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Engines of the Imagination: Renaissance Culture and the Rise of the Machine [Paperback]

Jonathan Sawday

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Book Description

29 Nov 2007

At what point did machines and technology begin to have an impact on the cultural consciousness and imagination of Europe? How was this reflected through the art and literature of the time? Was technology a sign of the fall of humanity from its original state of innocence or a sign of human progress and mastery over the natural world? In his characteristically lucid and captivating style, Jonathan Sawday investigates these questions and more by engaging with the poetry, philosophy, art, and engineering of the period to find the lost world of the machine in the pre-industrial culture of the European Renaissance.

The aesthetic and intellectual dimension of these machines appealed to familiar figures such as Shakespeare, Francis Bacon, Montaigne, and Leonardo da Vinci as well as to a host of lesser known writers and artists in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. This intellectual engagement with machines in the European Renaissance gave rise to new attitudes towards gender, work and labour, and even fostered the new sciences of artificial life and reason which would be pursued by figures such as Descartes, Hobbes, and Leibniz in the seventeenth century.

Writers, philosophers and artists had mixed and often conflicting reactions to technology, reflecting a paradoxical attitude between modern progress and traditional values. Underpinning the enthusiastic creation of a machine-driven world, then, were stories of loss and catastrophe. These contradictory attitudes are part of the legacy of the European Renaissance, just as much as the plays of Shakespeare or the poetry of John Milton. And this historical legacy helps to explain many of our own attitudes towards the technology that surrounds us, sustains us, and sometimes perplexes us in the modern world.

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'This is a magisterial work of myth-busting, and a marvellous demonstration of how art and literature may be used to reanimate the material imagination of an historical period. The old idea of the Renaissance as a pretechnological pause, or paradise, is gone for good.' – Steven Connor, Birkbeck College, University of London, UK

'Jonathan Sawday has written another big, beautiful, brilliant book that will change the way we all see (and hear) the Renaissance.' – Gary Taylor, Florida State University, USA

'This is a brilliant achievement … It has huge intellectual and imaginative range and is written with great vitality … This could be the book of the decade in Renaissance Studies.' – Neil Rhodes, University of St Andrews, UK

'Jonathan Sawday’s pioneering and thoughtful work can change the course of the study of the Early Modern period … This illuminating book enlarges our sense of the Renaissance, redirects our focus, and shows us a world elsewhere we have not seen before.' – Arthur Kinney, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, USA

'Engines of the Imagination offers a fascinating picture of Renaissance encounters with technology. Engaging and entertaining, Sawday's book will become required reading for all students of the period.' – Mary Poovey, New York University, USA

'While few books can truly lay claim to the achievement of crossing disciplinary boundaries, Sawday’s impressive Engines of the Imagination must certainly be numbered as one of them.' – The British Society for Literature and Science

'...highly useful to advanced undergraduates, graduate students, as well as academic staff. It is also a pleasure to read and a book to which I expect to return.' – Julian Yates, The Review of English Studies

"Sawday's book is consistently engaging, insightful, and suggestive. He carefully grounds his broad cultural analysis with discerning readings of individual texts, and in places he helpfully pursues the implications of his findings by glancing at techology in our modern world."

-- Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, Vol. 49, No. 2, 2009

"Engines of the Imagination tackles a broad range of material in an imaginative and creative way."
--Michael Edwards, Jesus College, Cambridge, UK

About the Author

Jonathan Sawday is Professor of English Studies at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow. He has taught at universities in Britain, Ireland, and the United States. As well as writing many articles and essays on Renaissance literature and culture, he is the author of the The Body Emblazoned (Routledge, 1995) and co-editor (with Tom Healy) of Literature and the English Civil War (1990), and (with Neil Rhodes) The Renaissance Computer (Routledge, 2000).

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Amazon.com: 5.0 out of 5 stars  1 review
5.0 out of 5 stars No really! Read this book! 19 Jan 2012
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The author states in the preface that this book is "not a work of technological history" it's a book about how people related to or perhaps experienced technology in the Renaissance.

With references and examples to the fine arts, including, painting, literature as well as the more descriptive or educative writings of folks like Georgius Agricola De Re Metallica the author brings forward one of the primary conflicts in our culture; the fight between the natural world and the artificial (as in "artifice" or "made by someone.") This fight has been going on since the beginnings of our culture and can be seen in more modern examples including China's Cultural Revolution of the early 60's.

Dr. Sawday takes us through the Renaissance and explores the conflict between an optimistic view of machines, or made things, helping humanity be better, or more comfortable and a pessimistic view that these machine takes us further away from paradise or nature.

I'm no great scholar, I've read plenty of Shakespeare and enjoy his works, but never Paradise Lost (Norton Critical Editions) by Milton (1667) or Spenser's The Faerie Queene, Book I(and Book II.) I've been to Europe once, and I've seen some of the paintings he examines. I took the required history courses in college. I watched the PBS program of Joseph Campbell's The Power of Myth (but I never read the book) I had never REALLY understood the fullness of this conflict that has indeed been extant in our culture from Greek mythology to Blade Runner: The Final Cut [Blu-ray], originally Philip K Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Now I see it everywhere, in fights between some aspects of the environmental movement and oil companies, in between the lines in The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Pollan (2007) or in my work as an architect.

Read this book. Really!

It will encourage you to read or re-read some of those renaissance classics that you forced yourself through in college; it will sharpen your eye to conflicts in today's world without mentioning them. It will have you reexamining every age of human history. It's scholarly but not so deep that you have to diving for the dictionary (or Wikipedia) with every page. It's readable, unpretentious, and frankly fun.

Thanks Dr. Sawday it was a kick!
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