Essays
Philosophy

Music of the Squares: David Ramsay Hay and the Reinvention of Pythagorean Aesthetics

Music of the Squares: David Ramsay Hay and the Reinvention of Pythagorean Aesthetics

Understanding the same laws to apply to both visual and aural beauty, David Ramsay Hay thought it possible not only to analyse such visual wonders as the Parthenon in terms of music theory, but also to identify their corresponding musical harmonies and melodies. Carmel Raz on the Scottish artist’s original, idiosyncratic, and occasionally bewildering aesthetics. more

Get Thee to a Phalanstery: or, How Fourier Can Still Teach Us to Make Lemonade

Get Thee to a Phalanstery: or, How Fourier Can Still Teach Us to Make Lemonade

Hot on the heels of the French revolution — by way of extravagant orgies, obscure taxonomies, and lemonade seas — Charles Fourier offered up his blueprint for a socialist utopia, and in the process also one of the most influential early critiques of capitalism. Dominic Pettman explores Fourier’s radical, bizarre, and often astonishingly modern ideas, and how they might guide us in our own troubled times. more

Rambling Reflections: On Summers in Switzerland and Sheffield

Rambling Reflections: On Summers in Switzerland and Sheffield

In the footsteps of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Karl Philipp Moritz — from the peace of Lake Biel to the rugged Peaks — Seán Williams considers the connection between walking and writing. more

The Art of Philosophy: Visualising Aristotle in Early 17th-Century Paris

The Art of Philosophy: Visualising Aristotle in Early 17th-Century Paris

With their elaborate interplay of image and text, the several large-scale prints designed by the French friar Martin Meurisse to communicate Aristotelian thought are wonderfully impressive creations. Susanna Berger explores the function of these complex works, and how such visual commentaries not only served to express philosophical ideas in a novel way but also engendered their own unique mode of thinking. more

Out From Behind This Mask

Out From Behind This Mask

A Barthesian bristle and the curious power of Walt Whitman’s posthumous eyelids — D. Graham Burnett on meditations conjured by a visit to the death masks of the Laurence Hutton Collection. more

“Let us Calculate!”: Leibniz, Llull, and the Computational Imagination

“Let us Calculate!”: Leibniz, Llull, and the Computational Imagination

Three hundred years after the death of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz and seven hundred years after the death of Ramon Llull, Jonathan Gray looks at how their early visions of computation and the “combinatorial art” speak to our own age of data, algorithms, and artificial intelligence. more

Francis van Helmont and the Alphabet of Nature

Francis van Helmont and the Alphabet of Nature

Largely forgotten today in the shadow of his more famous father, the 17th-century Flemish alchemist Francis van Helmont influenced and was friends with the likes of Locke, Boyle, and Leibniz. While imprisoned by the Inquisition, in between torture sessions, he wrote his Alphabet of Nature on the idea of a universal “natural” language. Je Wilson explores. more

Notes on the Fourth Dimension

Notes on the Fourth Dimension

Hyperspace, ghosts, and colourful cubes — Jon Crabb on the work of Charles Howard Hinton and the cultural history of higher dimensions. more

Machiavelli, Comedian

Machiavelli, Comedian

Most familiar today as the godfather of Realpolitik and as the eponym for all things cunning and devious, the Renaissance thinker Niccolò Machiavelli also had a lighter side, writing as he did a number of comedies. Christopher S. Celenza looks at perhaps the best known of these plays, Mandragola, and explores what it can teach us about the man and his world. more

Scurvy and the Terra Incognita

Scurvy and the Terra Incognita

One remarkable symptom of scurvy, that constant bane of the Age of Discovery, was the acute and morbid heightening of the senses. Jonathan Lamb explores how this unusual effect of sailing into uncharted territory echoed a different kind of voyage, one undertaken by the Empiricists through their experiments in enhancing the senses artificially. more

Black on Black

Black on Black

Should we consider black a colour, the absence of colour, or a suspension of vision produced by a deprivation of light? Beginning with Robert Fludd's attempt to picture nothingness, Eugene Thacker reflects* on some of the ways in which blackness has been used and thought about through the history of art and philosophical thought. more

Victorian Occultism and the Art of Synesthesia

Victorian Occultism and the Art of Synesthesia

Grounded in the theory that ideas, emotions, and even events, can manifest as visible auras, Annie Besant and Charles Leadbeater’s Thought-Forms (1901) is an odd and intriguing work. Benjamin Breen explores these “synesthetic” abstractions and asks to what extent they, and the Victorian mysticism of which they were born, influenced the Modernist movement that flourished in the following decades. more

A Dangerous Man in the Pantheon

A Dangerous Man in the Pantheon

This October marks 300 years since the birth of French Enlightenment thinker Denis Diderot. Although perhaps best known for co-founding the Encylopédie, Philipp Blom argues for the importance of Diderot's philosophical writings and how they offer a pertinent alternative to the Enlightenment cult of reason spearheaded by his better remembered contemporaries Voltaire and Rousseau. more

Lucian’s Trips to the Moon

Lucian’s Trips to the Moon

With his Vera Historia, the 2nd century satirist Lucian of Samosata wrote the first detailed account of a trip to the moon in the Western tradition and, some argue, also one of the earliest science fiction narratives. Aaron Parrett explores how Lucian used this lunar vantage point to take a satirical look back at the philosophers of Earth and their ideas of "truth". more

As a Lute out of Tune: Robert Burton’s Melancholy

As a Lute out of Tune: Robert Burton’s Melancholy

In 1621 Robert Burton first published his masterpiece The Anatomy of Melancholy, a vast feat of scholarship examining in encyclopaedic detail that most enigmatic of maladies. Noga Arikha explores the book, said to be the favorite of both Samuel Johnson and Keats, and places it within the context of the humoural theory so popular at the time. more

The Erotic Dreams of Emanuel Swedenborg

The Erotic Dreams of Emanuel Swedenborg

During the time of his "spiritual awakening" in 1744 the scientist and philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg kept a dream diary. Richard Lines looks at how, among the heavenly visions, there were also erotic dreams, the significance of which has been long overlooked. more

Trüth, Beaüty, and Volapük

Trüth, Beaüty, and Volapük

Arika Okrent explores the rise and fall of Volapük - a universal language created in the late 19th century by a German priest called Johann Schleyer. more

The Last Great Explorer: William F. Warren and the Search for Eden

The Last Great Explorer: William F. Warren and the Search for Eden

Of all the attempts throughout history to geographically locate the Garden of Eden one of the most compelling was that set out by minister and president of Boston University, William F. Warren. Brook Wilensky-Lanford looks at the ideas of the man who, in his book Paradise Found, proposed the home of all humanity to be at the North Pole. more

On Benjamin’s Public (Oeuvre)

On Benjamin’s Public (Oeuvre)

On the run from the Nazis in 1940, the philosopher, literary critic and essayist Walter Benjamin committed suicide in the Spanish border town of Portbou. In 2011, over 70 years later, his writings enter the public domain in many countries around the world. Anca Pusca, author of Walter Benjamin: The Aesthetics of Change, reflects on the relevance of Benjamin's oeuvre in a digital age, and the implications of his work becoming freely available online. more

Aspiring to a Higher Plane

Aspiring to a Higher Plane

In 1884 Edwin Abbott Abbott published Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions, perhaps the first ever book that could be described as "mathematical fiction". Ian Stewart, author of Flatterland and The Annotated Flatland, introduces the strange tale of the geometric adventures of A. Square. more

Robert Fludd and His Images of The Divine

Robert Fludd and His Images of The Divine

Between 1617 and 1621 the English physician and polymath Robert Fludd published his masterwork Utriusque Cosmi, a book split into two volumes and packed with over 60 intricate engravings. Urszula Szulakowska explores the philosophical and theological ideas behind the extraordinary images found in the second part of the work. more

American Kaleidoscope: Morton Prince and the Boston Revolution in Psychotherapy

American Kaleidoscope: Morton Prince and the Boston Revolution in Psychotherapy

In 1906 the American physician and neurologist Morton Henry Prince published his remarkable monograph The Dissociation of a Personality in which he details the condition of 'Sally Beauchamp', America's first famous multiple-personality case. George Prochnik discusses the life and thought of the man Freud called "an unimaginable ass". more

The Life and Work of Nehemiah Grew

The Life and Work of Nehemiah Grew

In the 82 illustrated plates included in his 1680 book The Anatomy of Plants, the English botanist Nehemiah Grew revealed for the first time the inner structure and function of plants in all their splendorous intricacy. Brian Garret explores how Grew's pioneering "mechanist" vision in relation to the floral world paved the way for the science of plant anatomy. more

Ernst Haeckel and the Unity of Culture

Ernst Haeckel and the Unity of Culture

In addition to describing and naming thousands of new species the German biologist and philosopher Ernst Haeckel was behind some of history's most impressive meetings of science and art. Dr Mario A. Di Gregorio explores Haeckel’s unique idea of “monism” which lies behind the mesmerising illustrations of his most famous work, Kunstformen Der Natur. more

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