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Shakespeare's Counter-Optics

On October 4 2022, I'll be giving a lecture at the University of Zurich called "Shakespeare's Counter-Optics." Here's a a short abstract to give you a sense of what I'll be talking about.

Vision and judgment have a vexed relationship. At once our most privileged and most mistrusted source of knowledge, the eyes have long been a site of both optimism and anxiety about the accessibility of spiritual, moral, legal, and scientific truth. In this talk, I reflect on how Shakespearean theater can help us “see anew,” to borrow a phrase from the historians of science Loraine Daston and Peter Galison. I discuss moments in a number of Shakespearean plays – Othello, King Lear, Macbeth, Twelfth Night – all of which deal in one way or another with vision. What I suggest, finally, is that theater fosters a non-objective form of visual judgment, one that embraces interpretive risk and epistemological irrationalism. To put it in plainer language, I’m interested in the way Shakespearean theater models a version of vision-based judgment that can tolerate things being both one way and another way, both there and not there, both real and unreal. This kind of pluralism cannot be assimilated within mainstream traditions of scientific vision. Shakespeare, I propose, offers us a counter-optics in which judgment transforms what is logical and verifiable into what is impossible and wonderous, rather than the other way around.


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