My first book, Literature and Encyclopedism in Enlightenment Britain, was published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2014. It tells the story of long-term aspirations, first in ancient epic and then in a wide range of literary and non-literary works from the early modern era and Enlightenment, to capture and disseminate "complete knowledge" of the world. It is also a story of the persistent failure of these aspirations, their collapse in the late eighteenth century, and the subsequent redefinition of the concept of completeness in modern literary and disciplinary terms.
The book argues that the pursuit of complete knowledge advanced the separation of epic from encyclopedia, literature from "Literature", and the sciences from the humanities; it demonstrates that the distinctions between "high" and "low", ephemeral and eternal, useful and useless that persist today all stem from the concepts of completeness that emerged during and as a result of the Enlightenment.
Professor | Author | 18th Centuryist
Seth Rudy is Associate Professor of English at Rhodes College. He earned his Ph.D. in English and American Literature from NYU in 2010. A scholar of Eighteenth-Century British literature, his work address authors and areas of inquiry from the Scientific Revolution to the end of the Romantic period. He writes and teaches about the history of ideas and large-scale knowledge projects, particularly Enlightenment encyclopedias and encyclopedism.
Check out this episode of Future Tense with Antony Funnell (brought to you by ABC National Radio) to hear my interview about the ends of knowledge!
Bringing together an exciting group of knowledge workers, scholars and activists from across fields, The Ends of Knowledge revisits a foundational question of the Enlightenment: what is “the last or furthest end of knowledge”? It is a book about why we do what we do, and how we might know when we are done.
In the reorganization of knowledge that characterized the Enlightenment, disciplines were conceived as having particular “ends,” both in terms of purposes and end-points. As we experience an ongoing shift to the knowledge economy of the Information Age, this collection asks whether we still conceptualize knowledge in this way. Does an individual discipline have both an inherent purpose and a natural endpoint? What do an experiment on a fruit fly, a reading of a poem, and the writing of a line of code have in common?
Focusing on areas as diverse as AI; biology; Black studies; literary studies; physics; political activism; and the concept of disciplinarity itself, contributors uncover a life after disciplinarity for subjects that face immediate threats to the structure if not the substance of their contributions. These essays – whether reflective, historical, eulogistic, or polemical – chart a vital and necessary course towards the reorganization of knowledge production as a whole.
“Is This the End?” with Rachael Scarborough King (UCSB). Special Issue: Critical Conversations. The Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation 62.3-4 (Fall-Winter 2023): 483-88.
“Encyclopedism: Fire, Faith, and Future Learning,” in A Companion to World Literature, edited by Ken Seigneurie, Christopher Lupke, Frieda Ekotto, and B. Venkat Mani, Hoboken: Wiley-Blackwell (December 2019): 1-6.
“Gaming the Golden Age of Piracy.” Digital Defoe: Studies in Defoe & His Contemporaries 7.1 (Fall 2015): 34-65.
“Stories of Everything: Epics, Encyclopedias, and Concepts of ‘Complete’ Knowledge 1667 – 1729.” The Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation 55.4 (Winter 2014): 411-30.
“Knowledge and the Systematic Reader: The Past and Present of Encyclopedic Learning.” Culture Unbound: Journal of Current Cultural Research, 6.26 (2014): 505-26.
“Pope, Swift, and the Poetics of Posterity.” Eighteenth-Century Life 35.3 (Fall 2011): 1-28.
“Stage Presence: Performance and Theatricality in Dickens’s Our Mutual Friend.” Dickens Studies Annual 37 (2006): 65-80.
Review of Translation and Transfer of Knowledge in Encyclopedic Compilations, 1680-1830, eds. Clarinda Donato and Hans-Jürgen Lüsebrink. The Scriblerian and the Kit-Cats. Forthcoming.