The next meeting of the London-Paris Romanticism Seminar will be held on Friday 19 January 2018 in the Bloomsbury Room (ground floor), Senate House, University of London, starting at 5.30. As our distinguished guest speaker, we are delighted to welcome Sarah Haggarty of the University of Cambridge, who will present a paper entitled Blake’s Newton and Romantic Geometry. This will be followed by a discussion and wine reception. The event is open to everyone and admission is free.
Sarah Haggarty is a University Lecturer in English at the University of Cambridge and a Fellow of Queens’ College. She has written about theories of gift-giving and exchange, phenomenologies of timing and tempo, and the writing, art, and reception of William Blake. In addition to three books previously published (authored, co-authored, and edited), she is the editor of Blake in Context, a collection of essays forthcoming from CUP, and is currently at work on an article about Blake’s manuscripts and notebooks stemming from her own contribution to this. She is also working on a monograph about eighteenth-century religious writing and the temporality of action, supported by fellowships from CRASSH (Cambridge’s Centre for Research in the Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences; 2016-17) and the Leverhulme Trust (2018). Her work on Blake, Newton, and geometry is affiliated to this larger project.
Regarding the topic of her talk, Sarah writes:
“This paper looks anew at Blake’s famous colour-print Newton (1795; 1805) in light of the culture, history, and philosophy of geometry. Blake may well have understood more about geometry, and indeed Newton, than has previously been recognised, informed by his training and daily practice as a graphic artist, his possible exposure to Euclidean proof at the hands of Thomas Taylor, and his reading of George Berkeley’s Siris. A knowing critique of geometry is certainly implied by Blake’s objections to Newtonian ideas of space, time, and motion, which implicate Isaac Newton not merely as an exemplar of rational materialism, doubt, and experiment, but also, centrally and specifically, as a geometer: a manipulator of mathematical instruments, in thrall to the diagrammatic image. In a cluster of telling instances, Blake juxtaposes attacks on Newton with an articulation of his own practical aesthetics of line-drawing. Anchoring his antagonism might be a persuasion that the linear forms, the diagrams, that would seem to guarantee the certainty and truth of Newton’s ideas are, in Blake’s eyes, fatally detached from their construction; Newton as geometer can only ever measure and mime, never draw or create. Blake’s opposition of the artist’s living, moving outlines to the stillborn diagrams of geometry speaks to wider debates within and between mathematics and the visual arts (during Blake’s lifetime, before, and since) about the place of construction, and also drawing, which it may or may not entail, in confirming, or alternatively enacting, geometrical truth. Discussion of these contexts in my paper is partly Romantic-period specific, but not wholly so; in addition to Kant, Coleridge, and Turner, the paper invokes classical Greek and long-eighteenth-century-period textbooks and treatises, numerous reflections on line-drawing by artists and artisans, and modern philosophies of practice and duration. It even tries to wrest Newton from the clutches of eighteenth-century Newtonianism, and Blake’s caricature, closing by examining Newton’s own notes upon learning to draw.”