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QMCECS Seminar: Rowan Boyson: 11 November 2015

November 4, 2015

Rowan Boyson (King’s College London)

The olfactory imagination: smell, materialism and metaphor in the eighteenth century

Rowan Rose Boyson is a Lecturer in Eighteenth-Century Literature at King’s College London. She is the author of Wordsworth and the Enlightenment Idea of Pleasure (2012), which won the 2013 University English Early Career Book Prize, and with Tom Jones is the co-editor of The Poetic Enlightenment: Poetry and Human Science, 1650-1820 (2013). She has recently published essays on the cultural history of the senses, focusing on Wordsworth and Shelley.

Abstract: This paper offers a preliminary exploration of the connection between odour and imagination, and more broadly of the poetic dimensions of materialism in the long eighteenth century. Smell had a particular importance to the mechanical philosophy which came to the ascendance in the late seventeenth century, because odours were recognised by Robert Boyle amongst others to be tiny, invisible particles emanating from bodies, rather than abstract ‘qualities’ of things as in the older Aristotelian teaching. At the same time smells are also ‘experiences’ for philosophers of the period; they invite appreciation, thinking, attraction and repulsion. Such experiences supply further evidence for the (increasingly accepted) thesis that the scientific revolution was shaped, in part, by imagination, embodiment, even pleasure. My paper also aims to make a contribution to the so-called ‘history of the senses’. I begin with scent in Boyle’s writings, focusing especially on his appreciation of a ‘critical Nose’ and a ‘critical Palate’ that can ‘taste the very Titles of things’, before making some brief comparisons with the relation of smells to words in Locke, Addison and Pope. I conclude with reference to recent scholarly interest in ‘lyric materialism’ and ‘vibrant matter’, and why a literary-philosophical history of smell is, as I believe, so interesting.

Chair: Markman Ellis

Time: 5.00-7.00pm.

Venue: Seminar Room, Lock-Keeper’s Cottage Graduate Centre, Queen Mary University of London, Mile End, London, E1 4NS

All welcome

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