Cover of The Experimental Imagination by Tita Chico
The Experimental Imagination
Literary Knowledge and Science in the British Enlightenment
Tita Chico


June 2018
280 pages.

Cloth ISBN: 9781503605442



Challenging the "two cultures" debate, The Experimental Imagination tells the story of how literariness came to be distinguished from its epistemological sibling, science, as a source of truth about the natural and social worlds in the British Enlightenment. Tita Chico shows that early science relied on what she calls literary knowledge to present its experimental findings. More radically, she contends that science was made intellectually possible because its main discoveries and technologies could be articulated in literary terms. While early scientists deployed metaphor to describe the phenomena they defined and imagination to cast themselves as experimentalists, literary writers used scientific metaphors to make the case for the epistemological superiority of literary knowledge. Drawing on literature as well as literary language, tropes, and interpretive methods, literary knowledge challenges our dominant narrative of the scientific revolution as the sina qua non epistemological innovation of the British Enlightenment. With its recourse to imagination as a more reliable source of truth than any empirical account, literary knowledge facilitates a redefinition of authority and evidence, as well as of the self and society, implicitly articulating the difference that would come to distinguish the arts and sciences.

About the author

Tita Chico is Associate Professor of English at the University of Maryland and the author of Designing Women (2005).

"Subtle, learned, and inventive at every turn, The Experimental Imagination is essential reading for anyone seeking to rethink the relationship between literature and science in the eighteenth century. The effort to join these histories is one of the great projects of our time. This book is the state of the art."

—Jonathan Kramnick, Yale University

"The Experimental Imagination reveals the deep connections between and across the realms of literature and science. Tita Chico shows that literary modes enabled key developments in the new scientific practice, and, reciprocally, that the definition of art itself is based on a profound alliance between aesthetics and experimental philosophy. This is a fertile and important intervention in integrative thinking about the long eighteenth century."

—Laura Brown, Cornell University

"Starting from the elegant assertion that 'science is a literary trope,' Tita Chico offers illuminating, expert readings that fully vindicate her claims to make an original and important contribution to the evolving understanding of British Enlightenment culture."

—Robert DeMaria, Jr., Vassar College