The Art of Observing the Small: On the Borders of the subvisibilia (from Hooke to Brockes)

Rüdiger Campe, Jocelyn Holland, Elisabeth Strowick and Christiane Frey


The invention of the microscope and its adoption into widespread use from the mid-seventeenth century on affected the way natural philosophers and writers thought about observation. But instead of retracing the microscope’s enhancement of the visible, this essay explores how, under the impact of the microscope, the relationship between knowledge and the visible is repeatedly renegotiated and displaced in natural philosophy and poetry. Robert Hooke’s ethos of observation limits knowledge to the realm of the visible; Leibniz reintroduces the invisible into knowledge while setting new limits between human and divine knowledge; Brockes develops new figures of limitlessness. These and other examples show how the look through the microscope could lead to divergent and even contradictory epistemic consequences. (CF)

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