The Reason of Imagination. The Blazing Worlds of Margaret Cavendish and Siri Hustvedt

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Abstract

This essay is aimed at building a bridge between two female writers verydistant in time and place, Margaret Cavendish and Siri Hustvedt, on three basis:that of a work they have in common – which Hustvedt has almost rewrittenfrom Cavendish, The Blazing World –, two of their proto-feminist and feministtactics to overcome the boundaries posed by patriarchy – that of embodimentand that of masquerade –. and their consideration of imagination – as afundamental means of knowledge.Though one of the peculiarities of 17th century paradigm shift was thedistinction of the scientific discourse from the religious, magic, mystic andartistic one, yet a link still seems to remain between science and imagination, asdemonstrated, for instance, by Galileo’s aesthetic attitude (Panofsky), byHooke’s and Baker’s imaginative suggestion before their microscopes (Hooke;Baker; Nicholson), Bacon’s duplicity as «the enthusiast of both power ofimagination and understanding and as the harbinger of narrow objectivism andthe dissociation of sensibility» (Levao: 5; Bacon). However the idea ofimagination as a true means of knowledge seems to be a merely femaleintuition, or rather a subversive way to shift the scientific paradigm once again,replacing objective and disembodied observation with subjective imaginationand speculation. This is the main subject of Margaret Cavendish’s best knownwork, The Blazing World (1666), where her alter ego is free to build a whole socialand philosophical system based on corporality and subjectivity.From the same conception of imagination does Siri Hustvedt start when in2014 she rewrites The Blazing World: the story of an artist who, in the twentiethcentury, still tries to face the overwhelming misogyny with the performance ofthe body and the theory of embodiment. The protagonist is really close to theDuchess of Newcastle, especially for her desire to overturn the artificial gendercategories through a real masquerade. The voices of Cavendish, Hustvedt andof all their alter egos follow each other through documents, diary pages andpure narration, in which it is difficult to say what is fiction and what is truth.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages27
JournalBETWEEN
Volume9
Publication statusPublished - 2019

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