The Enlightenment Encyclopedia and the Dream of Comprehensiveness: The Example of Samuel Johnson

By Greg Clingham.

Published by The Humanities Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

The encyclopedia – such as Diderot’s Encyclopédie (1751-80) or Ephraim Chambers’ Cyclopedia, or, An universal dictionary of arts and sciences (1728) – is a characteristic form of Enlightenment knowledge. It represents two opposing discourses in eighteenth-century culture: the positivistic impulse to comprehend and control, and the skeptical impulse to critique and question. This essay traces the dialogue between these two philosophical impulses in the writings of Samuel Johnson, identifying a transgressive element in his handling of the limits of knowledge that establishes, as does Diderot, striking continuities between dream, reason, and reality. Johnson’s thinking moves easily across the nominal divisions between genres and consciousness that usually remain separate in our notions of the Enlightenment. Thus to argue for the transformative effect of dream in Johnson’s thought is not to turn him into a Romantic or even a Freudian, but to recognise how he uses “necessary limitation” to produce what Foucault calls “a practical critique that takes the form of a possible transgression,” an encounter that for both Kant and Foucault define enlightenment.

Keywords: Enlightenment Encyclopedia, Dreams, Samual Johnson, Diderot, Foucault

International Journal of the Humanities, Volume 8, Issue 4, pp.163-176. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 716.797KB).

Dr. Greg Clingham

Professor, English, Director of University Press, Bucknell University, Bucknell, Pennsylvania, USA

Greg Clingham is Professor of English and Director of the University Press at Bucknell University, Pennsylvania, where he teaches courses on literature in their relations with law, history, memory, translation, landscape, and Orientalism. He is the author of Johnson, Writing, and Memory (Cambridge, 2002) and also of many other books and essays on Johnson, Boswell, Dryden, and issues in historiography and translation. Dr Clingham is presently completing a book on Borges and Johnson, and one on law and narrative. A graduate of the University of Cambridge, he has held various fellowships, including the Donald & Mary Hyde Fellowship at the Houghton Library, Harvard, and the Frederick A. & Marion S. Pottle Fellowship at the Beinecke Library, Yale. www.gregclingham.com

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