This article examines early eighteenth-century attempts to explain how poetic descriptions of physical motion generated vivid scenes in the imagination. Motion was central to neo-Augustan theories of representation because, for much of this period, writers understood motion as a central principle of human nature. Questions about the mind/soul's “agitations” were crucial to a wide range of Enlightenment theories about mental imagery, rhetorical persuasion, and aesthetic beauty. Many writers, including John Dennis, linked the aesthetic import of spatial movement to Newtonian laws of motion. I trace the ways that Dennis's theories about motion imagery address not only the classical tradition of “bringing-before-the-eyes,” but also the modern philosophical models of inertia and force. In arguing that writing about poetry could better elucidate the motions of the mind/soul than could moral philosophy or physics, Dennis's essays can also teach us about eighteenth-century proto-disciplinary organization. Recent work in cognitive cultural studies has shown that the concept of motion is of vital importance to understanding the way the brain comprehends and structures language. This has especially wide-reaching implications for scholars of Restoration and eighteenth-century literature because it was during this period that writers began to codify connections between universal laws of nature, beauty, and human cognition.
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Sara Landreth; “Set His Image in Motion:” John Dennis and Early Eighteenth-Century Motion Imagery. Eighteenth-Century Life 1 January 2016; 40 (1): 59–83. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00982601-3337911
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