The word "idea" comes from the Greek for "to see," and Robert Hooke's Micrographia (Item 1), the first treatise to use the microscope, redefined knowledge by redefining what it meant to see. With the use of scientific technology, to know became a matter of seeing things close up. Such technology subordinated a natural seeing to a new kind of seeing, more specialized and hence more useful in a scientific domain.
Hooke's text offers new ways of thinking about the relationship between the printed book and the physical world. In one striking instance, he puts books themselves to a new kind of use, literally under the microscope: the mould shown in Scheme 12, he notes, was "found to bespeck & whiten over the red covers of a small book, which, it seems, were of Sheeps-skin, that being more apt to gather mould, even in a dry and clean room, then other leathers." At the same time as he magnifies the physical world external to the book, Hooke again and again draws his readers into the domain of the material book. Although the use of microscope technology everywhere subtends the book, the reader's eye is directed from narrative text to plate and back again, such that the image comes to illustrate the text and not the world. This is no less true for one of the last plates in the book, an illustration of the stars, as viewed through a telescope. The microscopic and macroscopic illustrations are used here to direct the reader into the book as a substitute precisely for the scientific technologies and practices that made them possible.
As interested as Micrographia is in scientific accuracy, in fact, the book seems enthralled by the pleasure of its visual effects. In his description of the flea, for example, Hooke draws a distinction between the "strength and beauty of this small creature." For strength, "the Microscope is able to make no greater discoveries of it then the naked eye"; "But, as for the beauty of it," he says, "the microscope manifests it to be all over adorn'd with a curiously polish'd suit of sable, Armour, neatly jointed, and beset with multitudes of sharp pinns, shap'd almost like Porcupine's Quills, or bright conical Steel-bodkins." The turn here to aesthetic detail and the delight of seeing the world up close suggests how the technology of the book could underscore and even forge relationships between science and pleasure.
|1a. Robert Hooke (1635-1703). Micrographia: Or Some Physiological Descriptions Of Minute Bodies Made By Magnifying Glasses. London: by Jo. Martyn, and Ja. Allestry, 1665. Scheme 12.|
|1b. Robert Hooke (1635-1703). Micrographia: Or Some Physiological Descriptions Of Minute Bodies Made By Magnifying Glasses. London: by Jo. Martyn, and Ja. Allestry, 1665. Scheme 12.|
|1c. Robert Hooke (1635-1703). Micrographia: Or Some Physiological Descriptions Of Minute Bodies Made By Magnifying Glasses. London: by Jo. Martyn, and Ja. Allestry, 1665. Scheme 12.|