studies in the history of science and culture
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© August 2005
revised 26 June 2008

Baroque-era printer's ornament

“Of Fleas & Men”

This exhibit juxtaposes the imagery of Robert Hooke with that of one of Newtonian science’s fiercest critics, William Blake.

Hooke’s magnificent engraving of a flea, as printed in his Micrographia (1665), fascinated William Blake and undoubtedly influenced Blake’s painting, Ghost of a Flea (ca. 1820). Most noticeably, Blake’s spiritual apparition of a flea displays some of the same marked features — segmented surface and neck plating, eye, vertebral spines, protruding tongue, claws — as the flea detailed so carefully in Hooke’s drawing.

Blake’s revisioning of the flea’s physiognomy in monstrous humanoid form played with microcosmic nature in imaginative ways that Hooke surely would have appreciated.

TOPICS:  canonical theories and problems of representation; the evolving conversation between science & art; psychological portraiture; humanist criticisms of a utilitarian and mechanistic science; debates over science’s ocularcentrism (“the epistemological privileging of a reifying and totalizing vision, a gaze of domination”); reintegrating the philosopher’s gaze (“the external perspective of the observer”) with a participant’s gaze; the post-Kuhnian “crisis of rationality” (“There is not only no external truth, but there are no external or even evolving canons of rationality.”); restoring a balance between scientific and non-scientific ways of knowing

Baroque-era printer's ornament

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