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The magic of the magic lantern (1660-1700): on analogical demonstration and the visualization of the invisible

Abstract : The history of the magic lantern provides a privileged case study with which to explore the histories of projection, demonstration, illusion and the occult, and their different intersections. I focus on the role of the magic lantern in the work of the Jesuit Athanasius Kircher and the French Cartesian Abbé de Vallemont. After explaining the various meanings of the seventeenth-century concept of illusio, I propose a new solution for the long-standing problem that Kircher added the 'wrong' illustrations to his description of the lantern. The complex interaction between text, image and performance was crucial in Kircher's work and these 'wrong' figures provide us with a key to interpreting his Ars Magna. I argue that Vallemont used the magic lantern in a similar rhetorical way in a crucial phase of his argument. The magic lantern should not be understood merely as an illustrative image or an item of demonstration apparatus; rather the instrument is employed as part of a performance which is not meant simply to be entertaining. Both authors used a special form of scientific demonstration, which I will term 'analogical demonstration', to bolster their world view. This account opens new ways to think about the relation between instruments and the occult.
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Submitted on : Thursday, November 24, 2011 - 2:51:15 PM
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Koen Vermeir. The magic of the magic lantern (1660-1700): on analogical demonstration and the visualization of the invisible. The British Journal for the History of Science, 2005, 38 (2), pp.127-159. ⟨10.1017/S0007087405006709⟩. ⟨halshs-00644485⟩



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