In seventeenth-century England, intellectuals of all kinds discovered their idealized self-image in the Adam who investigated, named, and commanded the creatures. Reinvented as the agent of innocent curiosity, Adam was central to the project of redefining contemplation as a productive and public labor. It was by identifying with creation’s original sovereign, Joanna Picciotto argues, that early modern scientists, poets, and pamphleteers claimed authority as both workers and “public persons.”
Tracking an ethos of imitatio Adami across a wide range of disciplines and devotions, Picciotto reveals how practical efforts to restore paradise generated the modern concept of objectivity and a novel understanding of the author as an agent of estranged perception. Finally, she shows how the effort to restore Adam as a working collective transformed the corpus mysticum into a public. Offering new readings of key texts by writers such as Robert Hooke, John Locke, Andrew Marvell, Joseph Addison, and most of all John Milton, Labors of Innocence in Early Modern England advances a new account of the relationship between Protestantism, experimental science, the public sphere, and intellectual labor itself.
Labors of Innocence is an outstanding contribution to early modern studies: strikingly original in its rethinking of key issues in intellectual history, rich in its implications for reconsidering major literary texts of the period, and persuasive in its insistence that there is a far more coherent seventeenth century than traditional definitions that split it have insisted. The virtues of the book are legion: its power of argument, clarity, and importance of subject, its honest engagement with scholarship across relevant disciplines, its care and generosity in dealing with the work of others. The work is complex and creative, the scholarship impeccable, the writing a joy.
Joanna Picciotto's Labors of Innocence in Early Modern England is a splendid study of the origins, development, and eventual decline of the Experimentalist tradition in seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century English letters. In tracing out the arc of this intellectual and professional trajectory, Picciotto engages productively with the crucial religious, socio-economic, philosophical, and literary movements associated with the ongoing labors of the "innocent eye."
Labors of Innocence is itself an example of what it is about: a field of vision awash with insights. The book is spectacular in its reach, searching in its observations, convincing in its arguments, compelling in its conclusions. The penultimate chapter on Milton presents critical exegesis at its loftiest--and its very best. It shows the poet participating fully in the process by which fallen vision is expanded as sight is refined into insight and insight incites action. Professor Picciotto follows Milton in transforming a howling wilderness into a paradise of the imagination. This is the most important contribution to Milton studies in years.
Labors of Innocence has a breathtaking scope, thoroughly investigating a wide range of historical and cultural contexts--political, religious, medical, agricultural, sexual, and social. Joanna Picciotto's thesis follows from her topic, emerging gradually, inductively, and experientially from the material she so richly gathers.
[Picciotto] offers real insights into many literati from Abraham Cowley and Andrew Marvell at the beginning of the chosen period to Daniel Defoe, Joseph Addison, and Celia Fiennes at the end. Particularly valuable are her accounts of the rhetorical strategies of self-presentation employed by [Robert] Hooke, [Robert] Boyle, and Mr. Spectator...An important resource for philosophy of science as well as English literature.
- 880 pages
- 6-3/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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