Global Analogies: Cosmology, Geosymmetry and Skepticism in Some Works of Aphra Behn

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

Abstract

In recent years, several ecological historians have suggested that during the late eighteenth century European observers in the tropics began to make connections among seemingly disparate phenomena-storms, droughts, and floods-and that their incipient understanding of these connections defines the rise of modern climatology. In different ways, Kavita Philip, Mike Davis, and Richard Grove, among others, have argued convincingly that scientific ecology emerged in and from the contact zones between East and West in South Asia, Southeast Asia, and China-vast regions in which imperial governments, notably the early Qing dynasty, and local populations developed sophisticated and often effective ways of dealing with the uncertainties of monsoon flooding, drought, and crop failures.1 In this chapter I want to supplement these eco-cultural histories by looking at several literary and nonliterary texts from the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries in order to examine the ways in which writers could deploy complex modes of analogical reasoning to describe and analyze global phenomena. More specifically, I explore the implications of two fundamental global analogies that operate in the early modern period by focusing on some unexamined aspects of Aphra Behn’s writing in her translations of two works by the libertine philosopher Fontenelle and in Oroonoko. The first of these analogies is cosmological-the Earth can be understood by analogy to the other planets of the solar system-and the second is geomorphological or geosymmetrical: similar climatological conditions obtain across the same latitudes and therefore the relationships between humankind and its environments apply across similarly situated regions, countries, and continents. Throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, these global analogies figure prominently in merchants’ diaries, sailing instructions, enthnographies, trading inventories, ships’ logs, economic reports, and scientific discourse. In important ways, Behn tests the limits of these mutually constitutive analogies, and her skeptical response to the interlocking values and assumptions of cosmology and colonialist ecology testifies to her persistent questioning, in the last years of her life, of the ideologies of Restoration theology and natural philosophy.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationScience, Literature, and Rhetoric in Early Modern England
EditorsJuliet Cummins, David Burchell
Place of PublicationBurlington, VT
PublisherAshgate Publishing Ltd
Chapter9
Pages189-212
ISBN (Electronic)9781315243689
ISBN (Print)9781138265318, 9780754657811
DOIs
StatePublished - Nov 2007

Publication series

NameLiterary and Scientific Cultures of Early Modernity

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