Thanks for taking time to stop by my blog, Renaissance Matters. So here’s a little bit about me . . . I am a scholar, reader, writer, teacher, and general enthusiast about the European Renaissance, a.k.a the Early Modern period. In May 2010, I graduated with my doctorate in English Literature from Lehigh University, focusing my dissertation on the literary reaction to the Scientific Revolution. I currently have an article in the recent issue of Early English Studies (EES).
Also, keep an eye out for my forthcoming book through Palgrave Macmillan, Francis Bacon and the 17th-Century Intellectual Discourse, which is available for pre-order on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Borders .
For preview of the book, here is a version of Chapter 3, ” ‘Companions of my thoughts more green’: Damon’s Baconian Sexing of Nature” that appears in Early English Studies:
In her work as an ecofeminist critic, Carolyn Merchant has done much to promote a reassessment of the legacy of the Scientific Revolution. Her eminent study of the rise of the new science in seventeenth-century Europe, The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology, and the New Science (1980), reveals the tropological shift that authorized an aggressive treatment of the natural world. Transitioning from a mother-earth image towards the figurative realization of Nature as an erratic, sexualized female other, Merchant argues that the predominance of modern science was predicated on an exploitative and misogynist tropology: “Female imagery became a tool in adapting scientific knowledge and method to a new form of human power over nature.” Merchant constructs a counter-narrative of the Scientific Revolution promoted by historians of modern science. As Merchant articulates this debate in a recent article: “Whether the control of nature leads to human wealth and well-being for the few or to social and ecological decline for the many depends on the underlying assumptions of the narrative told by scholars.” Rather than a tale of human triumph, enlightenment, and prosperity, the new science, as Merchant suggests, came at the expense of “peoples throughout the world, for the environment, and for the laboring classes.”For Merchant, Francis Bacon is the key intellectual figure behind the grand narrative for the emerging scientific thought, in which the natural philosopher sexualizes Nature metaphorically to advance human prosperity and so return mankind to a prelapsarian dominance over the natural world. While her work has immense value for Baconian scholars, Merchant’s rereading of the Scientific Revolution also opens the door to the re-evaluation of other seventeenth-century literary production. With Merchant’s perspective as a foundation, I argue that Marvell’s pastoral protagonist, Damon, rejects Bacon’s sexualized narrative that undergirds the new science. Marvell was not necessarily thinking exclusively of Bacon in his depiction of Damon’s alienation from, and hostility towards, his natural surroundings; however, I see Marvell aligning with Bacon’s question as to whether humanity can recover Adamic mastery over Nature, figured as a feminine other available for sexual exploitation. Ultimately, however, Bacon and Marvel come to the opposite conclusions: while Bacon promises through the implementation of his scientific program that humanity will usher in an era of prelapsarian sovereignty, Marvell’s Damon, encountering his environment through a Baconian lens, destroys the meadows and himself. Rather than resulting in another Eden, Damon’s actions prefigure a second Fall. Demonstrating the anguish and destruction that Damon experiences by adopting this Baconian perspective, Marvell resists the narrative of the Scientific Revolution that will predominate in the seventeenth-century.
Prior to exploring the relevance that Baconianism has for understanding Damon’s tragedy and its epistemological significance, it is necessary to unpack Bacon’s tale of human intellectual advancement that will come with the new science. In creating this narrative, Bacon realizes his contemporary historical moment as a break from the morass of classical learning, which he suggests to be the youth of humanity’s intellectual development. This rejection of youth becomes a predominant theme for Bacon. In “Of Youth and Old Age,” Bacon expresses an anxiety over the youth of the mind that has “much heat, and great and violent desires and perturbations, are not ripe for action till they have passed the meridian of their years.” Throughout Novum Organum (1620), Bacon’s foundational scientific treatise, there is a sustained distrust of youth. In essence, Bacon’s scientific program looks to curb the instinctual habit of the immature mind “to leap and fly from particulars to remote and nearly the most general axioms (such as the so-called first principles of arts and of things).”Bacon portrays his renewal or “instauration” of learning as the transitioning from a young, impetuous mindset to a more disciplined one. In Temporis partus masculus (The Masculine Birth of Time), presumably written in 1603 but never published, the guide admonishes his student that he should not feel ready yet to explore Nature without his guidance: “But, my son, if I should ask you to grapple immediately with the bewildering complexities of experimental science before your mind has been purged of its idols, beyond a peradventure you would promptly desert your leader.”Without his elderly instructor, the youthful student would succumb to the “idols of the road.” Bacon reiterates again and again his conception of youth not as a privileged time of innocence and intellectual/spiritual clarity but a perilous moment through which one must be carefully mentored.
Bacon’s apprehension of youth becomes a pivotal facet of the tropology of his instauration. Intellectual maturation for Bacon will paradoxically restore humanity to its original authority over Nature, a point I find Marvell challenging through Damon’s pastoral journey. As Bacon envisions the future path of human learning, the transition from a pre-modern, allegorical worldview to a modern scientifically-based mode of learning parallels the sexual maturation of the male youth. For Bacon, mankind may reclaim Edenic mastery over Nature once it has abandoned its intellectual childhood. This mental transition or maturation entails the imperative to sexualize Nature, to perceive the relationship between humanity and Nature as one in which the latter is subject to sexual domination by the former. Merchant identifies as Bacon’s significant contribution to modern scientific thought the development of a language that “reduc[ed] female nature to a resource for economic production.”For Bacon, only when the encounter with Nature is read through the metaphor of sexual reproduction can humanity hope to formulate the type of knowledge “so that the mind can exercise its rightful authority over the nature of things.”For Bacon, when learning enters into its sexually mature adulthood, humanity will prosper and enjoy a return to an Edenic state. . . Read More