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English literature, satire, early modern criticism
My research project focuses on how early modern authors addressed hallucinatory experiences in critical, medical and occult writings. It approaches the subject through modern literary theory and literary history. The concept of experience and examining the pre-history of the Romantic sublime play a central part in creating a modern scholarly perspective on reports of exceptional experiences and their protopsychological explanations. The literary criticism of the period is of interest, because literary criticism is perhaps the only place where one finds the matter of what can be described by language in the first place discussed in great detail. Early medical tracts, in turn, discuss perception and mental illness, two topics which were linked to questions of language through lingering beliefs in Renaissance cosmology on the one hand and new philosophies of the mind on the other. Plague doctors in particular mistrusted stories of apparitions and other reports of hallucinatory experiences, because fear was thought to make people susceptible to the plague and prolong the epidemic. As religious explanations of mental illness began to wane, secular explanations for the condition were sought and the person subjected to hallucinations was seen as someone with a troublesome gift.
The aim of the project is to examine how theories concerning hallucinatory experiences were first developed and how they evolved during the period under examination. The resulting monograph will contribute to our understanding of early modern science and popular attitudes toward hallucinatory experiences at a time when the scientific worldview was being forged in learned debates.
The project is funded by the Emil Aaltonen Foundation and the Alfred Kordelin Foundation. I am currently a visiting research fellow at the University of Westminster.