The Atomic Poems of Margaret (Lucas) Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, from her Poems, and Fancies, 1653, an electronic edition. Edited with an introduction by Leigh Tillman Partington
- critical introduction
- Introduction to The Life and Works of Margaret (Lucas) Cavendish
- Section: The New Science and Cavendish
- Introduction to The Life and Works of Margaret (Lucas) Cavendish
collection: Early Modern through the 18th Century
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The New Science and Cavendish
In order to fully understand Cavendish's atomic poems, one must understand the state of science in the seventeenth century. Reading the poems in the light of twentieth century science renders them ridiculous, and supports the idea that Cavendish was mentally unstable. A brief overview of the science of the times, however, allows a more contemporary reading of Cavendish.
The Scientific Revolution was a revolution in both thought and methodology. European science in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries had been heavily involved in alchemy, astrology, and magic.9 The Renaissance brought about the dissolution of boundaries, as exemplified by the quintessential Renaissance man, Leonardo da Vinci. da Vinci was not a good scientist by modern standards because he left behind no inventions, no scientific theory, no mathematical innovations. What da Vinci did have was a brilliant scientific imagination and instinct, and the patience to observe the world around him very carefully. One legacy he bequeathed to later science was the method of scientific illustration (Gardner 530). He left behind notebooks filled with sketches and conjectures on every subject: hydraulics, aerodynamics, anatomy, medicine, optics, meterology, architecture, sculpture, perspective, light, color, mechanics, botany, geology, zoology, and military engineering. In terms of the history of art, his application of mathematics and geometry to painting resulted in innovations in linear perspective and aerial perspective. He also reintroduced and refined the fifteenth century technique of chiaroscuro, the play of light and shadow(Gardner 527).
One other lasting legacy da Vinci left to modern science was the idea of the centrality of motion. After having read Galen, da Vinci became obsessed with the idea of motion -- almost all of his sixteenth century drawings portray objects or humans in motion. Although today we may think of da Vinci primarily as a painter, he is very important to the understanding of Margaret Cavendish, and the Scientific Revolution. He dabbled in all areas of intellectual interest and allowed his knowledge of one field to influence another (his observations of optics and light are applied to painting, for example); and, his vivid imagination allowed him to dissolve the boundaries between disciplines and encouraged him to range freely through all the areas of life in which he felt interest.
Paracelsus, a sixteenth-century Swiss alchemist, is another figure from the Renaissance who crossed boundaries; in his case, the boundary between chemistry and medicine. Until Paracelsus, chemistry was an occult science, used mainly in the alchemists' search for the Philosopher's Stone, the element so much purer than gold that it could raise any other substance to the perfection of gold. Paracelsus believed "in the existence of one undiscovered element common to all, of which the four elements of the ancients were merely derivative forms. This prime element of creation Paracelsus termed alkahest, and he maintained that if it were found, it would prove to be the philosopher's stone, the universal medicine, and the irresistible solvent" (Encarta). In his search for alkahest, Paracelsus combined alchemy, medicine, astrology, philosophy, and chemistry. His mystical philosophy was written in the vernacular, and so became very popular. Paracelsus connected the known planets to known minerals to known human organs, creating definitive correlations between the celestrial and terrestrial spheres. His only important contribution to modern medicine was the combination of mineralology and medicine, but again, by looking at Paracelsus, one sees that science had no defined boundaries in this time period, and imagination was an accepted part of the scientist's method. This idea of change leads into Carolyn Merchant's discussion of the shifting of the metaphors of science in the seventeenth century.10
Merchant begins her discussion just prior to the Scientific Revolution: "for sixteenth-century Europeans the root metaphor binding together the self, society, and the cosmos was that of an organism. . . "(1). Humans looked on their world as a system, which they usually personified into a nurturing female, i.e. Mother Earth and Mother Nature. As technology changed, however, so did language:
The metaphor of the earth as a nurturing mother was gradually to vanish as a dominant image as the Scientific Revolution proceeded to mechanize and to rationalize the world view. The second image, nature as disorder, called forth an important modern idea, that of power over nature. Two new ideas, those of mechanism and of the domination and mastery of nature, became core concepts of the modern world. . . . Society needed these new images as it continued the processes of commercialism and industrialization,which depended on activities directly altering the earth . . .(2).
Capitalism and colonialism, plus the explosion of technological advancements, caused man11 to look at the earth and the environment as something to be exploited, rather than something to be cherished.
Johannes Kepler felt the need for a metaphoric shift; he wrote in 1605 that he intended to "show that the celestial machine is to be likened not to a divine organism but to a clockwork "(Merchant 128). This overall tendency toward discussing science in terms of manipulation and machinery was reinforced by the empiricist exhortations of Francis Bacon. Although not everyone adopted Bacon's hands-on approach, our modern scientific method did develop during the Scientific Revolution, as did the strangely sexual language of the laboratory, "language still used today in praising a scientist's 'hard facts,' 'penetrating mind,' or the 'thrust of his argument'" (Merchant 174). Merchant also discusses the newly emerging body of New Science imagery which posits "nature as a feminine Other, in an adversarial relation of opposition to the male scientist" (Bazeley 151).
Deborah Bazeley continues this argument by citing a quotation from a letter to Margaret Cavendish from the Master and Fellows at St. John's College, Cambridge: "We men find Nature and Truth very coy and sullen, alas how we vex, persecute, and chase her, who yet still outruns us. . . . But she willingly shews herself all bare and naked to your Grace (Bazeley 151). Peep-show implications aside, Bazeley suggests that the male scientist in the seventeenth century "perceived himself fairly consistently as nature's would-be 'master' (often 'rapist'), seeking ultimately to appropriate nature's power and render 'her' duly subservient to God and man" (151). Cavendish, however, escapes this masculinization of science,and explains her idea of Science as a more courtly process.
Cavendish's Nature is feminine, as we see in the first line of the first poem of Poems, and Fancies: "When Nature first this World she did create" (Appendix A C2). But, as Bazeley points out, the difference is that Cavendish is also a female, and therefore not "Other" than Nature, but "Same"(151); thus Cavendish's portrayal is based on terms familiar to her; she "imagined the (still male) scientist as nature's 'Platonic Lover' (Orations 161). Her ideal scientist sought .. . 'to be acquainted with nature, and to observe the course of her works, yet in a humble and respectful manner' (1655 Philosophical and Physical Opinions A2)" (Bazeley 153).
These differences in language cannot rescue Cavendish from the theological debate surrounding New Science. In 1633, the Church proved just how seriously it considered science when it imprisoned Galileo, who was in his seventies, until he withdrew his support of the Copernican, heliocentric universe. In the selection of poems which appear in this edition, God is mentioned only in "Of the Subtlety of Motion:"
COuld we the severall Motions of Life know,
The Subtle windings, and the waies they go:
We should adore God more, and not dispute,
How they are done, but that great God can doe't.
But we with Ignorance about do run, 
To know the Ends, and how they first begun.
Spending that Life, which Natures God did give
Us to adore him, and his wonders with,
With fruitlesse, vaine, impossible pursuites,
In Schooles, Lectures, and quarrelling Disputes. 
But never give him thanks that did us make,
Proudly, as petty Gods, our selves do take
(Appendix A E2v - E3).
Cavendish clearly states that there are parts of God's creation that humans cannot understand, and shouldn't try to understand. She was particularly dismayed by the endless debating she saw taking place among different schools of thought, and expresses her disapproval again and again. In The Blazing World, for example, she describes all of the philosophers as animal-men: bear-men,worm-men, fish-men, bird-men, fly-men, fox-men, lice-men, magpie-men, etc. (World 261). In an argument with the bird-men, who are astonomers, the Empress of the Blazing World commands them to destroy their telescopes, as she blames their equipment for their differences in opinion. After hearing their defence, she allows them to keep their telescopes, "upon the condition that their disputes and quarrels should remain within their schools and cause no factions or disturbances in state or government" (269). Her vehemence may have stemmed from being a silent observer at those dinners in Paris. Although Cavendish did not speak or understand French, Sir Charles or Newcastle would have explained Descartes's ideas to her. Hearing all these brilliant scientific minds squabbling during the soup course might have led Cavendish to wonder what sort of answers they could come up with if they worked cooperatively rather than combatively. We will see this tendency toward unity reflected in much of Cavendish's work.
The question of which parts of God's creation humans can understand becomes an issue both with Cavendish, and in any atomic theory. Critics have two opinions of the role of God in Cavendish's atomic theory, either that He isn't there at all, or that He is a given. Robert Kargon's brief digression concerning Cavendish concludes with the claim that her atomic theory was clearly atheist:
that she admitted that atoms, of themselves, could make a world was near heresy. She compounded her seeming apostasy by adhering to very unorthodox ideas about the soul and about atheism. Like the ancient atomists (and Hobbes), Margaret held that the soul is corporeal, albeit rare and pure. . . . Lady Margaret evinced a tenderness towards atheism which was dangerous for one so closely tied to the suspect atomic philosophy.
It is better to be an atheist [she wrote in 1650] than a superstitious man; for in Atheisme there is humanitie, and civility towards man to man; but superstition regards no humanity, but begets cruelty to all things, even to themselves.
. . . [S]he obviously laid the atomists open to attack on the charge of impiety, a charge made more serious by the "excesses" of Hobbes (75-76).
As I will point out again, Kargon associates Cavendish with Hobbes in several ways, and he faults her severely for thoughts and actions which actually mirror Hobbes' thoughts and actions. Lisa Sarasohn also identifies Cavendish's "atheism" as the shocking element in her writing:
The duchess's system, although it may sound strange to modern ears, is not very different from the corpuscular philosophies advocated by Descartes, Hobbes, and Gassendi. The shocking element of Cavendish's atomism was the almost complete lack of theological qualifiers necessary to dissociate mechanism from the charge of atheistic materialism. . . . The duchess's atoms are eternal and infinite, two attributes which the proponents of corpuscular philosophy were careful to separate from their doctrines of matter, because in a Christian cosmology only God can be eternal and infinite. Furthermore the atoms, as the duchess described them, seem to act out of their own volition; whether they are ordered by God is left a very open question. . . .
This casual attitude toward divine providence is complemented by similar neglect of the concept of the immortal soul: the soul the duchess describes is material, although she suggests it can somehow continue after death. . . .This heterodoxy was emphasized when she suggested that there are an infinity of worlds, probably populated, not only outside our world, but inside it as well (291).
Other critics do not accuse Cavendish of atheism. Instead, they locate God outside the text. Bazeley suggests that Cavendish's removal of God from the "realm of inquistive speculation" reflected her piety rather than her disbelief:
Her reliance on the teachings of " the Orthodox Church" rather than "the opinions of particular persons" (herself included) for the "tru interpretation" of God's word resulted from the usual political imperatives. Too many opinions, Cavendish felt, "being so different and various," would leave the people "puzzled which to adhere to" (Philosophical Letters 210). As a result, structures of authority in social and political matters would be undermined. Cavendish was certain that the recent Civil War had been the horrific result of following too "many pathes" in theology (1655 Philosophical and Physical Opinions A1v). Because of the "dangerous" political repercussions of religious dissent, and her dread of contributing to it, Cavendish was deathly "afraid to meddle with Divinity in the least thing" (Philosophical Letters 316). Indeed, she wrote, "if I knew that my Opinions should give any offence to the Church, I should be ready every minute to alter them"(Philosophical Letters 17). . . . In her world, faith in God was simply a given; Cavendish refused to be troubled by questions of what, how, or why (63-64).
This interpretation seems very logical; it dovetails nicely with our earlier discussion of Cavendish's dislike for debate among scientists. She believed in strength through unity, and this belief is also reflected in her atomic theory, as we shall see shortly. Bazeley, incidently, also cites the "It is better, to be an Atheist" quotation, as an instance of Cavendish being unaware that she was being inflammatory. While the other English atomists were carefully Christianizing their theories, Cavendish was not, either because she was oblivious to the consequences,or because she assumed everyone knew she was a pious woman. It seems to me that one of Cavendish's weaknesses is that she simply does not think things through; for example, she changes her mind about atomic theory within eight months of publishing Poems, and Fancies. The "Atheist" quotation might have been a passionate, immediate response to a number of things: Giordano Bruno's martyrdom at the hands of the Church in 1600, Galileo's imprisonment by the Inquisition, the continuing execution of women accused of "witchcraft."
Margaret Alic interprets Cavendish's theology as a well-calculated omission on the writer's part:
unlike many seventeenth-century science writers, Margaret seldom mixed theology with her hazy natural philosophy. At the conclusion of Philosophical and Physical Opinions she explained that matter and motion expressed God's Divine Plan, but that the Deity would remain incomprehensible and was therefore of no concern to scientists. In the following centuries many natural philosophers would adopt similar arguments to avoid religious controversy (84).
As mentioned, this question of atheism arises in any atomic theory. Before discussing the specifics of Cavendish's atomic theory, a sketch of the state of atomic theory in her lifetime may be helpful.
The atom was an important construct in seventeenth-century England, and one of the most important texts on atomism was the Physica Peripatetica by Johannes Magirus, which Newton studied during his days at Cambridge (Kargon 1). To summarize briefly, according to Magirus, matter exists as four elements (air, earth, fire, and water) and each element is associated with "manifest qualities," which are evident to the eye, and "obscure qualities" which are not easily classified, such as magnetism and electrical attraction. Manifest qualities fall into two categories: Primary (hotness, wetness, coldness, dryness) and Secondary, which implies a mix of various qualitites (color, odor, taste, rarity, density, levity, gravity, hardness, and softness) (Kargon 2).
Also popular was the Corps de philosophie by Scipion du Pleix. du Pleix followed the Aristotlean division of matter into prime matter and secondary matter. Prime matter cannot be found in nature; it can be found only by reason. Secondary matter exists only in nature. du Pleix also offers four elements which make up secondary matter, and these four elements are formed from combinations of four primary qualities in matter (heat, cold, wetness, dryness). Fire is made of heat and dryness, air is wet and hot, water is cold and wet, earth is dry and cold (Kargon 2).
Robert Kargon offers a succinct explanation of the popularity of atomism in seventeenth-century England, although he admits he is over-simplifying:
1) The causal relationship posited by atomism was closest to what they were observing in their vacuum experiments -- bodies are moved by pressure or collision.
2) A sub-visible mechanism was useful for explaining phenomena that seemed non-mechanical at the visible level (as Merchant pointed out, the metaphor of machine had become the primary way scientists described their world).
3) Atoms were a classical idea, and a return to the classical texts for inspiration and ideas was a very natural step for the scientists.
4) The new scientific advances, the vacuum, and some aspects of chemistry, could be more easily explained by atomism than by any other theory (Kargon 3-4).
In the 1620s, three French natural philosophers began to discuss the atomic theory. Marin Mersenne (1588-1648), Pierre Gassendi(1592-1655), and René Descartes (1596-1650):
initially a mutually supportive social group, began to construct a mechanical philosophy that ultimately presented a solution to the problems of certainty, social stability, and individual responsibility. In reinstating moral and intellectual order, they revived the corpuscular philosophies of the ancient atomists, but placed them in a Christian context, and attempted to devise criteria for certainty in knowledge" (Merchant 194).
These three men would be responsible for the spread of popular atomic theory in England, due to their interaction with the Newcastle Circle in Paris.
Kargon devotes a chapter of his Atomism in England from Hariotto Newton to Descartes, Gassendi,12 and the Newcastle Circle, who Kargon credits with bringing atomism to wide acceptance in England (after earlier attempts by Hariot and the Northumberland coterie) (Kargon 63). The combination of the "French giants of the mechanical philosophy," Decartes and Gassendi, with the already mechanical inclinations of the Royalists living abroad -- Hobbes, Newcastle, Sir Charles Cavendish, and John Pell -- resulted in atomism becoming "a living issue in English natural philosophy" (63). Descartes' theory of matter is based on bodies and their motion. Gassendi's system is based on atoms and the void. Both the particles which make up Descartes's bodies and the atoms which make up Gassendi's have various shapes, weights, or other qualitites which give characteristics to these bodies (Kargon 65-67).
Kargon actually devotes a few pages to Cavendish and her atomic theory. He describes her interest in motion, and her atomic system, and then notes that "psychological as well as physical phenomena have their origin in atomic motion. . . . a doctrine closely resembling that which Hobbes taught [Newcastle] as early as 1630" (74). Here is yet another idea which seems strange to the modern reader, but the greatest scientific minds of the seventeenth century were thinking in this fashion -- creativity still had a place in science. However, as I noted in my earlier exploration of Cavendish's "atheism," Kargon is again associating her with Hobbes, and excusing Hobbes for what he condemns in Cavendish.13
Douglas Grant situates Cavendish firmly in the non-empirical scientific tradition:
Sitting alone in her study, with only her contemplations for company, she surveyed nature without the guide of books; and without verifying her conjectures by experiment, concluded arbitrarily about its order. The habit was dangerous, though common. The importance of experiment was widely recognized by the time that Margaret published her first speculations in 1653, but many natural philosophers, while accepting Francis Bacon's injunction to put everything to the test, failed to apply it rigorously, especially in matters which they believed they could sufficiently demonstrate by argument and analogy (192).
So, what exactly did Margaret come up with in her study?
In Cavendish's atomic theory, all matter is composed of four elements, either in a pure form or mixed in various ratios. The four elements are fire, earth, air, and water, and they are comprised of atoms of different shapes. Fire's atoms are sharp; earth's are square and flat; air's are long, straight, and hollow; and water's are round and hollow. The longer atoms, fire and air, are more active than the squatter atoms, earth and water. Fire atoms are the most active, earth, the least. All of the atoms have the same weight and the same amount of matter, but they vary in size or shape. When the atoms join together in harmonious unity, they form various parts of the natural world. However, if the joined atoms begin to disagree and fight, illness or change occurs.
Atoms are closely related to health for Cavendish. Not only does sickness result from squabbling atoms, she also supposes that duration of life depends on how tightly the atoms are packed together. Vegetables are packed most loosely, animals more tightly, and humans tightest of all. A loose atomic structure, therefore, is undesirable. However, loose atoms do have their uses: loose fire and air atoms in the brain result in a nimble, creative mind (loose earth and water atoms cause dullness and sleepiness). Motion determines which atoms will be where, and how tightly they are packed --she compares motion to a shepherd, and atoms to sheep. Atoms also cause human diseases, such as consumption, and human emotions,such as melancholy.
Again, unity and harmony are the keys to happiness. A healthy atom dances, while Motion directs the steps. Cavendish's system is a cooperative, unified system, where dissention causes illness, earthquakes, and death. Considering the political and religious upheaval in England during this time, her insistence on unity seems all the more wistful. She ends her series of poems with some speculation on motion, which she considers the life of all things, and infinity, which we've seen is dangerous ground.
In the context of seventeenth-century science, Cavendish's ideas are not that absurd.14 Douglas Grant draws a couple of specific comparisons:
Reading through the works of the seventeenth-century natural philosophers who founded our knowledge, we can find speculations which superficially resemble those advanced by Margaret; and in the writings of the lesser men, who had the advantage of education and the opportunities for discussion denied to her, worlds are disclosed which approximate no closer to reality than hers. She thought, for example, that the earth's magnetic force could be explained by the emission of sharp atoms which transfixed the duller ones and returned home with them like laden bees making for the hive; but her friend, Dr. Walter Charleton, a most intelligent man, explained the properties of the magnet on a similar system of hooked atoms, and postulated as well atoms of divers shapes to account for other phenomena. She explained the sparks which can be struck from a flint by supposing that the sharp atoms were imprisoned by the sluggish ones until released by friction, and her explanation was at least plausible until Robert Hooke published twenty years later his microscopical observations on the particles dropped by a flint when fire is struck from it (117).
Cavendish's second book, Philosophicall Fancies, was published at the end of 1653, and in this new volume, she recanted her atomic theory. There are several reasons she might have done so, charges of atheism stemming from her first book not being the least of those reasons. Another reason might be that Cavendish simply reasoned out her atomic theory to a further extent, saw its flaws, and decided that she was more interested in the implications of motion which "became the cornerstone of her imaginative natural philosophy" (Alic 84).
Regardless, she does not fully explain the change until 1663, in her Philosophical Opinions.15 Margaret Alic summarizes this explanation on page 84 of Hypatia's Heritage:
By 1663 she had decided that if atoms were 'Animated matter', they must have 'Free will and Liberty'. Thus, like human nations, they would always be at war and could never cooperate to create complex animals, vegetables and minerals: 'And as for Atoms, after I had reasoned with my Self, I concluded that it was not probable, that the Universe and all the Creatures therein could be Created and Disposed by the Dancing and Wandering and Dusty motion of Atoms' (C2).
Sarasohn adds another quotation from Philosophical and Physical Opinions in reference to the atoms having free will: "if each separate part of matter was endowed with consciousness, 'they would hardly agree in one government, which is as unlikely as several kings would agree in one kingdom, or rather as men, if every one should have an equal power, would make a good government.. . '" (297). Again, the political events in England may explain Cavendish's skepticism about unity.
Sarasohn also analyzes Cavendish's new theory which depends on motion, which proves interesting since Isaac Newton is only eighteen years old in 1661 (and a student at Cambridge, where Cavendish's books could be found in the library):
. . . Cavendish abandoned atomism by 1661, instead developing a scientific theory where a hierarchy of matter, integrated into an organic whole, composed the entire natural world. According to her theory the universe is composed of matter and motion, which are inseparable. There are three kinds of matter, differing in figure and type of motion, but inextricably integrated in composed forms of matter: rational matter, the most excellent, which is self-moving, the seat of conception, and the director of the rest of matter; sensible matter, which carries out the commands of rational matter, and is the vehicle for sensual perception; and inanimate matter, which is the least excellent because it lacks perception, although it is self-conscious and the material substratum of all being (294).
Finally, Margaret Cavendish's atomic theory is a small but valuable part of the history of science. Not only could it have been seen as a theory in flux in response to cultural and political pressures around it, but it is also vital to the understanding of the role of women in the history of science, and in the examination of alternate visions of the Scientific Revolution, as Merchant, Sarasohn, and Bazeley have illustrated. A final quotation from Sarasohn sets Cavendish firmly in the context of New Science:
The organic and vitalistic quality of Margaret Cavendish's natural philosophy distinguished it from the mechanistic systems of Hobbes and Descartes. While the duchess shared their fascination with matter and motion, she denied that insensible matter, without self-movement, could produce an ordered universe. Likewise, she rejected the argument of the Cambridge Platonists who claimed that the universe was animated and moved by an immaterial spirit. It was impossible in her view that an immaterial spirit could affect and cause alteration in material being. Cavendish's natural philosophy is much more closely related to the organic theories of the Renaissance natural magicians and the vitalistic thought of the chemists of the sixteenth and seventeenth century, and to some aspects of the thought of Pierre Gassendi, with whose works she was probably familiar through the intermediacy of Charles Cavendish and Walter Charleton.
The implicit unity of her own system circumvented the anarchy of pure atomism: hierarchy therefore replaces egalitarianism as the best ordering device in both nature and society (297).
The atomic poems may be read without the context of Cavendish's life and the Scientific Revolution as background, but I think an understanding of the seventeenth century is vital to a true understanding of the science of Margaret Cavendish and why she should not be dismissed, either from the history of literature, nor from the history of science. As a woman writing poetry about atomic theory in the seventeenth century, she is assuredly unique, but as a woman re-visioning her environment and creating various utopian visions of both her world and other worlds, she allows the twentieth-century reader a picture of a creative, and sadly under-educated, seventeenth-century mind.
9. The information in this introduction to Renaissance and Reformation science, unless otherwise noted, has been drawn from notes from Maxine van de Wetering's course in the History and Philosophy of Science, April 12th - May 5th, 1994.
10. What follows is a very brief description of one of Merchant's main points, that the changing scientific method in the seventeenth century brought about not only a metaphoric shift in language, but a change in how we perceive and employ our environment. Merchant argues that our current environmental crises stemmed from this seventeenth century shift. The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology, and the Scientific Revolution provides an in-depth analysis of these connections.
11. I use the word "man" deliberately. Women were not responsible for national, or international, policy in the seventeenth century any more than they are at the end of the twentieth.
12. Kargon refers to Gassendi as Gassend, and I came across this scientist and mathematician referred to by both spellings in various books. I have chosen to refer to him as Gassendi, based on Microsoft® Encarta TM.
13. Just as an aside, Copernicus also subscribed to the theoretical school of science. Although he was interested in "saving the appearances," or explaining empirical data to a certain point, his construction of the universe was based on the circle for mathematical and aesthetic reasons; he added epicycles to planetary orbits in order to reconcile his beloved circle to the actual appearance of planetary orbits. For Copernicus, truth was something one found through mathematics, geometry, and logic.
14. Cavendish's insistence on unity and harmony is interesting in the light of quantum mechanics, particularly as interpreted by Gary Zukav's The Dancing Wu Li Masters: An Overview of the New Physics and Fritjof Capra's The Tao of Physics. Both men stress the importance of seeing the world as intricately inter-connected on a sub-atomic level, a system in which unity and harmony are also important.
15. In his essay "Author and Hero in Aesthetic Activity, "Mikhail Bakhtin warns against the danger of "confounding the author-creator (a constituent in a work) with the author-person (a consituent in the ethical, social event of life)" (10). Bakhtin's main objection is to what he calls "the author's confession" (6). He claims that anything valid that the artist has to say about the process of creation is contained within the created work (7). When an artist "undertakes to speak about his act of creation independently of and as a supplement to the work he has produced, he usually substitutes a new [his later and more receptive] relationship for his actual creative relationship to the work" (7). Bahktin specifically mentions author's prefaces to new editions as suspect, because the author is taking into account, consciously or not, the public and/or critical reception of the work, and shaping his thoughts about his creative process accordingly. I think these points are particularly relevant in the case of Cavendish, and thus present several interpretations of why she abandoned atomic theory, rather than just her own explanation.
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