- Mindful Matter
In the inaugural issue of the short-lived Edinburgh Review (1755–56), Adam Smith shares his thoughts on Samuel Johnson’s A Dictionary of the English Language (1755).1 After a few lines of perfunctory praise, Smith contends that the dictionary is neither grammatical nor historical enough. As the most famous Scottish constructor of philosophical systems, Smith offers a response that is not very surprising, but his method of demonstration is unexpected nonetheless. Over the course of eight-plus pages in the modern edition, Smith represents the dictionary’s faults by rewriting two of its entries: “but” and “humour,” which exemplify terms requiring grammatical and historical comprehensiveness, respectively. Smith’s critique hinges on a dispute regarding genre. While Johnson presented the dictionary as something like a comprehensive commonplace book, Smith reimagined it as an alphabetically ordered theoretical system, depicting grammatical trees of meaning and historical stages of lexical progress. By rewriting a tiny piece of the dictionary, Smith offered a glimpse of an alternative trajectory for the genre’s modern form. Two recent books return [End Page 124] to prototypical Enlightenment genres of epistemological organization—one on the dictionary, the other on the museum—in order, like Smith, to rethink the relationship between bibliographical forms of arrangement and the production of cultural knowledge. While Brad Pasanek’s Metaphors of Mind and Sean Silver’s The Mind is a Collection pose very different critical and historical questions, they similarly claim a reciprocal relationship between the material and intellectual worlds of the Enlightenment, and they see contemporary digital media as both occasioning their projects and providing resources for carrying them out. For Pasanek, this has meant building a searchable database of 12,000+ metaphors of mind that have been culled from historical databases of eighteenth-century print (such as Literature Online and Eighteenth-Century Collections Online). His book arranges a selection of the metaphors as a dictionary, which guides the reader through patterns of figuration. Silver, by contrast, examines the correspondence between curatorial practices and models of cognition by organizing his study as a collection of exhibits in a “virtual museum,” serving as the book’s digital companion. Examining these distinctive contributions to eighteenth-century studies provides an occasion to explore how together they reveal new possibilities for the scholarly monograph in form and function.
Pasanek presents Metaphors of Mind as a dictionary of eighteenth-century figures of mental activity and form. Rather than chapters, the book is organized by categorical entries, ranging from “animals,” to “coinage,” to “fetters,” to “rooms.” Each entry includes a header that features the collocated words used to produce proximity searches with Pasanek’s set list of mind-body words, including “mind,” “heart,” “soul,” “reason,” and “passion.” For instance, the entry for “empire” includes the terms “conquest,” “empire,” “emporium,” “frontier,” “imperium,” “invasion,” “seat,” and “throne.” Proximity searches entail finding two terms appearing within a given range of words, and Pasanek posits that the “double-dealing syntax of metaphor” is well suited to this form of computational inquiry (4). In the typical entry, Pasanek offers sub-headings that refer to how authors tended to use the category of metaphor in question. The “court” entry discusses metaphors of actual courts, the “law of reason” (73), the “court of conscience” (75), and “testimony” (80), indicating general patterns in using court figures to represent models of mental activity. In the “fetters” entry, Pasanek reads metaphors of slavery as tropes that “link mind and matter” in that they often conflate notions of figurative and physical captivity, as when Hannah More emphasizes that, in a note to her abolitionist poem, Slavery (1788), the line “the sharp iron wounds [the slave’s] inmost soul” is literal (135–36). Pasanek reads specific figures like this to reveal that neat distinctions do not hold between the literal and the figurative, two domains that are reciprocally defined across the dataset of metaphors.
Identifying predecessors in lexicographers like Samuel Johnson, cultural critics like...