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Nature's Spectacles: Ornament, Performance, and Natural History in the Long Eighteenth Century

Eighteenth-century British culture expressed ideas of Nature â aesthetic, scientific, and otherwise â that have exerted colossal influence ever since. Studies of the eraâs natural imagination have tended to prioritize such forms of literature, art, and natural philosophy that enjoyed polite approval in their day. This dissertation situates those forms in proximity to spectacle, matter and energy that pervaded the period but often invited harsh criticism, and tended to fade from view as epistemological and aesthetic entities consolidated themselves. What becomes clear from this research is that eighteenth-century spectacle was a vital player in attempts to define the natural, sometimes as the naturalâs contrary term. More frequently, spectacularity worked as provision, or stopover, for and en route to picturesque landscapes, natural history illustrations, and so on. It opened narrative, temporal, and even geographical possibilities that allowed writers, artists, and philosophers to confront the myriad intellectual and representational challenges attendant upon confrontations with plants, animals, and environmental process. It tended to vanish from the polished record, but its potencies continued to haunt and empower the systems of literature, visuality, and inquiry that drew upon them. âNatureâs Spectaclesâ traces and analyzes the role of spectacularity in currents of thinking about nature by drawing, primarily, from British, Irish, and French sources. The dissertation turns not only to spectacular shows or events â such as fairground performances, violent battle-scenes, or theatrical special effects â but to a complicated rhetoric of spectacularity, which tended to target ostentation, ornament, and their associated terms, such as femininity, inauthenticity, and the foreign. Environments and organisms could behave spectacularly, as well, particularly those whose movements, habits, and matter proved aesthetically, procedurally, or cognitively frustrating. By bringing variegated strains of spectacularity together, the dissertation shows how the lines that divide nature from its opposites reflect not simple ontological truths, but the points at which an eraâs aesthetic and philosophical imagination meets the world outside.
Date29 July 2016
CreatorsQuigley, Killian Colm
ContributorsJonathan Lamb, Bridget Orr, Dahlia Porter, Humberto Garcia, Iain McCalman
Source SetsVanderbilt University Theses
Detected LanguageEnglish
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