"My Spirits long to wander in the Air...": Spirits and Souls in Margaret Cavendish's Fiction between Early Modern Philosophy and Cyber Theory
Miriam Wallraven
University of Tübingen

Wallraven, Miriam. ""My Spirits long to wander in the Air...": Spirits and Souls in Margaret Cavendish's Fiction between Early Modern Philosophy and Cyber Theory." Early Modern Literary Studies Special Issue 14 (May, 2004): 10.1-27 <URL:

  1. Spirits and souls were debated topics in early modern natural philosophy, medicine and of course theology. Both the Christian dualism between body and spirit and natural philosophical debates entailed and in turn necessitated precise attempts at defining and distinguishing between body on the one hand and spirit or soul on the other. In this essay, I analyze Cavendish's participation in debates about soul and spirit and, in particular, her innovative and playful approaches to this topic in her poetry and fiction, which markedly distinguishes her from other writers and philosophers of her time. I argue that Cavendish uses scientific and philosophical theories about souls/spirits in order to fantasize in the medium of fiction about an enhanced kind of humanity. This is connected with reconceptualizations of space and time, thereby anticipating debates which are currently discussed in the realm of cyber theory. Elizabeth Grosz writes about "the space-time of bodies" (Grosz 120) as she investigates the history of connections between bodies, disembodiment, space and time as it affects today's theorization of cyberspace and virtual reality. Grosz states that "Historically, it can be argued ... that as representations of subjectivity changed, so too did representations of space and time" (Grosz 133). Subjectivity in this case can be taken to include constitutive characteristics of the human subject: experiences of bodiliness which involve the senses, the brain and language. My focus will be on such matters of human corporeality, alternative spatial and temporal models and spiritual disembodiment which form the centre of many of Cavendish's poetic and fictional texts.

  2. Given Cavendish's self-fashioning as a playful deviator from textual and scientific conventions, I would like to situate her in what at a first glance appears to be an equally ex-centric conflation -- that of early modern science and of twentieth-century theories of virtual reality and the cyborg. Donna Haraway's Cyborg Manifesto has become famous for its appropriation of the idea of a hybrid, enhanced machine-human being in feminist and socialist terms. This work illuminates Cavendish's conceptualizations of ideal human beings and her specific textual approaches as much as early modern scientific philosophy does. Cavendish does not "belong" to either of these areas: whereas it appears to be self-evident that modern explorations of cyberspace and more specifically the cyborg were not available to Cavendish, her affiliation with early modern scientists and philosophers seems to be central to most scholars today who have justly reclaimed Cavendish as a scientist-philosopher who has to be taken seriously. [1] In the realm of spirits and souls, Cavendish uses scientific-philosophical theories in order to create original visions of humanity which depart from other conceptions of the nature of spirits and souls in much the same way as cyber theory departs from traditional concepts of embodiment and space-time concepts. Science and fiction, spirit and body, disembodiment and re-embodiment, situated between Thomas Hobbes and Donna Haraway: such tensions will prove to be productive for my investigation of Cavendish's envisioning of an enhanced form of humanity.

  3. Cavendish first of all has to be compared to other authors of her time in two regards: her scientific-philosophical views and her experiments with these views in different genres. [2] The established classical and Christian dualism of material body and immaterial soul was hotly debated in the 17th century. Whereas such groups as the Cambridge Platonists, who feared an erosion of Christian beliefs by natural philosophy, [3] held fast to the belief in immaterial substances, other philosophers had different conceptions. Henry More defends a vitalism with incorporeal spirits of nature. Similarly, in Anne Conway's The Principles of the Most Ancient and Modern Philosophy (1690) spirit is the guiding principle. [4] Whereas Conway regards spirit as all-pervasive, Cavendish argues for materiality as the defining principle. [5] As Clucas points out, "Effectively, she collapses the dichotomy between matter and spirit, mechanism and vitalism, by insisting that matter is living and sentient, but not spiritual" (Clucas 262). I want to argue that this collapse of definitions and dichotomies leads to a more comprehensive and fluid vision of a different kind of human being. As Sarah Hutton and others have shown, [6] Cavendish sides with Thomas Hobbes in his denial of immaterial spirits, but rejects his mechanist argumentation, the most significant difference to Hobbes' theory being that the source of movement is internal to matter. We know that Cavendish's philosophy undergoes a development which can be traced in her works and leads her to a vitalist materialism which is most pronounced in Observations Upon Experimental Philosophy.

  4. Apart from theology and science, another discourse preoccupied with spirits comes into play. Paster traces the idea of spirits in connection with early modern medical-philosophical discourses. According to Bacon and others, spirit can be found in the blood vessels -- a belief which stems from Aristotle and Galen and assumes that "living things are kept alive and in motion by the action of spirit, variously composed of heat and air, coursing through vessels" (Paster 109). Although Cavendish seems to incorporate parts of these ideas in some of her depictions of spirits/souls in her fiction -- the spirits in Blazing World are made of air -- her depictions of soul/spirit in her fiction take up neither Christian beliefs in divine souls or mystical beliefs in ghosts nor scientific-medical ideas of spirits within the blood vessels of the human body. Instead, Cavendish renounces these views of spirits as either immaterial or material and, departing from philosophical theories, pushes her explorations into previously uncharted territory envisioning a new reality within the realm of the fictional and poetical.

  5. Merrens draws attention to the "dialogic interaction between 'science' and 'literature' which marks early modern culture" (Merrens 423). This, she argues, is especially crucial for Cavendish's work. While she states that the purpose of Cavendish's natural philosophy is to offer alternative ideas to patriarchal thinking, I wish to argue that only in analyzing the reasons for Cavendish's uses of fiction for the transmission of scientific-philosophical ideas and by highlighting the differences between her natural science and her fiction and poetry, does this dialogic interaction become evident. In this context, I am going to illustrate why the issue of spirits and souls is central for understanding Cavendish's motivations for not simply transferring scientific-philosophical insights into fiction and poetry, but instead exploding and expanding the very core of scientific opinions. These strategies serve to explore different regions not previously envisioned either in the texts of early modern philosophers or in Cavendish's own scientific texts. This integration of philosophical ideas into Cavendish's theory and fiction proves to be a crucial strategy, which is unlike what is done by other philosophical writers who only theorize their ideas in the form of the philosophical treatise or write didactic poetry. [7] Cavendish, however, is rarely motivated by didactic intentions when dealing with the topic of spirits/souls, but instead puts her abstract views on corporeality, soul and space and time "to the test" in concrete fictional situations.

  6. James, like others, maintains that "Commenting on the work of Hooke, Power and Boyle in her Observations on Experimental Philosophy, Cavendish dismissed their experimental approach in favour of her speculative one" (James 219). This, however, is not Cavendish's only "deviation" from other scientific points of views or established norms. Indeed, Cavendish's experimentation goes much further: after speculating in very different ways on the nature of spirits/souls in Observations than other writers do, she takes an important step further by experimenting with spirits/souls in her poetry and fiction. I will show that instead of fictionalizing or appropriating scientific discourses, she takes parts out of these discourses and develops them in completely different directions. Cavendish creates something that would be impossible within the prevailing scientific discourses, which were aimed at establishing a secure and objective knowledge about the world. Thus, her "misappropriation" turns these discourses, which were especially exclusive of women, into liberating tools for the exploration of different interests and radically new topics. Instead of clarifying the nature of spirits/souls as regards the human spirit and soul, Cavendish experiments with an enhanced and utopian humanity.

  7. It is important to clarify that I employ the designations of soul and spirit interchangeably, as many early modern authors, including Cavendish, explicitly stated that spirits and souls are the same. [8] However, although no clear-cut distinctions are made in Cavendish's works, I have observed that while the term "spirit" is used for describing both spirits originating from the human body and spirits whose origins are clearly not human, the term "soul" is used only in connection with human souls. Even if this is not necessarily revealing, as both spirits and souls are utilized in order to illustrate the same ideas about body and disembodiment in her fiction and poetry, it might hint at the fact that Cavendish seems to be well aware of the different discourses at her time and appears to be influenced by discourses both on religion and mysticism, at least in her choice of terms.

  8. In Observations, Cavendish denies the existence of immaterial substances: for her, everything is corporeal, material and self-moving, even mind, soul and spirit (137). Although she somehow allows for an immaterial soul, she does not thematize its workings, but relegates it to the realm of theology, thus removing it from real world experience, scientific interest and provability: "I mean only the natural, not the divine soul of man, which I leave to the Church. And this natural soul ... is nothing else but corporeal natural self-motion..." (221). This leads to a revalorization of matter, which is not dependent on the power of an immaterial soul to move it, as matter possesses an inherent power of movement. Her clearest definition of soul can be found in the second part of Observations: "Of all the opinions concerning the natural soul, of man, I like that best which affirms the soul to be a self-moving substance; but yet I will add a material self-moving substance; for the soul of man is part of the soul of nature, and the soul of nature is material" (221). When she enters into a critical dialogue with other philosophers and their theories, she thus mainly contradicts their views on materiality and on an immaterial soul/spirit.

  9. My initial interest in this topic was triggered by the questions: if spirits/souls are material, thus possessing "material" characteristics, why is Cavendish so interested in making use of and discussing spirits/souls in varying discourses and in different ways in so many of her texts? Which "advantages" do spirits have compared to body? How productive is the tension between disembodiment (spirits and souls are not body) and re-embodiment (they are like bodies in the sense that they are material) with respect to matters of space and time?

  10. Cavendish uses parts of her philosophical theory in her fiction and poetry in order to give new -- playful -- models of freedom and a free, fluid self. By travelling, the spirits/souls open up new temporal and spatial realms and create a new imaginary connection between the world, the universe, time and human beings. Especially in Blazing World and in three shorter prose texts from Nature's Pictures, spirits and souls enable the persons to whom they belong to literally expand their horizons and experience new ways of freedom -- a freedom, however, within corporeal bounds.

  11. Tracing soul and spirit in Poems, and Fancies (1653) helps to understand Cavendish's experimental uses of her scientific-philosophical views in other genres as well as to pave the way for an even more unconventional approach to materiality and disembodiment in Blazing World (1666) and Nature's Pictures (1656). In the poem "Its hard to beleive [sic], that there are other Worlds in this World," Cavendish defines the belief in incorporeal spirits as an irrational superstition:

    Things against Nature we do thinke are true,
    That Spirits change, and can take Bodies new;
    That Life may be, yet in no Body live,
    For which no Sense, nor Reason, we can give.
    As Incorporeall Spirits this Fancy faines,
    Yet Fancy cannot be without some Braines.
    If Fancy without Substance cannot bee,
    Then Soules are more, then Reason well can see. (Nature's Pictures 44)

    The poem is one of the few on spirits/souls, which is didactic in the sense that it puts philosophical insights into verse. Thus, it can be contrasted against other poems which deal with concrete situations and involve fictional characters. In this poem, Cavendish argues that immaterial spirits are "against nature", as souls/spirits have to be material, because they require a brain. Cavendish's fiction, however, shows that souls/spirits can enter other bodies (particularly in Blazing World), but that they still need a material "body" or vehicle of their own in order to move at all.

  12. In Blazing World (1666), spirits and souls play crucial roles in the plot of the narrative. In order to learn more about the world, the newly-crowned Empress orders "immaterial spirits" who answer all questions -- first and foremost questions about themselves and their nature, which is a direct extension of Cavendish's writings on natural philosophy in Observations. It is these spirits who then arrange a meeting with the soul of the Duchess of Newcastle. The subsequent contact between the Empress and the soul of the Duchess and their soul-voyages together show that souls/spirits are dependent on having a bodily material vehicle.

  13. The origin of spirits in the Blazing World remains obscure and cannot be traced back to a former life or to a location as is the case with Ariel in Shakespeare's The Tempest. Whereas Ariel is a spirit originating from the elements who lost his power to the witch Sycorax and is now subject to the magician and conjurer Prospero, the spirits of the Blazing World serve the Empress, but retain their free will and their independent power (this is exemplified by the spirits' journey to the centre of the earth and the antipodes which they perform without informing the Empress; 180). Although the Empress and her scientists appear as spirit-conjurers (the Empress wants to have news of her native world and regards the spirits as travelling messengers), the spirits cannot be commanded (165). The role of the conjurer and magician and subsequently the belief in apparitions of ghosts and spirits are rendered absurd when Cavendish re-embodies spirits as material instead of perceiving them as supernatural entities: she simultaneously "invokes" and dismisses the (in)famous Elizabethan magicians Dr. Dee and Edward Kelly, who became well-known by "spirit-encounters," as "mere cheats" (166).

  14. Spirits in the Blazing World live in the air, and the fly-men (some of the Empress' scientists) tell her "that those spirits were always clothed in some sort or other of material garments; which garments were their bodies, made for the most part, of air; and when occasion served, they could put on any other sort of substances; but yet they could not put these substances into any form or shape, as they pleased" (emphasis mine) (165). The spirits concur: "we spirits, being incorporeal, have no motion but from our corporeal vehicles, so that we move by the help of our bodies, and not the bodies by the help of us" (168). Here it becomes obvious that there are two definitions of "body" in use which have to be distinguished also in the other texts: spirits and souls can be immaterial in the sense that they do not need a human body. But what all spirits and souls need is a form of substance, matter, or corporeality in the sense that they consist of a material body, of a vehicle. This vehicle enables them not only to move, but also to have human perception, knowledge and speech (168-169). Although the Empress tries very hard to make sense of the spirits' nature in her own terms ("Then I suppose, replied the Empress, that those airy vehicles, are your corporeal summer-suits" 173), not only do the many repeated discussions and speculations on the nature of the vehicles show that the Empress really does not understand the nature of the spirits, but they also indicate that there are several complications in equating Cavendish's theoretical Observations and her views in Blazing World. Whereas in Observations, she makes clear that spirits are material but leaves open questions about a certain divine immateriality, the talking and travelling spirits in Blazing World repeatedly try to explain to the uncomprehending Empress that although they have a vehicle, they are immaterial. What conclusions can be drawn from this seeming contradiction? Whereas Eileen O'Neill argues that Blazing World "parodies views about incorporeal spirits" (O'Neill 263) for which Cavendish criticizes other philosophers in her Observations, Mary Baine Campbell takes the vehicle described in the Blazing World as the required materiality of Observations (Campbell 207). If we ask ourselves about the activities and the fictional depiction of the spirits, we come to the following characteristics, which help to resolve these contradictions: spirits possess a brain and knowledge as well as senses, they can talk, they can establish (human) contact, and they need a vehicle -- all material features which enable them to live like humans. However, they do not suffer from human limitations. Their material features are combined with immaterial, disembodied characteristics: they are immortal, they can change vehicles, travel quickly and conveniently (180), and can grasp, know and perceive much more of the world (spatially and temporally, as they also know about the past) than human beings normally can. What the spirits in Blazing World definitely show is that Cavendish goes beyond a mere parody by deliberately experimenting with the possibilities inherent in (virtual) reality with a combination of the advantages of the human body and its senses with immaterial movement and understanding.

  15. Aside from the spirits, it is the Duchess of Newcastle's soul which is central for the text, since she is fetched by the spirits to write down the Empress' cabbala. As has often been remarked, the encounter and subsequent friendship of the two women is repeatedly described as "platonic," but in keeping with this tradition, vocabulary of bodily contact is used ("the Empress embraced and saluted her with a spiritual kiss" 181; "embracing her soul" 183). Transferring her philosophical theories into this fictional context enables Cavendish to depict a close friendship between women, to show a transgression of spatial boundaries and develop a new model of mobility and motion, but without sacrificing human characteristics. When the Empress plans to travel to the "real world" together with the soul of the Duchess, the principles of separating soul/spirit from body are again explained in detail: that it is possible to replace the absent soul in the body, that many spirits can enter into one body and that there is no difference of sex in spirits (189). The journey itself makes it possible for the two souls to see and survey the whole world at the same time (190). The narrator also supplies the reader with the description of the language and vehicles of souls: "yet by reason souls cannot travel without vehicles, they use such language as the nature and propriety of their vehicles require" (193). Both the language and the body/vehicle of the souls differ from human language and body, but they continue to function just like human experience. Similarly, the features of embodiment are combined with the features of disembodiment, allowing for spatial and temporal mobility.

  16. In Nature's Pictures, many poems and stories contain descriptions of souls and spirits. A common scenario is following a dead lover in order to meet his/her soul again. In "Of the faithfull Widow, or mournfull Wife," for example, the widow wants to follow her husband:

    In Melancholy Shades my Soul doth lye,
    And grieves my Body will not quickly dye;
    My Spirits long to wander in the Air,
    Hoping to Finde its loving Partner there (4)

    "My Spirits long to wander in the Air" seems to convey a "conventional" separation from the body. However, according to Cavendish's philosophical view, this is only made possible by the materiality of spirit/soul which endows them at the same time with the self-movement characteristic of nature as a whole. When Cavendish criticizes Pythagoras' views in her Observations by pointing out that she "cannot conceive ... how the soul, being incorporeal, can walk in the air, like a body; for, incorporeal beings cannot have corporeal actions..." (my emphasis) (Observations 260), she does not believe in a general impossibility for souls/spirits to move, but the impossibility for immaterial souls/spirits to move. In her poetry and fiction, she shows that it is important that souls/spirits are disembodied but still material in order to "walk in the air," which implies gaining mobility and rediscovering the space around them.

  17. In "A Description of Constancy," this freedom of the spirit/soul is heightened by a special kind of perception of the soul. Senses, I have already argued, are dependent on bodily materiality, although in this case they function differently:

    On which my Soul doth view with much delight,
    Because the Soul sees not with vulgar sight.
    For Souls do see, not as the Senses do:
    But as transparent Glass, the Minds quite through;
    Or rather, as the Gods see all that's past,
    Present, or what's to come, or the World vast,
    Or what can be, to them is known... (my emphasis) (26)

    Here, the perception of the soul comprises spatial freedom ("World vast") and temporal freedom (past, present, future).

  18. Three shorter texts in Nature's Pictures deal with souls and spirits. "The Tale of the Lady in the Elyzium" is a story which also depends on the combination of disembodiment and a new kind of material bodiliness. Here, a lady swoons when she hears rumours about her lover being married. She appears to be dead, and it looks like "her Soul had utterly forsaken her Mansion the Body" (148). However, she returns and talks about her soul's experience in Elysium: "'twas onely the sudden and violent passion which had hurried my Soul to Charon's Boat in a distracted Whirlwinde of Sighs, where in the Croud I was ferryed over to the Elyzium Fields" (148). Again, the materiality of the soul comprises senses, perception and language. In Elysium, she meets the souls of famous people such as Solomon, Caesar, and Antony and Cleopatra. When she finally asks Charon to bring her back, as she perceives that she is not yet dead, "he set my Soul where he had taken it up, and from thence it returned into my Body to be alive again" (149). Here, mobility is combined with the well-known motif of a trip to the underworld. The soul which still possesses senses and speech comes into contact with other souls, thus bridging the gap between past and present, between history and myth.

  19. "The propagating Souls" deals with the souls of two lovers who have died because of forbidden love. The Lovers' souls meet in the "Elyzium Fields" (132) where they finally enjoy "bodily" contact even without their human bodies, but made possible by their materiality:

    at which meeting they were extreamly joyed, but know not how to express it, for they had no Lips to kiss, nor Arms to embrace, being Bodyless, and onely Spirits. But the passion of Love being allwayes ingenuous, found out a way, as thus; their Souls, which are their Spirits, did mingle and intermix, as liquid Essences, whereby each others Soul became as one (my emphasis) (132-3)

    Although they no longer possess their human bodies, they are material -- consisting of "Essences" -- and thus experience tangible contact which still recalls human body contact. Neither do they have to renounce communication, as they are "speaking in the Souls Language" (133). The souls/spirits have more freedom compared to an "embodied" human being, which is made clear as "They began to remember each other of their crosses and interpositions whilst they lived in their Bodyes" (133). The souls travel through space and the whole universe, agree to live in one of the planets, but instead they produce meteors which are their "issues." After that "they became one fix'd Star, as being eternal, and not subject to dye" (134), and so the journey is finished. The striking ability of the souls to produce "children" highlights their human characteristics. However, reproduction is no longer connected to specific sexual characteristics or gender differences. Therefore, the outstanding innovations of total mobility, immortality and a non-sex-specific way of reproduction in "The propagating Souls" already hint at a utopian conception of humanity in a world beyond gender.

  20. "The Traveling Spirit" deals with completely different motivations for a journey out of the human body. Here, a man consults a witch "for, said he, I have a curiosity to travel, but I would go into those Countryes, which, without your power to assist me, I cannot do" (144). This text thus starts with a deliberate intent to travel where the human body is not able to go. Before travelling to the centre of the earth, the body has to be left at home: "your Body will be too cumbersome, wherefore we will leave that behinde, that you may go the lighter, as being all Spirit" (145). This is achieved by taking opium which makes him swoon, "in the mean while, his Spirit stole out, and left the Body asleep" (145). Mobility is possible, because the witch says that "there is no danger, since our Bodyes are not here" (145). But since the spirits are not immaterial, they also feel pain (145). The journey and its different stages are described in detail, emphasizing the enormous new realms of experience made possible by disembodiment and the ensuing mobility, on the one hand, and by retaining language, intellect, human senses and bodily sensations such as pain on the other. The spirits are able to travel through very different climates (spatial) and through landscapes of the dead (temporal) (146), until they arrive at the centre of the earth. The spirits have the ability to talk to the man who lives in the centre of the earth and an intellect to form ideas that they discuss with him.

  21. Whereas in poems such as "Soule, and Body" in Poems and Fancies, the body is a garment which is separated from the soul in death, the spirit in "The Traveling Spirit" can leave the body behind like a garment even in life, and can travel on its own because it is also made of matter, even without the human body. Finally, after having satisfied his curiosity, the man returns and "found his Body where he left it, so putting on the Body as a Garment" (148). Thus, "The Traveling Spirit" and Cavendish's other texts on spirits/souls ultimately envision a reality which includes rich perceptual feedback for all sensual modalities, unrestricted mobility, and interaction with the environment -- in short, something which could be termed the ultimate virtual reality. Rheingold defines two key features of virtual reality as immersion in an artificially created world and navigation as the ability to move freely in this environment in order to allow a human being to actively explore the world (Rheingold 122-23). Cavendish adds to these mainly spatial characteristics the temporal dimension thus providing spatio-temporal freedom for her characters. These virtual reality experiences in Cavendish's texts are dependent on bodily spirits, a concept far beyond early modern scientific discourse, and are presented as a vision of enhanced humanity.

  22. Like Cavendish, Donna Haraway develops new concepts which would be impossible within traditional scientific discourses. In taking several points from established discourses and developing them in different directions, such discourses are not only appropriated, but significantly modified. Instead of constructing a store of secure scientific knowledge, Haraway uses different aspects as starting points for a subversion of the attempt at scientific definition. In Haraway's case, this is aimed at the technical discourse on cyborgs which is apolitical and does not take into account gendered implications. In much the same way as Cavendish experiments with space-time and body concepts, this transformation opens up ways for discourses which are not only liberating for women, but which are also concerned with the liberating fluidity of the concepts of body and matter in general.

  23. Haraway develops cyborg ideas mainly in feminist directions, thus politicizing and gendering them. She also frees herself from restricting discourses by working with these discourses in a way that goes beyond their main focus. This is also what Cavendish achieves in appropriating ideas about spirits and souls from early modern discourses and from her own scientific ideas in Observations. Cavendish's last step focuses on the spiritual dis- and re-embodiment of humans in the here (with spatial mobility) and now (with temporal mobility) without supernatural associations which would imply that souls/spirits leave the body only after death.

  24. Haraway and Cavendish depart from a totalizing theory by "stealing" parts of the discourses and developing them in different directions. Haraway's methodological statement that cyborg imagery can prove useful illustrating that "the production of universal, totalizing theory is a major mistake that misses most of reality" (181) also lies very much at the core of Cavendish's thinking and writing and parallels her use of the spirit/soul concept.

  25. In addition to a parallel in textual method, Cavendish's material spirits and Haraway's cyborgs share similarities which at a first glance appear to be impossible, given the contrast between a spirit-human being and a machine-human being. However, Haraway's catch-phrase "Cyborgs for earthly survival!" (Haraway, Introduction 4) draws attention both to her transformation of the discourse on cyborgs (much as Cavendish transforms early modern discourses on spirits/souls) and to similarities between spirits and cyborgs which lie in the idea of a modified human being. The term "cyborg" was popularized in the 1960s by Manfred E. Clynes and Nathan S. Kline who described their project of creating an enhanced human being who would be able to survive in an extraterrestrial environment. [9] What started as an experiment in space exploration was subsequently diversified and extended to several kinds of machine-human relationships (Figueroa-Sarriera and Gray). Haraway, however, and this is crucial for the immense influence of her concept of the cyborg since the early 1980s, is not only focused on feminist concerns. She also devises the cyborg as a vision, a metaphor and catalyst of an enhanced human being not for space exploration, but for leaving behind human (and gender) restrictions in the material world. Her particular view on the cyborg is certainly not in the centre of cyber theory in general: "The cyborg is resolutely committed to partiality, irony, intimacy, and perversity. It is oppositional, utopian, and completely without innocence" (151). Cavendish, as already demonstrated, does the same: instead of leaving the issue of spirits/souls to the realms of theology or scientific philosophy, she uses the concept in order to combine bodily and sensual features of humanity with spiritual features which serve to leave human (and gender) restrictions behind in our world.

  26. "Applying" Haraway's Cyborg Manifesto to Cavendish is not my intention here. Instead, I trust in the automatic revelation of potential intersections which, while they can and should not be equated, serve to render visible very similar strategies and utopian visions. Haraway's claim that "The cyborg is a condensed image of both imagination and material reality" (159) can easily be utilized to draw attention to Cavendish's fictional experimentation with spirits and embodiment. Having accounted for material reality and material bodies, however, does not exclude characteristics of fluidity -- neither in Cavendish, nor in Haraway's conceptions of the cyborg: "People are nowhere near so fluid, being both material and opaque. Cyborgs are ether, quintessence" (my emphasis) (153). Such a two-sided but necessarily fused conception of enhanced humanity presupposes an experimental and transgressive approach for which Cavendish has been praised in the last decades and which is central also to Haraway's effect. Haraway similarly to Cavendish states that "my cyborg myth is about transgressed boundaries, potent fusions, and dangerous possibilities" (154). She also underlines fluidity and transgression in her textuality. Her programmatic statement "This chapter is an argument for pleasure in the confusion of boundaries and for responsibility in their construction" (150) mirrors Cavendish's hybridity and transgression of generic, stylistic and scientific boundaries. [10] Finally, Haraway's basic conception of the cyborg aims at the dissolution of gender binaries: "The cyborg is a creature in a post-gender world" (150). Cavendish likewise provides glimpses of a vision of a post-gender world, especially with the spirits in Blazing World and the souls in "The propagating Souls" who do not have sex/gender or reproduce sexually.

  27. In Blazing World and the texts from Nature's Pictures, the exploration of a completely new world becomes possible, but without the loss of human perception and senses. Elizabeth Grosz in her essay "Space, Time, and Bodies" argues that "If bodies are to be reconceived, not only must their matter and form be rethought, but so too must their environment and spacio-temporal location" (Grosz 120). It has become clear that in many of her texts Cavendish connects fantasies about an enhanced kind of humanity with reconceptualizations of space and time. These fantasies and reconceptualizations mirror Haraway's fantasies of the cyborg, who is likewise envisioned as a hybrid being, "both material and opaque," thus combining corporeality with fluidity, limitations with transgression. In Cavendish's texts, the idea of material souls and spirits leads to an expanded and enriched conception of humanity as far as mobility and transgression of boundaries of time and space are concerned, while paradoxically corporeality has to be retained in order to make this transgressive fluidity possible. Thus souls/spirits remain human to a degree but are used as a means to explore alternative models of time, space and corporeality. Haraway similarly combines such utopian visions of the body for an improvement of the human condition as she perceives it. Cavendish's fluid fictionalization of the duality between freedom and its limits for souls and spirits thus extends their rigid definitions of seventeenth-century natural philosophy. Her experiments parallel Haraway's departure from a "universal totalizing theory" in appropriating and transforming restricting discourses. Margaret Cavendish thus combines scientific theories and fictional speculation ("science-fiction") in order to develop a new kind of corporeal space-time finally leading to the creation of her very own "virtual reality".


An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 2003 Conference of the Margaret Cavendish Society in Chester. I would like to thank Sylvia Bowerbank, Oddvar Holmesland and Ingrid Hotz-Davies for helpful comments and inspiration especially concerning Haraway's Cyborg Manifesto and Ariel in Shakespeare's The Tempest.

1. Among others Eve Keller, "Producing Petty Gods: Margaret Cavendish's Critique of Experimental Science," ELH 6 (1997): 447-471; Jay Stevenson, "The Mechanist-Vitalist Soul of Margaret Cavendish," SEL 36 (1996): 527-543. See also Sarah Hutton.

2. Several studies are focused on different aspects of Cavendish's work and compare her to other scientists and philosophers: Susan James, "The Philosophical Innovations of Margaret Cavendish," British Journal for the History of Philosophy 7/2 (1999): 219; Elisabeth Wilhelmine Strauß, Die Arithmetik der Leidenschaften: Margaret Cavendish's Naturphilosophie (Stuttgart: Metzler, 1999).

3. See John Henry, J., "The Matter of Souls: Medical Theory and Theology in Seventeenth-Century England," Roger French and Andrew Wear, eds. The Medical Revolution of the Seventeenth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1989), 87-113.

4. "Thus, a body is always able to become more and more spiritual to infinity since God, who is the first and highest spirit, is infinite and does not and cannot partake of the least corporeality." Anne Conway, The Principles of the Most Ancient and Modern Philosophy (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1996), 42.

5. For a comparison see Sarah Hutton, "Anne Conway, Margaret Cavendish and Seventeenth-Century Scientific Thought," in Lynette Hunter and Sarah Hutton, eds. Women, Science and Medicine 1500-1700: Mothers and Sisters of the Royal Society (Stroud: Sutton, 1997), 218-234.

6. Sarah Hutton, "In Dialogue with Thomas Hobbes: Margaret Cavendish's Natural Philosophy," Women's Writing 4/3 (1997): 421-432; Eileen O'Neill, "Cavendish, Margaret Lucas (1623-73)," in Edward Craig, ed., Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy (London: Routledge, 1998), 261.

7. For the classical models of didactic poetry (Lucretius's De Rerum Natura, Ovid's Ars Amatoria and Virgil's Georgica) see Alexander Dalzell, The Criticism of Didactic Poetry: Essays on Lucretius, Virgil, and Ovid (Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1996).

8. In the short story "The propagating Souls," for example, this becomes obvious by the phrase "Their Souls, which are their Spirits." Margaret Cavendish, Nature's Pictures Drawn by Fancies Pencil to the Life (London: 1656), 133.

9. "The Cyborg deliberately incorporates exogenous components extending the self-regulatory control function of the organism in order to adapt it to new environments." Manfred E. Clynes and Nathan S. Kline, "Cyborgs and Space," Astronautics (September 1960); reprinted in Chris Hables Gray, ed., The Cyborg Handbook (London and New York: Routledge, 1995), 30.

10. Lilley states that "Her writings, collectively and individually, demonstrate an abiding fascination [...] with impure and unexpected hybrids. An interrogation of systems of knowledge and modes of description, as well as the fluid relations of gender and genre, informs all of Cavendish's writing, and marks it as generically self-conscious and ambitious." Kate Lilley, "Introduction," Margaret Cavendish. The Blazing World & Other Writings. Kate Lilley, ed. (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1994), xi.

Works Cited

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© 2004-, Matthew Steggle (Editor, EMLS).