Mediation as Primal Word

Michael Mckeon

in This Is Enlightenment

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print June 2010 | ISBN: 9780226761473
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226761466 | DOI:
Mediation as Primal Word

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  • Early Modern History (1500 to 1700)


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This chapter argues for the importance of “mediation” by highlighting its antithetical senses—“mediation” can connote both “connection/communication” as well as “intervene/ separate.” It presents a case history of mediation that details the intricate process by which the concept of the aesthetic emerged from an explicit project: the effort to transport the epistemological posture developed by natural philosophy—one based in empirical observation, induction, and experiment—to the mediating work of the imagination in plays and novels. Thus, the chapter confirms the centrality to eighteenth-century writing of experimental testing through experience. What is crucial is the emergence of the aesthetic, a way of knowing that leans up against the prestige of empirical epistemology but produces a new kind of sensuous knowledge. This knowledge can be found in a wide range of Enlightenment aesthetic and generic mediations: in the early debates about the two unities of time and place in the drama; in the way Daniel Defoe's most famous novel is organized around an experiment that tracks the progress of Robinson Crusoe from a “state of nature” to a civil society; in the way Samuel Richardson “tests” the young virgin Pamela through the death of her mistress and the temptation by Mr. B; in the way Samuel Johnson appeals in his criticism to an empirical “test of time” to uphold the objective aesthetic value of Shakespeare's plays.

Keywords: mediation; aesthetic; natural philosophy; writing; knowledge; Enlightenment

Chapter.  13556 words. 

Subjects: Early Modern History (1500 to 1700)

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