- Hardcover: 512 pages
- Publisher: Zone Books (May 8, 1998)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0942299906
- ISBN-13: 978-0942299908
- Product Dimensions: 7.1 x 1.5 x 11 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2.9 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,990,414 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Wonders and the Order of Nature, 1150-1750
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From Kirkus Reviews
Historians of science Daston (Harvard) and Park's (Max Planck Inst.) sweeping investigation into the place of wonder and wonders in natural philosophy and history--from the High Middle Ages to the Enlightenment--is dense with erudition and pleasingly light on its scholarly feet. The era covered here starts with the gathering abundance of travel narratives and bestiaries and lapidaries, and goes through the ontological gerrymanderings of Bacon, Newton, and Descartes. It was during the 12th century, Daston and Park make abundantly clear, when early travel narratives and encyclopedias spread the word of strange and wondrous things to be found in the outlands, that unfamiliar objects and counterintuitive phenomena--visceral and vertiginous--began to hover at the edge of scientific inquiry, defining borders, goading further study. And for the next six centuries, except for a few moments of ridicule and rejection, wonders were embraced by natural philosophers and historians as sources of pleasure and delight, as wellsprings for curiosity; treasured by royalty and the court as unmediated contacts with another world, possession of which meant one was noble and cultivated, as rare and marvelous as the objects themselves. The authors situate wonders in the circular mental map of medieval geography, which had the wildest of the wilds at the margins and the Mediterranean at the center. They also detail the contexts that set the tone for the reception wonders had from the powers that were--the court, the Christian religious orders, the universities. That reception modulated between adulation and disdain as first rational explanation and then the search for universals, regularity, and causal knowledge took hold in a world that now took its cues from the secular and the empirical. An informed and original look at the role of wonder during a time when there was a whole lot to wonder about. (114 b&w illustrations, not seen) -- Copyright ©1998, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
"...dense with erudition and pleasingly light on its scholarly feet." Kirkus Review
"Historians of science Daston and Park's sweeping investigation into theplace of wonder and wonders in natural philosophy and history—fromthe High Middle Ages to the Enlightenment—is dense with eruditionand pleasingly light on its scholarly feet." Kirkus Review
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Top customer reviews
What is the difference between what is natural, what is supernatural and what is preternatural? Lorraine Daston and Katherine Park trace the history of how these three concepts changed from the Middle Ages to the Middle of the 18th century. In addition they trace the evolution of wonders and how through the politics of mechanistic science and the Protestant Reformation wonder was ignored, demonized or marginalized as part of the general attack on magic in the 17th and 18th centuries. The book includes about 70 pages of footnotes which alone are the worth the price of admission. Extensive bibliography to boot! These gals have a rare gift of being academically rigorous, yet the book is written for the educated lay person. I’ve read three of Lorraine Daston’s books all of which are 400 pages and I’d read anything she has written. In fact, when my partner and I are reading in the evening she asks me if I am now spending time with my girlfriend when I read Daston’s books because I’m always talking about her.
Always with a dictionary at-hand, I found this book difficult at times to grasp a larger picture and yet redeemed as the authors summarized the main themes in each chapter. Chapter 1 places wonders geographically (or more exactly topographically), where marvels were "compiled, collated, analyzed, and multiplied" (25). Most important here is the boundary between the domestic and the exotic. Marvels were found on the margins of Europe, to the east in Asia and Africa, and to the west in, at one time, Ireland, and later in the sixteenth century, the New World of North and South America. Recalling Pliny, the English monk Hidgen said "Nature plays with greater freedom secretly at the edges of the world than she does openly and nearer us in the middle of it" (25). How geography defined marvels said something about the society of those experiencing the marvel. Marvels on the margins reflected Nature acting against her own laws, while marvels (of a different sort) that appeared within European society were considered horrors, signs of sin from the people. Those marvels on the margins were often exotic races such as the Cyclops (part of the natural order), while marvels at home were singularities: a monstrous birth, a comet, or blood-rain (ruptures of the moral order). While horrific marvels at home caused fear, exotic marvels, since they were not local, were viewed with tolerance. Part of this tolerance emerged from a view of relativity. Earlier readers of texts about monsters thought the exotic races barbarous and threatening. Medieval readers, however, saw exotic races through their eyes. Despite this new perspective, Europeans still expressed their superiority over exotic races.
While some viewed the marvels of the East as pleasurable (and non-threatening), Augustine placed them in a theological context. Representing the omnipotence of God, marvels should evoke religious awe. An Augustinian practice - by fellows like Bartholomaeus, Thomas, and Vincent - was to pour over catalogues of marvels and "bring out the moral sense" (41). "He told of wonders," a Christian author wrote about Pliny, "and I speak of morals" (41). According to Daston and Park, the principal difference between singularities (prodigies) and marvelous (exotic) species "lay in their signification rather than their form" (52). If a marvel were on the boundaries, then they represented symbols of the "power and wisdom of their Creator" or "figures of some higher theological or moral truth" (52) if they were found within society, then they acted as signs of God's pleasure or displeasure "with particular situations or actions" (52) and required immediate documentation because they "engag[ed] immediate human interests" (65). Another aspect of the exotic versus domestic nature of marvels I found interesting is that travel writers relied on eyewitness experience in their accounts of visits to the east because "they needed to present their narratives as both literally and morally true" (62).
In the next chapter, Daston and Park discuss wonders as physical objects and commodities of material culture rather than how they were significant to their observers or fit into literary culture as textual objects. As physical objects, wonders represented the wealth, power, and cultivation of those who owned them, and thus emerges their association with courts and nobility. The medieval collection was not a museum, for objects were not "prized for cognitive or philosophical reasons," but rather a collection of treasures as a "repository of economic and spiritual capital" (74). Daston and Park describe medieval collections as having "little resemblance to early modern or modern museums" and that they "functioned as repositories of wealth and of magical and symbolic power rather than microcosms, sites of study, or places where the wonders of art and nature were displayed for the enjoyment of their proprietors and the edification of scholars and amateurs" (68). I somewhat disagree with this statement, for some modern museums were created and continued to represent the power and wealth of their donors or proprietors, and were intended for use by the wealthy and upper class citizens of society. Although offering their collections to public institutions, museum historian Marjorie Schwarzer notes that some self-made tycoons of the early twentieth century in America "expressed power through acquisition" [_Riches, Rivals & Radicals: 100 Years of Museums in America_ (Washington, DC: American Association of Museums, 2006), 70]. Isabella Stewart Gardner named her art museum after herself and gained a "great increase in social stature" (_Riches, Rivals & Radicals, 10). Thus, some modern museums retained symbolic expressions of wealth and power (but probably not magic), not only by what they collected but also how they displayed their objects. Almost the entire collection of museums in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was on display, a symbol of the institutions extent of acquisitions.
Although accessible to European elites, medieval collections were essentially off limits to laymen. It seems that by restricting access to treasures, the wonder they elicited from laymen was not only enforced, as Daston and Park note, but in some manner even constructed by those keeping them restricted. "[T]he wonders of the Crista were not generally available for popular contemplation," and "ordinary laymen had to wait for one of the special festivals when the treasure was exhibited to the avid multitude, resulting in intense and sometimes rowdy scenes" (77). Had these wonders of spiritual and economic capital been open to the masses more regularly, would they have elicited the same wonder and caused the same rowdy scenes? Chapter Two closes with a discussion of "wonder at court." Daston and Park show how collections of marvels held social, economic, and political means for princes and dukes. Whether to impress court visitors, as symbols of Eastern conquest, or as symbols of wealth and power, courtly princes made "repeated and specific use of the marvelous as an elaborate system of emblems and signs to dramatize both their particular historical situation and their political aims" (101).
Chapter Three looks beyond the role that wonders played for courtly princes and theologians of the Middle Ages to the place they held for natural philosophers in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Natural philosophers generally rejected wonders as worthy of inquiry not only because of their rarity but because of their unknown causal mechanisms. They viewed them as irrelevant to their work and as being outside or beyond the course of nature. Despite Aristotle's claim that wonder, as ignorance of the causes of natural phenomena, and the study of particular natural phenomena (different from the marginal and strange marvels of the medieval period, however) created inquiry to search for those causes, Latin natural philosophers used Aristotle's emphasis on causal mechanisms as the basis for their dispelling of wonders. In order to make sense of the natural order, these natural philosophers did not study particulars - individual marvels - but instead sought to understand natural variability through "elaborating general statements about the causes of certain types of phenomena" (114). They studied universal principles rather than particular phenomena, and instead of observing natural phenomena, the natural philosopher's task was "to refine and distill the universal truths he found in books and received from his teachers" (118). Thus, the work of Latin natural philosophers of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries did not rely on direct experience.
From Thomas Aquinas we get three types of physical occurrences. _Wonders and the Order of Nature_ is not concerned with the supernatural (miracles), but with both the natural (naturalia) and the preternatural (mirabilia, marvels, wonders, you name it). There were problems with distinguishing between these three realms, but for the most part wonders and the passion of wonder they carried with them belonged to the preternatural. "Because wonder was associated with the ignorance of causes," write Daston and Park, "it was a peculiarly unsuitable passion for one whose entire discipline was organized around the causal knowledge of nature" (124). In their attempt to "make wonders cease," natural philosophers in the fourteenth century posited explanations by natural causes without seriously invoking divine or demonic intervention. Moreover, they claimed that particular wonders, as objects which had to be experienced to be known, could not become part of natural philosophy.
Daston and Park move to Latin medical writers in their fourth chapter. Working for princely patrons who admired wonder and wonders, medical writers thus viewed wonders with attraction rather than the distaste of Latin natural philosophers. Because these physicians, involved in elite medical practice, "began to explore the therapeutic powers of particular marvels," wonder and wonders emerged as part of natural philosophy, and, Daston and Park write, "lay at the heart of much philosophical writing" by the middle of the sixteenth century (133). That particular phenomena became important as objects of philosophical reflection and wonder itself was reclaimed as a philosophical emotion led to a new philosophy, preternatural philosophy, which was concerned with adding personal experience of wonders to previous textual evidence, and used wonder as a tool for philosophical inquiry. Objects used by physicians and collected by apothecaries were not only wonders, but most were also exotic, associating them with elite practice. The marvels that poured out of the New World in the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries provided much new natural material for study, especially for medicines, and reformed the ways in which "nature herself might best be explored" (147).
The practice of collecting natural objects for their own sake, and not as objects that were collected by courtly princes, followed from global explorations. These collections helped to add practical use to the Greek and Roman texts on medicine and natural works. They also were places for research and tools in "professional and social self-fashioning" (158). Like the collections of princes, however, marvelous natural history collections also transferred "the emotion of wonder from the objects themselves to their erudite and discriminating owner" (158). Sixteenth-century collectors preferred particulars rather than universals, and thus sought specific explanations for individual phenomena. Ficino went beyond this and sought "overarching, speculative, and synthetic accounts of nature." Daston and Park describe Ficino's work as "a view of nature and natural philosophy that emphasized the power of human knowledge to transform the material world" (164). The emotion of wonder as used by sixteenth-century collectors was now "passed through a professional lens." A philosophical elite knew which phenomena were worthy of his attention, for this wonder was "a finely graduated register of response that only the best-informed and the most philosophically sophisticated could deploy" (167). A new age of wonder emerged in both natural philosophy and the literature and art of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries.
As the centerpiece of _Wonders and the Order of Nature_, Chapter Five is a retelling of Daston and Park's original work that ultimately led to this book ("Unnatural Conceptions: Monsters in Sixteenth- and Seventeenth-Century France and England," _Past and Present_ 92 (1981): 20-54). In their 1981 article on monsters, they provided a chronological account of the views of monsters held in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries - horror giving way to pleasure giving way to repugnance. They have changed their approach for this book, and now claim that chronology is ambiguous, for the ways in which people perceived monstrous births - horror, pleasure, and repugnance - occurred simultaneously and were not demarcated in time. Monsters could evoke horror or terror as signs of divine wrath signaling collective sin, pleasure as sports of a benign nature and ornaments of a benevolent creator, or repugnance based on anatomical, theological, or aesthetic grounds. As prodigies, monsters were ruptures in the physical order. As sports, they were objects of spectacle - such as a means for parents to make money - not just for princes and medical men but for laymen at marketplaces and fairs or expressions of "nature's creative variety" (201). As errors, or objects of repugnance, monsters "violated the standards of regularity and decorum not only in nature, but also in society and the arts" (202).
Chapter Six discusses how marvels became part of natural philosophy in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century scientific academies, such as the Royal Society of London and the Paris Académie Royale des Sciences. Naturalists in these circles weighed the credibility of marvelous reports and looked at "problems of evidence, explanation, and experience" (220) in their study of nature in these centuries. They devised new ways of understanding their roles as inquirers into the natural world. They were "the curious," a combination of "a thirst to know with an appetite for wonders" (218) and their discipline was "a slow and meticulous exercise in self-restraint," a "discipline for the mind" (230). They sought to understand the particularity of phenomena and through this, understand the normal, by looking at facts rather than explanations or theories. It became important to verify facts, to determine whether or not marvelous reports were sound or invented. Part of this verification was probably social, for a "delicate economy of civility governed the reporting on wonders" (249). As gentlemen and members of scientific circles, it proved difficult to contradict their testimony of marvels.
Wunderkammern - cabinets of curiosity - are the subject of the seventh chapter. In opposition themselves with the Aristotelian opposition between art and nature, Wunderkammern displayed artificialia alongside naturalia, juxtaposing in collections, even in single objects, nature's elegant economy with the extravagance in expenditure of labor and materials. "Nature does nothing in vain," while art is "careless of function" and prone to useless ornamentation (277). In some sense, combining art and nature in a single object, like the ornamented nautilus shell created by Bartel Jamnitzer of Nuremberg (279), not only contrasts nature with art, but also juxtaposes nature with man's ability to control and manipulate nature (in the form of mining the metals used in art). For the owners of Wunderkammern, they held "hidden assumptions and aims" (273) and mainly served to show off the prince's magnificence to visitors (usually of a political nature), or in the case of scholars and physicians, to "stupefy visitors with wonder" (267) culminated from learning rather than wealth. Objects also showed how art imitated nature, such as trompe l'oeil paintings and casts from nature, or how nature imitated art, as in swirls of marble resembling clouds and figured stones. These imitations garnered wonder rather than the objects themselves. The contrast of art and nature in Wunderkammern also pointed to questions of nature and theology: was nature art, or artisan? If nature produces art, then what does that say about God's sovereignty? According to Boyle, God did not need nature as an assistant. To Enlightenment naturalists and collectors, "[n]ature had become `the Art of God,' no longer able to create art on her own" (301).
Chapter Eight discusses the shifting relationships of wonder and curiosity as emotions, at times aligned and at other times opposed. The final chapter is about how wonder and wonders were no longer important to European intellectuals, and how marvels waned from prominence, although not completely disappearing. Very quickly Daston and Park counter the "all too ready" argument that "the new science" of the seventeenth century dismissed marvels by means of objective and rational explanations. Instead, Enlightenment intellectuals ignored marvels on metaphysical, aesthetic, and political grounds. They argue that it was "neither rationality nor science nor even secularization that buried the wondrous for European elites," and that "Enlightenment savants did not embark on anything like a thorough program to test empirically the strange facts collected so assiduously by their seventeenth-century predecessors or to offer natural explanations for them" (361). A broad theme emerges in the last paragraph of this chapter. Daston and Park write that for all participants involved in the emotion of wonder and experienced wondrous objects from the twelfth through eighteenth centuries, "the natural order was also a moral order in the broad and somewhat old fashioned sense of moral as all that pertains to the human, from the political to the aesthetic. Hence the aberrations of nature were always charged with moral meaning" (363).
If we look back through the examples offered by Daston and Park, we begin to see this theme of wonder and wonders fashioning the self: topographically, the occurrence of wonders in the European center spoke of sin, while the knowledge of wonders at the margins testified to European dominance, and therefore superiority, of the East; courtly princes used their collections of exotica and other wonders to impress others with their power and wealth, as well as create wonders of themselves, such as Philip the Good of Burgundy as "a new Alexander;" natural philosophers rejected wonder because it stood for one's ignorance of causes, and thus defined their intellectual status; early natural history collections were involved with "professional and social self-fashioning" (158) and represented the ability of their physician/naturalist owners to know what was or was not worthy of wonder, making wondrous the wealth and power of their philosophical intellect (a philosophical elite); for those studying "strange facts" through scientific societies, natural history was a "discipline for the mind, a slow and meticulous exercise in self-restraint" (230), a practice only a select group could be involved with - to be a naturalist within scientific societies was often to be a gentlemen, one with indispensable time and hardly concerned with daily life and trivial matters; Wunderkammern symbolized the magnificence and taste of their princely owners or the ostentatious intellect of their scholarly owners, with objects juxtaposing art and nature representing Europe's technological and intellectual status; and for the philosophers in the first half of the eighteenth century who sought to remove the "fear of divine wrath and wonder of divine intervention" from marvels, the vulgar were women, the very young and very old, primitive peoples, and the uneducated masses, all those not involved in philosophical inquiry of the natural world, and they were "barbarous, ignorant, and unruly" (343). "The `order of nature,' like `enlightenment,'" according to Daston and Park, "was defined largely by what or who was excluded" (350). As much as this book is about the emotion of wonder and the objects of that wonder, _Wonders and the Order of Nature_ is about how European elites largely defined themselves - how their place in society related to others morally or intellectually - through a "process of exclusion" and by how they understood the marvelous.
[I wrote this review for an undergraduate history of science course in 2007]
One of the main themes the authors deal with is not exactly an historical overview of science, but more along the lines of social and cultural history. They write about the relationship of elites, be they religious, social, or academic, to various kinds of wonder. Do the elites embrace wonder? Do they despise it? And what about lone philosophers? Where do they fit in? The answers vary greatly, according to multitudinous factors. For me, one theme to bear in mind while reading this book was my own experience of wonder, or curiosity, and the clashing of that feeling with "The Game" in school... Anyone reading this book will, obviously, have an extremely active, inquisitive mind, to say the least. Think back (or think forward, as the case may be,) to your time in school. Did you tend to keep the topics that provoked genuine wonder in you private? Did you generally avoid mentioning them, lest they should happen to become candidates for impacting "The Game," over which the more sociable people in any classroom preside? These are two very different states of mind, and their interplay can be quite fearfully tumultuous. If you know what I'm talking about, then you already have a feel for the kind of issues that the authors of this book delve into, and deal with on an incredibly grand scale.
By the way, I'd like to recommend a couple of other titles for people looking at this book. For some reason, neither of these are in this book's bibliography. I'm not sure why not -- probably because they are so basic that the authors may have felt that anyone reading their book would already know about them. For people who might NOT know about them, I'd like to recommend "The Great Chain of Being," by Arthur O. Lovejoy, and Rudolph Pfeiffer's two volume study of "The History of Classical Scholarship." These volumes will add whole dimensions to your understanding of the matters that Daston and Park discuss, if anybody out there is interested.
This book is a prodigious feat. Worth scoping out.
I've found that this a very boring and difficult book to read because I don't have enough background and I know next to nothing about ancient philosophers. This book is post-college or college level for someone specialyzing in Medieval and Renn history.