The Sensational Past: How the Enlightenment Changed the Way We Use Our Senses by Carolyn Purnell - review by Joe Moshenska

Joe Moshenska

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The Sensational Past: How the Enlightenment Changed the Way We Use Our Senses

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W W Norton 302pp £20 order from our bookshop
 

A brief internet search suggests that, while there are many books of inspiring quotations by Benjamin Franklin available for purchase, none seems to include one of his indisputable exclamations: ‘What Comfort can the Vortices of Descartes give to a Man who has Whirlwinds in his Bowels!’ Carolyn Purnell argues that we should take Franklin’s flatulent fascinations seriously, and that they were just one aspect of a multifaceted concern, throughout the Enlightenment, with the sensory capacities and outputs of the human body.

In recent years there has been an explosion of interest in the senses among scholars and critics, who have considered the extent to which the working senses are biological or cultural, and explored both how the senses were understood in different epochs and how we use our own

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