Enlightenment Utopias, Fall 2014

literary thought experiments of the 17th and 18th centuries

Analysis of Sample Article

by Stephen Spencer

Iyengar, Sujata. “Royalist, Romancist, Racialist: Rank, Gender, and Race in the Science and Fiction of Margaret Cavendish.” English Literary History 69.3 (Fall 2002): 649-672.

1) Consider the title of the article. Does it work well? Did it motivate you to read the article in the first place?

The title has obvious parallelism (Royalist <-> Rank, Romancist <-> Gender; Racialist <-> Race). It allowed me to immediately see how Iyengar was collecting her many ideas into categories (for example, Cavendish’s engagement with the romance genre is considered alongside her scientific theories of gender). It definitely motivated me to read because it made me feel as if I was going to learn a lot through things I already knew a little bit about (race and romance, for example).

2) How does the article begin and end? How does it introduce its fundamental argument? How much of the article is given over to the introduction? Conclusion?

The introduction is short-ish: two-and-a-half pages. It begins with an historical anecdote of the publication and revision of her Observations on Experimental Philosophy. I see Iyengar introducing her fundamental argument gradually, over the course of two paragraphs, through two or three strong claims. I’m not sure this article has a “conclusion” per se; it has a last section (the fourth), called simply “Blazing World” (Iyengar’s analysis of New Blazing World). But I would say the article begins to “conclude” at the third-to-last paragraph; so, about a page and a half are given over to the conclusion.

3) How does the article marshal evidentiary support and proof? Do you see any flaws in the argument? What aspects of the article render it convincing to you?

Iyegnar has organized the body of her essay into four sections: “Polygenesis and Scientific Racism,” “Observations of Color,” “Assaulted and Pursued Chastity,” and “Blazing World.” So, the evidence of the first two sections is largely cultural and intellectual-historical in nature. In section one, Iyengar investigates 17th century opinions concerning the origins of humanity and how this relates to skin color, as well as how this begins to lead to a paradigm that can explain the development of scientific racism. In the second section, Iyengar moves specifically to the observational scientific culture of the time, how they began to make inquiries into skin color, and how Cavendish responded to these practices. In the last two sections, her evidence becomes literary; she looks at the “romances” of Cavendish, including a play and her utopian narrative. One flaw in Iyengar’s article that I see is her insufficient tackling of the notion of species difference. She says that “species difference and heredity are out of place in a romance that accepts only the rules of Cartesian logic and timeless, endless, boundless ‘nature.'” What I would say, especially as it concerns New Blazing World, is that there is species difference, and it seems really important to Cavendish’s thinking. I get that Iyengar (at least in this section) is more concerned with Cavendish’s satirization of Descartes and his followers, but to bring it up and brush it off seems like a missed opportunity to me. An aspect of the article that convinces me greatly is her conceptualization of the three classes in New Blazing World. Iyengar says that its based on occupation and service, which opens up a lot of possibilities to put the text into dialogue with the development of capitalism, the emerging intellectualized bourgeoisie, etc.

4) Evaluate the style of the article. What makes it well written? What would you change if you could?

I would have like more sign-posting with regards to the various sections of  her article. Sometimes, I wasn’t sure how her four sections fit together, or, how they built off of each other (or if they necessarily did). My best guess is that sections 1-2 are socio-cultural-historical “context,” whereas 3-4 are “literary analyses.” I wanted her to explicitly state why she was discussing what she was discussing, and why she was changing topics of discussion. I think Iyengar does this better when she switches to literary analysis. Before discussing Assaulted and Pursued Chastity and Blazing World, she introduces how the context she speaks of informs her readings. This is particularly useful to me because I do want to fashion myself as a scholar/writer who is ultimately interested in literary representation (i.e. the literature, as literature, is the object of her study).

5) How would you describe the methodology of the article?

I would say Iyengar’s methodology is historical and literary. I would hone in on “historical” by saying she is mostly interested in history of ideas/intellectual history, as it manifests itself through philosophical writings and scientific texts. As it concerns the literary, Iyengar’s reading is critical within the historical context she provides. She reads the two works by Cavendish to show precisely how her literary writings exist to counterbalance her philosophical/scientific writings, as well as other writings of this kind in her era.

6) Is the article interdisciplinary in nature and/ or rooted within the specific discipline of English?

I would say it’s interdisciplinary to the extent that all English scholarship these days is, more or less, expected to be interdisciplinary. The “other” disciplines she looks at are history and philosophy, all within the purview of the humanities. Though one could argue that it’s interdisciplinary in its grappling with science, I would say it’s more about the history of science. So I guess I would classify this as a pretty standard species (ha) of English scholarship.

7) How does the article use/ draw on literary theory or philosophy? History?

I think I pretty much covered history and philosophy. As far as literary theory is concerned, I’m not sure I see any. Iyengar is building off of a large tradition of scholarship looking at race in the early modern period, which I would generally categorize as Foucauldian in its genealogical approach to race (what isn’t Foucauldian these days, though?).

8) How does the article use secondary sources/ work of other critics generally? How does it stake out new territory?  Are you convinced of its originality?

Iyengar tends to group her critics in her notes. She does bounce off of specific critics here and there (Rosemary Kegl and CARRIE HINTZ come to mind), but mostly, critical sources are presented as a tradition that, sometimes, get extensively noted (the note on early modern race studies is particularly staggering, as well as her recapitulation of Cavendish studies). I’m convinced of its originality to the extent that “original” connotes “new” (isn’t it more about “newness” than “originality,” as per the Belcher?). I think Iyengar is onto something new in situating Cavendish’s work alongside messier, scarier “modern” subjects like race and gender, but I’m not sure she pushes far enough. She still seems to really want to, I don’t know, excuse Cavendish’s literary work? So I would say it’s new to the extent of her synthesis of Cavendish with EM race studies, but maybe not so new in what she has to say about this synthesis of materials.

9) Anything else you’d like to say about the article?

I liked this article because I found it to be pretty well written (but not mind-blowingly so) and informative. It reminded me a bit of how I write: somewhat plainly, but with some flashes here and there, especially at the ends of paragraphs when I know the reader is looking for/expecting some kind of payoff. I also appreciate when articles have demarcated sections, even if I’m not sure how/why they fit together. It makes it easier to use (and skim).

Speciesism in The Blazing World

by Stephen Spencer

For my research project, I will be investigating the representation of animals in Cavendish’s New Blazing World. I’m thinking about this in two ways. First, there are the human-animal hybrids (bird-men, bear-men, fish-men, the list goes on), who are often made the butt of satirical jabs at experimental science (the poor bear-men, for example, whose microscopes are the object of the Empress’s lampooning). Second, there are horses, who the Empress observes in England with the Duchess, with great fascination. When she returns to the Blazing World, the Emperor has established a whole infrastructure for breeding horses. My motivating question, at the outset, is simple: why are horses a privileged animal in this text? Why are they not held to the same kind of animalistic representation (i.e. instruments of satire) that bears, fish, worms, etc. are?

The minimal amount of research that I’ve done suggests, simply, that Cavendish loved horses too much to consider them “animals” in the same way that maybe a fish, or a worm, is an animal. Her husband, William Newcastle, literally wrote the book on horses — A New Method and Extraordinary Invention to Dress Horses and Work them according to Nature… (thanks, Carrie!). I’ve only begun to skim the surface of this text (it’s pretty intense), but initially, I’m struck by a few things. First, William’s stable of horses, upon being observed by nobility in Antwerp during his exile from England during the Civil Wars, were deemed “Reasonable Creatures,” only in want of “Speaking.” This is an interesting take on the tradition in 17th century philosophy that did not consider animals to be in possession of rationality (as far as I know). Also, the horses are often categorized in terms of nationality (Spanish, English, Dutch horses), class (some horses are for princes, some for gentlemen), color, and what I’m calling right now “specialty” (leaping horses, race horses, war horses, etc.). I think my interest is in William’s taxonimization of horses — I want to put it in dialogue with Margaret’s taxonimation of humans (race, class, gender, etc.).

Of the English horse, William says the following:

“The English Horse is Less Wise than the Barb, Fearful and Skittish, for the most part; and Dogged and Rebellious to the Mannage, and not commonly so Apt to Learn: But those they call English Horses, are so Compounded of Horses of all Countries, that they always Participate something of their Sires; and so, that may somewhat alter the Case.” (58-59)

English horses are presented as somehow elect, curiously, because of their nationalistic hybridity. But, the payoff is not so noble; their elect status consists in the idea that, because of their hybridity, they are loyal to their “sire.” In short, their hybridity allows for them to be easily manage, servile. This allows them to be “useful” for all sorts of endeavors, whether it be pulling a cart or riding. I think it might be a stretch to map English horses on to English men/women (although I guess maybe one could — the English “race” as Roman, Anglo-Saxon, Germanic, French), but nevertheless, there’s a strong sense that horses have national identities, and that it shapes their phenotypic and genotypic makeup. I need to read more of this text, especially the bits about the other kinds of horses.

My early answer to the question, “why are horses not quite animals?” is that they have all sorts of use value. Unlike other animals in the animal kingdom (who, according to proto-science, succeeded each in one skill or art — think of spiders spinning webs, bees harvesting honey, etc.), horses can excel at manual labor, recreation, and warfare. I see a link between this idea of “specialization,” as it pertains to most animals (i.e. one animal, one skill) and horses (i.e. one animal, many skills). I can’t help but want to turn my focus to the human-animals, who, to me, are examples of the specialization of intellectual labor that comes along with experimental science. Is it prudent of us a society, I imagine Cavendish asking, to have a bunch of bear-men looking through microscopes, or worm-men digging through the earth, without having a larger kind of “knowledge” in mind? What will happen to intellectualism if we divvy it up into work, instead of treating it like a more humanistic tradition that necessitates a lot more reading? (late October as a grad student, the life of a bear-man suddenly seems appealing…)

Writing this has helped me to see that, perhaps, I am looking at a relationship between representations of animals and labor. I think this inquiry intersects with notions of class, race, and gender, but it’s very messy to me right now and I think the trick will be picking and choosing my spots, as opposed to talking about it all. I would appreciate any reactions or thoughts, as I fear my thinking might be a bit big at this point. Cheers!


Secondary Source for Isle of Pines

by Stephen Spencer

Carey, Daniel. “Henry Neville’s The Isle of Pines: From Sexual Utopia to Political Dystopia.” New Worlds Reflected: Travel and Utopia in the Early Modern Period. Chloe Houston, ed. Farnham: Ashgate Publishing Ltd., 2010. 203-218.

Like many readers of The Isle of Pines (both contemporary and modern), Carey is interested in discerning whether the text is a satire of polygamy and patriarchy, or, a utopian vision of an ideal society. To this effect, Carey finds political readings to be the most useful; as a response to seventeenth-century patriarchal political theory, the narrative of The Isle of Pines “expose[s] the inadequacy of patriarchy to the political requirements of the island’s burgeoning community” (206). Carey believes that Neville fills this gap, in a manner of speaking, thirteen years after the appearance of The Isle of Pines with Plato Redivivus, his own work of political theory. Looking at this text, he suggests, explains why The Isle of Pines turns from a seeming utopia into a dystopia.

The beginning of the text is utopian, Carey believes, but it is satirically so. The story of George Pine and his four wives, procreating in harmonious cooperation with the island’s sole man, “raises patriarchy to the level of fantasy” (208). It recalls the golden age, as described by Ovid in the Metamorphoses and later by Shakespeare in The Tempest. This fantasy dissipates as Henry Pine, the island’s second ruler, faces sexual anarchy and the new phenomenon of non-consensual sexual relations (211). In response, Henry lays down a series of laws based on Mosaic precedent, policing not only sexual activity, but social and religious activity as well. At the beginning of The Isle of Pines, sex is a satiric fantasy; by the end, sex causes chaos and, ultimately, the need for a strong ruler, strong to the extent that he wields the law.

Carey ends the article by turning to the question of the political. In his reading of Plato Redivivus, Carey highlights Neville’s negative view of monarchy, which, he believed, was likely a corruption of a more effective form of governance. Moral deprivation, then, results from weak governance, and it is not surprising that Carey concludes that The Isle of Pines is an intermediary text between monarchical and republican political organization (214). This explains why the Dutch serve as worshipers and saviors of William Pine, the island’s third sovereign. Anglo-Dutch relations slowly deteriorated throughout the seventeenth century, in part, because the Dutch revealed themselves to be royalists. Hence, it is not surprising to see the royalist Dutch supporting the island’s king (215-16). This reading, however, is not to support monarchy; indeed, Neville suggests that the insurrections occurring in William’s reign will be reoccurring nightmares.

Carey’s historical/political reading is strong and covers a lot of the same ground in the special issue we read for this week. Still, I feel there is more to the story. Carey sees the succession of power as causing weak governance and wanton sexuality, which Henry regulates through the Mosaic constitution. If we are looking for causal relationships between the text’s move from sexual harmony t0 sexual discord, from utopian fantasy to dystopian free-for-all, population growth is another big possibility. This plays into The Isle of Pine‘s engagement with discourses of “the natural.” Man is naturally depraved, William says, inclined to fall back to their passions and live in a state of warfare. This is bound to happen as the Pines, Englishes, Sparks, and Phils expand throughout the island. Carey is quite right to negate the racial reading of the text — that the descendants of Philippa (or, the mixed black/white race) are the cause of the island’s moral deprivation. Still, the text seems to harp on the Phils as the instigators of violence, both sexual and martial. If Neville was as committed to republicanism as Carey suggests, then notions of class become that much more important, given that a larger body of the citizenry would be relied upon to serve in political organization. A version of natural law, then, becomes tantamount to political stability — those who can control natural proclivities towards chaos will prove more effective. The Phils, the only family that is really “racialized” in this text, are shown as being recurrently prone to falling back to their animalistic nature. Neville’s version of republicanism, then, is still hierarchical — perhaps it merely substitutes race for patriarchy in its political theory.







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