic "skull" or shadow', but does not make the connection with the Lacanian stain (p. 31). The chapter continues with an analysis of Lucy Hutchinson's translation of Lucretius's De rerum natura. Boyle finds 'anamorphic energy' in the 'binary forms' of Hutchinson's poetic explanation of simulacra (p. 37). Gendered bodies are half-remembered metaphoric objects that continually change shape and form. Continuing the body theme, Boyle examines the two frontispieces that were created for Thomas Hobbes's Leviathan, noticing in the fair copy an anamorphic image. The crucial difference from the actual frontispiece is that the faces on the monarch's body peer out at the viewer. They represent Lucretius's simulacra that reproduce the monarch's symbolic power.
The image of Charles I that is displayed in the Eikon Basilike begins Chapter 2. These celebrity-like portraits are criticized in John Milton's Eikonoklastes. Boyle connects Milton's concerns over the idolatrous worship of the king's image with how a monarch's power is redistributed throughout his kingdom. Her discussion leads to the anamorphic representation of landscape and perspective in Paradise Lost. The Garden of Eden is analysed in conjunction with how seventeenth-century gardens are mapped and cultivated. Boyle then argues how the intervention of Galileo's telescope in the epic poem mediates between Satan's shield and the hills of Fiesole in which neither perspective is privileged.
The next chapter focuses on Margaret Cavendish's Observations Upon Experimental Philosophy and The Blazing World. Boyle argues that both works in their own ways create a double perception. In Observations, Cavendish creates fictional alternatives to established scientific theories that Boyle defines as 'anamorphic allegories and embodiments' (p. 82). The Blazing World provides a similar reading by combining 'experimental science with allegorical romance' to create a science fiction utopia (p. 88).
Chapter 4 returns to Paradise Lost particularly 'Eve's double role as empiricist and alchemist' in the Garden of Eden (p. 99). Interestingly, when Michael is showing Adam the results of the Fall, Eve's role is restricted to her deceptive imaginings of the garden that are 'now the disembodied stain of Hobbes's phantasms and geometrical motion' (p. 99). Boyle's implicit recognition of an anamorphic stain could have led to further discussion. Instead, the chapter turns to the equally fascinating topic of narrative and virtual reality and its connection to Milton's allegory concerning the characters Satan, Sin, and Death.
Chapter 4 reads Daniel Defoe's books Robinson Crusoe and A Journal of the Plague Year in terms of space that is 'resistant to domination and control' (p. 118). Robinson Crusoe's discovery of a footprint, and then Friday, challenges his presumed mastery of the island, and how it should be mapped. With A Journal of the Plague Year, Boyle analyses the relationship between contained space and bodies both living and dead. The narrator's scientific tables of how the plague has affected the contained poor areas indicate the restrictions imposed by privileged space.
The last chapter continues the analysis of A Journal of the Plague Year by using mirror neurons as a literary tool. Boyle argues persuasively that mirror neurons do not represent scientific progress, but update 'past theories of mediation' (p. 140). In Defoe's book, the phantasms seen by the poor people, affected either physically or mentally by the plague, are reproduced indefinitely. In the same way that mirror neurons recognize that images are both real and virtual, Boyle affirms that the ghostly apparitions represent the living dead.
Boyle's rigorously intellectual and well-researched work will appeal to readers interested in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century literature and techno-science. It is also a perfect example of a monograph that every humanities PhD student should study.
The School of English, Sociology, Politics & Contemporary History, University of Salford
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|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jul 1, 2011|
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