New Book | The Mind Is a Collection

Posted in books, exhibitions by Editor on March 31, 2016

From Penn Press:

Sean Silver, The Mind Is a Collection: Case Studies in Eighteenth-Century Thought (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015), 384 pages, ISBN: 978-0812247268, $65 / £42.

81EJZF0Bl-LJohn Locke described the mind as a cabinet; Robert Hooke called it a repository; Joseph Addison imagined a drawer of medals. Each of these philosophers was an avid collector and curator of books, coins, and cultural artifacts. It is therefore no coincidence that when they wrote about the mental work of reason and imagination, they modeled their powers of intellect in terms of collecting, cataloging, and classification.

The Mind Is a Collection approaches seventeenth- and eighteenth-century metaphors of the mind from a material point of view. Each of the book’s six chapters is organized as a series of linked exhibits that speak to a single aspect of Enlightenment philosophies of mind. From his first chapter, on metaphor, to the last one, on dispossession, Sean Silver looks at ways that abstract theories referred to cognitive ecologies—systems crafted to enable certain kinds of thinking, such as libraries, workshops, notebooks, collections, and gardens. In doing so, he demonstrates the crossings-over of material into ideal, ideal into material, and the ways in which an idea might repeatedly turn up in an object, or a range of objects might repeatedly stand for an idea. A brief conclusion examines the afterlife of the metaphor of mind as collection, as it turns up in present-day cognitive studies. Modern cognitive theory has been applied to the microcomputer, and while the object is new, the habit is as old as the Enlightenment.

By examining lived environments and embodied habits from 1660 to 1800, Silver demonstrates that the philosophical dualism that separated mind from body and idea from thing was inextricably established through active engagement with crafted ecologies.

Sean Silver teaches literature at the University of Michigan. Sean Silver’s The Mind is a Collection is a two-part intellectual project featuring a virtual museum (about museums) along with his book, The Mind is a Collection, which serves as both scholarly study and an exhibit catalogue.

◊  ◊  ◊  ◊  ◊


Preface: Welcome to the Museum

Case 1. Metaphor
1  John Locke’s Commonplace Book
2  John Milton’s Bed
3  Mark Akenside’s Museum

Case 2. Design
4  Robert Hooke’s Camera Obscura
5  Raphael’s Judgment of Paris
6  A Gritty Pebble
7  An Oval Portrait of John Woodward
8  A Stone from the Grotto of Egeria
9  Venus at Her Toilet

Case 3. Digression
10  The Iliad in a Nutshell
11  A Full Stop
12  A Conical Roman Tumulus
13  The Reception of Claudius
14  Addison’s Walk

Case 4. Inwardness
15  William Hay’s Stone
16  Two Calculi Cut and Mounted in a Small Showcase
17  An Ampulla of the Blood of Thomas Becket
18  A Blue-Bound Copy of The Mysterious Mother

Case 5. Conception
19  A Blank Sheet of Paper (1)
20  A Folio Sheet with Two Sketches of a Single Conception
21  A Triumph of Galatea
22  Joshua Reynolds, William Hunter

Case 6. Dispossession
23  A Shilling
24  A Book of Accounts
25  A Blank Sheet of Paper (2)
26  A Ring Containing a Lock of Hair
27  The Lost Property Office
28  The Skeleton of Jonathan Wild



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