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Title page for ETD etd-07192016-053807

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Quigley, Killian Colm
Author's Email Address Killian.c.quigley@vanderbilt.edu
URN etd-07192016-053807
Title Nature's Spectacles: Ornament, Performance, and Natural History in the Long Eighteenth Century
Degree PhD
Department English
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Jonathan Lamb Committee Chair
Bridget Orr Committee Member
Dahlia Porter Committee Member
Humberto Garcia Committee Member
Iain McCalman Committee Member
  • British literature
  • natural history
  • history of science
  • Irish literature
Date of Defense 2016-05-31
Availability unrestricted
Eighteenth-century British culture expressed ideas of Nature – aesthetic, scientific, and otherwise – that have exerted colossal influence ever since. Studies of the era’s natural imagination have tended to prioritize such forms of literature, art, and natural philosophy that enjoyed polite approval in their day. This dissertation situates those forms in proximity to spectacle, matter and energy that pervaded the period but often invited harsh criticism, and tended to fade from view as epistemological and aesthetic entities consolidated themselves. What becomes clear from this research is that eighteenth-century spectacle was a vital player in attempts to define the natural, sometimes as the natural’s contrary term. More frequently, spectacularity worked as provision, or stopover, for and en route to picturesque landscapes, natural history illustrations, and so on. It opened narrative, temporal, and even geographical possibilities that allowed writers, artists, and philosophers to confront the myriad intellectual and representational challenges attendant upon confrontations with plants, animals, and environmental process. It tended to vanish from the polished record, but its potencies continued to haunt and empower the systems of literature, visuality, and inquiry that drew upon them. “Nature’s Spectacles” traces and analyzes the role of spectacularity in currents of thinking about nature by drawing, primarily, from British, Irish, and French sources. The dissertation turns not only to spectacular shows or events – such as fairground performances, violent battle-scenes, or theatrical special effects – but to a complicated rhetoric of spectacularity, which tended to target ostentation, ornament, and their associated terms, such as femininity, inauthenticity, and the foreign. Environments and organisms could behave spectacularly, as well, particularly those whose movements, habits, and matter proved aesthetically, procedurally, or cognitively frustrating. By bringing variegated strains of spectacularity together, the dissertation shows how the lines that divide nature from its opposites reflect not simple ontological truths, but the points at which an era’s aesthetic and philosophical imagination meets the world outside.
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