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The Curious EyeOptics and Imaginative Literature in Seventeenth-Century England$
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Erin Webster

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9780198850199

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: April 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198850199.001.0001

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(p.1) Introduction
The Curious Eye

Erin Webster

Oxford University Press

This chapter introduces the study by providing an overview of the epistemological, ethical, social, and political issues surrounding the subject of technologically mediated vision in early modern England. It lays out the key optical developments of the period, including the invention of the telescope and the microscope, and provides a brief synopsis of Johannes Kepler’s theory of the retinal image, which over the course of the seventeenth century gradually came to replace older, species-based models of vision. This context having been established, the introduction describes the general contours of the debate surrounding the efficacy and ethics of optical technology in the seventeenth century and identifies and introduces the major works to be discussed in subsequent chapters. It closes with an explanation of the study’s methodological approach, which is to read the texts it includes not only as being about optical devices but also as acting as optical devices—literary lenses that can be used to reveal the hidden motivations, assumptions, and desires present within their words.

Keywords:   optics, visual theory, figuration, analogy, experimental philosophy, early modern literature

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