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Jerry Harp’s Book, “Constant Motion” Released

November 25, 2009

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Constant Motion complicates the idea that European consciousness has shifted, from the ancient world to the modern era, from an oral/aural to a largely visualist mode. While not denying the reality of a macro-level shift in the tradition of the schools to a metaphor of knowing as seeing clearly and distinctly, Harp emphasizes that acts of knowing are, like politics, always local. On the local level, cognition must engage with a variety of senses, which exert their force in metaphor. It is only by a rustling and reconfiguring of sense metaphors that human discourse gains any legitimate purchase on actuality. Further, it is only by this constant motion of the senses and their metaphors that the broader shift in consciousness has worked. A singular focus on only one sense leaves cognition too impoverished to be of value.

Harp anchors his analysis in the writing of Walter Ong, which he brings up to date with recent work on the complexities of writing and print in the early modern era. Emphasizing the constant motion of sense metaphors of cognition, Harp provides readings of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Aemilia Lanyer’s Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum, and Descartes’ Meditations on First Philosophy. This study demonstrates that literary and philosophical traditions remain on the move in no small measure because of the shifts of sense metaphors in learned discourse. This work will be of interest to literary scholars and students of the early modern period, as well as scholars of media ecology, communications, and the history of consciousness.

“Framing a productive theory of metaphor and offering sensitive readings of a number of early modern texts in its terms, Jerry Harp has written an ambitious and engaging study of the relation of the senses to our acts of cognition that at once reclaims some of the power of the ork of Walter Ong and breaks exciting new ground on its own.”

- David Scott Kastan, Yale University