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The Seeds of Things

Theorizing Sexuality and Materiality in Renaissance Representations

Jonathan Goldberg

Publication Year: 2009

The title of this book translates one of the many ways in which Lucretius names the basic matter from which the world is made in De rerum natura. In Lucretius, and in the strain of thought followed in this study, matter is always in motion, always differing from itself and yet always also made of the same stuff. From the pious Lucy Hutchinson's all but complete translation of the Roman epic poem to Margaret Cavendish's repudiation of atomism (but not of its fundamental problematic of sameness and difference), a central concern of this book ishow a thoroughgoing materialism can be read alongside other strains in the thought of the early modern period, particularly Christianity.A chapter moves from Milton's monism to his angels and their insistent corporeality. Milton's angels have sex, and, throughout, this study emphasizes the consequences for thinking about sexuality offered by Lucretian materialism. Sameness of matter is not simply a question of same-sex sex, and the relations of atoms in Cavendish and Hutchinson are replicated in the terms in which they imagine marriages of partners who are also their doubles. Likewise, Spenser's knights in the 1590 Faerie Queene pursue the virtues of Holiness, Temperance, and Chastity in quests that take the reader on a path of askesis of the kind that Lucretiusrecommends and that Foucault studied in the final volumes of his history of sexuality.Although English literature is the book's main concern, it first contemplates relations between Lucretian matter and Pauline flesh by way of Tintoretto's painting The Conversion of St. Paul. Theoretical issues raised in the work of Agamben and Badiou, among others, lead to a chapter that takes up the role that Lucretius has played in theory, from Bergson and Marx to Foucault and Deleuze.This study should be of concern to students of religion, philosophy, gender, and sexuality, especially as they impinge on questions of representation.

Published by: Fordham University Press


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pp. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-7


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pp. 8-9


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pp. 10-11


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pp. 12-15


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pp. 16-21

1. Conversions: Around Tintoretto

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pp. 22-45

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2. Turning Toward the World: Lucretius, in Theory

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pp. 31-62

‘‘Perhaps one day, this century will be known as Deleuzian’’: Michel Foucault’s extravagant gesture in the opening paragraph of his 1970 essay ‘‘Theatrum Philosophicum’’ (ostensibly a review of two books by Deleuze, Difference and Repetition and The Logic of Sense), is perhaps the bestremembered utterance in that piece.1 In the pages...

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3. Spenserian Askesis: The 1590 Faerie Queene

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pp. 63-121

‘‘The generall end therefore of all the booke is to fashion a gentleman or noble person in vertuous and gentle discipline’’ (15).1 Thanks to Stephen Greenblatt’s ‘‘To Fashion a Gentleman: Spenser and the Destruction of the Bower of Bliss,’’ chapter 4 in Renaissance Self-Fashioning, this sentence from the letter addressed to Sir Walter Ralegh...

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4. Margaret Cavendish and Lucy Hutchinson: Writing Matter

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pp. 122-178

Margaret Cavendish and Lucy Hutchinson have been linked before, as David Norbrook indicates in an essay joining and commending them as ‘‘both in different sense rebels who pushed at the limits of the conventional thought of their day’’; for him, one crucial site for this conjunction lies in the fact that ‘‘both wrote verse based on Epicurean atomism.’’1 The pages that follow certainly...

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5. Milton’s Angels

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pp. 179-209

Milton’s materialism has been a well-studied phenomenon for the past seventy years or more. Its consequences for a series of heretical beliefs is perhaps what has been discussed most widely: Milton’s disbelief in the Trinity, his denial of the immortality of the soul, his refusal of the ontological difference between spirit and matter. In the...


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pp. 211-245

Works Cited

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pp. 247-262


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pp. 263-267

Photo Insert

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E-ISBN-13: 9780823246939
Print-ISBN-13: 9780823230662
Print-ISBN-10: 082323066X

Page Count: 256
Publication Year: 2009

OCLC Number: 609181343
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Seeds of Things

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • English literature -- Early modern, 1500-1700 -- History and criticism.
  • Sex in literature.
  • Material culture in literature.
  • Philosophy in literature.
  • Lucretius Carus, Titus -- Influence
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