Empirical Wonder: Historicizing the Fantastic, 1660-1760

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Eighteenth-century England did not only see the rise of the novel, but also the rise of genres of what we now call the fantastic, such as imaginary voyages and apparition narratives. Combining theoretical reflection and cultural analysis, the author of this book investigates the origins, and demonstrates the formal and historical identity of a great variety of texts, which have never been considered as part of the same family. The fantastic, he argues, is an intrinsically modern mode, which uses the devices of realistic representation to describe supernatural phenomena. Its origins can be found in the seventeenth century, when the rise of modern empiricism threatened the ontological and epistemological underpinnings of traditional religious culture. The author shows how a broad range of discursive formations - demonology, providential literature, teratology, and natural philosophy - attempted to reconcile world-views that were felt to be increasingly incompatible, and traces the development of a new kind of fiction that gradually replaced them and took over their work of reconciliation. Coalescing as an autonomous system of genres, free from the restrictions of modern science and at the same time self-consciously aesthetic, the fantastic emerged as an instrument both to affirm and to transcend the empirical vision.