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(2) It is worth noting that Stiker chose the article “a,” not “the,” in titling his book which supports his own argument that intelligence cannot find all the answers, and no report or investigation can presume total mastery of its subject, no matter how thorough.Furthermore, in examining the realm of human intellect and its perceived importance to society, progress, and human value, we must to consider the words commonly used in connection with intellect.
(103) This passage represents the perceived glories that increased knowledge about the world could bring.
However, as the astronomer explains, the truth renders knowledge impotent, for the act of manipulating the seasons promises only to shift destruction and prosperity from their natural, cyclical courses to alternating ones.
(104-105) Imlac’s discourse on madness does not confine itself to a case of either/or, where one is either sane or insane.
Rather, madness is difficult to trace, and perhaps even more difficult to define.
They [all] deliberated a while what was to be done, and resolved, when the inundation [of the Nile] should cease, to return to Abissinia.
(123) Thus, the urge to learn more about the world fails to bring the kind of lasting satisfaction Rasselas and his friends desire. Does returning to Abissinia represent a failure of the quest? What seems more decidable, however, is how the novel questions the powers of intellect.Imlac has a significant interaction with an astronomer who is under the delusion that he can control the weather.When the astronomer reveals that, once it is time to relinquish his powers, he has chosen to Imlac to be his replacement, he cautions Imlac about the precarious nature of his ‘job’: I have diligently considered the position of the earth and sun, and formed innumerable schemes in which I changed their situation.Imlac’s discussion of the subject points to these different categories and suggests that some cases of madness are less overt, and, therefore, less harmful than others.Helen Deutsch and Felicity Nussbaum argue that, “a kind of knowledge emerged in the Enlightenment that exposed the unknown only to recognize itself in that which it most despised and feared” (14).At a time when intelligence promised so much, Johnson’s text offers a sobering, humbling critique of intellectual ability and its perceived efficacy in solving problems and ensuring lifelong happiness. Henri-Jacques Stiker explores the subject of intellect, particularly how intellect has been viewed by Western Culture.He writes: No investigation has the right to present its results as the totality, as complete; Western intelligence has too long exploited this pretension and has too often presumed that knowledge was finite and fully attainable.Stiker notes that mentally ill people often were shunned and that there were varying categories of madness, as, for example, those outlined by Plato (ritualistic, poetic, prophetic, erotic).These differed from what was perceived to be “common” madness.If the Enlightenment signified an historical moment of power obtained through learning, the cautionary words of the astronomer reveal an ultimate weakness, an utter powerlessness hidden by the arrogance of perceived ability.The astronomer casts a dubious shadow over the self-proclaimed light of human progress.