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Coming ToConsciousness and Natality in Early Modern England$
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Timothy M. Harrison

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9780226725093

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: May 2021

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226725260.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM CHICAGO SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.chicago.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright University of Chicago Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in CHSO for personal use.date: 16 September 2021

In Utero

In Utero

(p.162) Chapter Four In Utero
Coming To

Timothy M. Harrison

University of Chicago Press

Using John Donne’s Metempsychosis as a frame to relate the long history of embryologists—from Aristotle and Galen to Hieronymous Fabricius—arguing against the possibility of fetal sensation, this chapter shows how Thomas Traherne’s representation of neonatal thought draws on and differs from discussions of embryonic consciousness advanced by René Descartes and William Harvey. Traherne’s mimetic representations of what he claims to be his own embryonic thought provide a privileged scene for understanding how poetry enabled a radically new form of insight into human mindedness and the affordances and limitations of consciousness as a concept. Traherne’s depictions of new human life gave rise to a poetically crafted, profoundly anti-Augustinian epigenetic account of the development of conscious life from the moment the lights first flick on, through birth and infancy, and into early childhood language acquisition. The chapter concludes with a consideration of what verse form enables Traherne to think and write.

Keywords:   consciousness, Thomas Traherne, embryology, fetal sensation, William Harvey, René Descartes, John Donne, Aristotle, Augustine, verse

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