Rational territories: Literature and the place of reason, 1650–1750
Speller, Trevor Maurice
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“Rational Territories: Literature and the Place of Reason, 1650-1750,” examines the link between reason and place in the literature of the eighteenth century. In some of the eighteenth century’s best known texts, rationality is deeply tied to a sense of place: one might think of the impact of reasoning on Robinson Crusoe’s industrious island, or the depictions of various irrational lands in Gulliver’s Travels. My dissertation undertakes a kind of history of these representations by first examining how the philosophies of Hobbes and Locke tie reason to place and politics, and then investigating how these characteristics are expressed in representations of landscapes and nationality in the eighteenth century. In doing so, the dissertation crosses a history of ideas with cultural study, revealing that the age of reason was as much an intellectual as a political battleground, fought over the physical and political landscape of Great Britain. I begin my investigation in the late seventeenth century with the canonical philosophies of Thomas Hobbes and John Locke, arguing that their expressions of rationality are committed to both philosophical abstraction and historical particularity. By either eliding or foregrounding place, each of these thinkers creates a rational and political landscape, along Royalist and Whig party lines. In the second half of the dissertation, I trace the idea of the ‘rational territory’ in formative early eighteenthcentury texts by Daniel Defoe and Jonathan Swift, in order to examine how reason is employed in key descriptions of landscape and nationality, and to examine sites where political agendas are most clearly visible. I use the term ‘rational territories’ to describe places and landscapes in these texts where reason is contested or holds sway over its inhabitants. These authors, in mapping the philosophical and political strategies of Hobbes and Locke onto representations of the British landscape, identify and suppress the ‘irrationality’ of the inhabitants, often by violent means. In this way, reason becomes not only an important cognitive dimension of empirical philosophy, but also a touchstone by which people, places and the nation at large can be evaluated according to political criteria.