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Published April 2019 | public
Journal Article

Giving Voice to Anomalies: Nachtmelke and other Irregularities


If we resist the common understanding of the anomaly in terms of that which deviates from the law, or nomos, and consider its proper etymology as that which is lacking in evenness—as the introduction to this volume encourages us to do—then one discovers a history of the anomaly much more closely linked to the aesthetic. That the dominant mode of "perceiving" anomalies in this history is associated with vision likely comes as no surprise. In the scientific fields of astronomy, biology, physiology, and pathology, anomalies have historically been perceived and described in visual terms: the features of monstrous countenance, the trajectory of an orbital deviation, the contours of a cervical rib. The same holds for philosophical approaches to the history of science such as Thomas Kuhn's. When he articulates a model of "normal science" that charts the progress from the perception of anomaly to crisis and paradigm switch, he does so in terms of "gestalt switches."1 Numerous passages in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions discuss the discovery of anomalies and the ensuing paradigm changes in terms of vision, to the point where Kuhn himself asks the degree to which such an emphasis on vision is necessary. "Do we," he writes, [End Page 534] "really need to describe what separates Galileo from Aristotle, or Lavoisier from Priestly, as a transformation of vision? Did these men really see different things when looking at the same sorts of objects?" (Kuhn 120). He answers these questions in the affirmative.

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© 2019 Johns Hopkins University Press.

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