The Matter of Revolution: Science, Poetry, and Politics in the Age of Milton

By John Rogers | Go to book overview

PREFACE

This book is a study of the cultural intersections between those two events of seventeenth-century history known to us as the English and the Scientific Revolutions. It concentrates specifically on the work of five writers from the period of the Civil Wars, the Interregnum, and the earliest years of the Stuart Restoration: John Milton, Andrew Marvell, Gerrard Winstanley, William Harvey, and Margaret Cavendish. In examining the texts they composed between 1649 and 1666, I investigate the literary and ideological implications of a cultural phenomenon notable for, among other things, its logical outlandishness: the intellectual imperative to forge an ontological connection between physical motion and political action. Although their work spans the generic spectrum from medical treatise to epic poem, each of these writers, I argue, struggles to reconcile the new materialist science of corpuscular motion and interaction and the new political philosophy of popular sovereignty and consensus. The matter of the English Revolution was for all these figures a problem to be explored, in some cases exclusively, by means of the revolutionary science of matter.

It is the exciting and productive intellectual consequences of this discursive commingling at a critical point in England's political and literary history with which this book is concerned. The methodological assumptions behind my analysis of the alliance between political and natural philosophy should be distinguished here at the outset from those informing the study of seventeenth-century natural philosophy generated and influenced by the recent work of Steven Shapin and Simon Schaffer.1 Embarking on what they call a

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Steven Shapin and Simon Schaffer, Leviathan and the Air-Pump: Hobbes, Boyle, and theExperimental Life

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