Diagram and discourse in the anatomy of melancholy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article examines the methodological, epistemological, aesthetic, and affective tensions between the promise of diagrammatic representation and the practice of discursive expression in Robert Burton's The Anatomy of Melancholy (1621, first edition). It closely interprets the Anatomy's tabular logic and analytic claims per se and in conjunction with Burton's inductive, imaginative prose. While the discursive gathering of copious particulars aims to cure and to console, by 'rectification' and 'recreation' respectively, the synoptic tables introducing the book's three partitions represent the ambiguous promise of human scientia, thus becoming yet another cause of melancholy. Compared with other early modern instances of tabular and encyclopedic reason, and interpreted in light of recent scholarship on the diagram, Burton's tables play a critical, subtle role not only in the Anatomy's invention and arrangement of topics, but also on the local level where the struggle for meaning and the experience of affect occurs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)44-116
Number of pages73
JournalErudition and the Republic of Letters
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • Analysis
  • Diagram
  • Discourse
  • Induction
  • Robert Burton

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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