Join us for an evening of discussion on the seventeenth-century polymath Blaise Pascal with distinguished scholar Mary Ann Caws and art historian Lee Hallman. Caws' new book, 'Miracles and Reason' explores the rich contributions of this extraordinary thinker, interweaving his writings and discoveries with an account of his life and career and the wider intellectual world of his time. This event will be a chance for readers to hear Caws read from her new book, copies of which will be available on the night, and are currently in the store.
Few people have had as many influences on as many different fields as true Renaissance man Blaise Pascal. At once a mathematician, philosopher, theologian, physicist, and engineer, Pascal’s discoveries, experiments, and theories helped usher in a modern world of scientific thought and methodology. In this singular book on this singular genius, Caws takes us back to Pascal’s youth, when he was a child prodigy first engaging mathematics through the works of mathematicians such as Father Mersenne. She describes his early scientific experiments and his construction of mechanical calculating machines; she looks at his correspondence with important thinkers such as René Descartes and Pierre de Fermat; she surveys his many inventions, such as the first means of public transportation in Paris; and she considers his later religious exaltations in works such as the “Memorial.” Along the way, Caws examines Pascal’s various modes of writing—whether he is arguing with the strict puritanical modes of church politics, assuming the personality of a naïve provincial trying to understand the Jesuitical approach, offering pithy aphorisms in the Pensées, or meditating on thinking about thinking itself. Altogether, this book lays side by side many aspects of Pascal’s life and work that are seldom found in a single volume: his religious motivations and faith, his scientific passions, and his practical savvy. The result is a comprehensive but easily approachable account of a fascinating and influential figure.
Mary Ann Caws is Distinguished Professor of English, French and Comparative Literature, Graduate School, City University of New York. She is the author of several books for Reaktion, including Pablo Picasso (2005), Salvador Dalí (2008) and The Modern Art Cookbook (2013).
Lee Hallman is an art historian, writer, and curator. She completed her Ph.D. in 2017 at The Graduate Center of the City University of New York with a dissertation on the postwar London landscape paintings of British artists Frank Auerbach and Leon Kossoff. She has assisted with exhibitions at Tate Britain and the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and her writings have appeared in Tate Papers, Apollo, The Burlington Magazine, The Brooklyn Rail, and numerous exhibition catalogues. In 2014 she was the winner of the Lund Humphries Emerging Art Writers competition. She recently assisted in the preparation of an opera libretto and is currently at work on her first book manuscript.